Saturday, 24 March 2012

World Gourmet Series Awards of Excellence

The World Gourmet Series Awards of Excellence presentation ceremony took place today, recognising the past year’s achievements by the hardworking members of Singapore’s F&B industry.  Awards ranged all the way from Restaurant of the Year to various apprenticeships and scholarships for budding young talents. Along the way, I was lucky enough to pick up the Montblanc Food Writer of the Year award.  My winning submission, At Your Service (September/October 2011 edition of Flavours Magazine), was based on my two-week front-of-house stint at Les Amis Restaurant.  It was great also to meet two fellow food writing finalists Gavin Nazareth, who flew down all the way from Bangkok for the Awards, and Virginia Brumby, director at Survival Chic.

You can't tell I'm happy from the look on my face
Thanks so much to the team at Les Amis for putting up with me, and to my editors at Flavours, Julie Wong and Ng Tse Mei, for their support and indulging my occasional excesses for the last 5 years.  Special thanks also to June Wong and Malini Dias, my original editing team at StarMag, who gave me my first break in 2003/4 and at whose doorstep all of my literary sins subsequent to that date can be placed  ;)

A little extract from my article follows below.
*             *             *
“I am a diner.  I am, as the French would say in their charming fashion, an amateur of haute cuisine.  I love it all, from the quality of the ingredients, the precision of techniques and preparation, the synchronicity of service, right down to the weight of the cutlery, the ceremony and sense of occasion.

But today, as lunch draws to a close at Les Amis, I slump into a chair, fatigued.  My feet are deadly sore and I am hungry enough to eat a nine-course meal.  Assistant manager Zaki Feisal walks over.  But unlike our previous encounters, he wasn’t about to offer me a digestif for the road.  Instead, he claps me on the shoulder.  “Rough start, huh?” is the best he can offer.  I grunt. 

I hope you don’t think I was being rude, but I had spent the last three hours on my feet feeding total strangers and pandering to their every whim and fancy. I was variously thanked, pulled up on my mistakes, tugged each and every way where help was needed.  Through it all, I forced a smile and muttered inane pleasantries through gritted teeth.  At long last, the tables had been turned on me.
I was a waiter....
*             *             *
(Click here to finish the adventure and read the original version from the magazine)

Friday, 16 March 2012

Colgin Cellars Wine Dinner at Les Amis (15 March 2012)

A lot has been said about Les Amis over the years, not all of it complimentary.  A pillar of the local independent restaurant scene since 1994, some even suggested that its day had passed with the arrival of so-called “world-class fine dining” at Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World. 

To be honest, I think some people miss the point of this place.  This is not where you come for intense knock-your-socks off flavours.  Always working with the best ingredients, chef Armin Leitgeb creates food with an amazing sense of restraint – freshness, texture and colour are key features of his cooking.  This is key given the restaurant’s (and most of its guests’) immense focus on wine.  I personally think Leitgeb is one of the most under-rated chefs in the country.  It never ceases to surprise me when his skill and achievements are continually overlooked for recognition.  And it didn’t surprise me at all when Ann Colgin said Les Amis was the only choice to host her eponymous winery’s showcase dinner.

A little confession here – I knew next to nothing about Colgin Cellars when I booked for me and three friends.  But clearly many others did.  An event originally restricted to 30 places and to be held in Les Amis’ private rooms grew to 53 covers communal-style in the main dining room.  When I was told that the dinner could have been sold out three times over even then, I realised I was on to a good thing.

Monday, 12 March 2012

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy (Part 1)

This article was published in the March edition of Flavours magazine, about my recent holiday to Burgundy. Make sure to pick up the next edition of Flavours to follow the adventure :) The pdf version from the magazine is here.

woke up this morning in unfamiliar surroundings.  I could hear the trills of joyous birdsong as sunlight filtered through battered curtains.  An antique doll, dressed in yellow chiffon, stared at me, cold and lifeless yet smiling.  Her four companions were equally nonplussed, their rosy-lipped grins completely at variance with their lifeless countenance.  Old wooden floorboards creaked and groaned under my weight as I got out of bed.  Outside, the yeasty musk of fermentation permeated the fresh, rural air.

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Singapore anymore.

Pernand-Vergelesses: A view from the Belles Filles lieu-dit

I know the post is titled “A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy”.  We’ll get there eventually, but Burgundy is so village-oriented, so local in its outlook, that we need to know the characters and personalities who populate it and who will dominate my narrative.  So please let me first describe how the trip came about, and how I met the folks who would later be my kind hosts.

We first encountered Ludovic Belin, winemaker of Pernand-Vergelesses (, over a wine dinner with our mutual friend William Chong.  Ludovic, a scion of that quaint village’s prominent Rapets, was in Singapore for a promotional trip with his first cousin Vincent Rapet (proprietor and winemaker of Domaine Rapet –

It was a strange evening, as these so often are.  I was seated between my wife Emily to my left, and our dear friend Liz (who has since gone on to open the popular Praelum Wine Bistro on Duxton Hill), with Ludovic next to her.  Ludo is a rogue-ishly handsome red-blooded French male from central casting; tonight he played his role to perfection, so I ignored the blatant flirt-fest transpiring to my right and tried instead to focus on dinner.  As we were in an old-style giant garoupa restaurant, we were served a succession of braised garoupa cheeks, steamed garoupa flanks with shredded scallions and soy, deep-fried crunchy garoupa fins, claypot-braised garoupa liver with oyster sauce and ginger, and poached garoupa sperm in a clear broth. 

Mmmmm...sperm-alicious!  That's if you've got the balls to try it. (courtesy of Ludovic Belin)

Among our Burgundian guests, this last delicacy created much confusion tinged with not much amusement.  “C’est QUOI?” came the stunned query.  Well, you try explaining that in French!  After much obscene gesturing and unprintable language, Ludo got the idea.  “Couilles du poisson”, he explained.  Vincent’s eyes almost popped out of his head as Ludo popped a nugget of couille into his mouth.  If nothing else, this showed how different the cousins were.  Ludo, who in actual fact is a very warm, caring and friendly guy, carefully cultivates his image as a suave, slightly dangerous loose cannon who happens to make lovely wine.  Vincent, on the other hand, carefully cultivates his of a simple, dour working farmer carrying on a proud 250 year-old family tradition.

Vincent Rapet,, winemaker and proprietor of the vaunted Domaine Rapet (courtesy of Dr Peter Wong)

The night carried on and after almost two bottles of wine each, William had a brilliant idea – let’s have more wine!  We staggered out of the Maison des Couilles and made our way to Extra Space where William keeps his cellar.  The rest of the night/morning was a Barolo-tinged haze; I vaguely remember saying farewell to Ludo and how I looked forward to tasting his wine when he was next in Singapore, and Ludo replying “I am at the Hilton.  Come over tomorrow at 10.00 am and we’ll do a private tasting together before I fly out”.

I stumbled home with the missus around 3.45 am.  “Ha ha!” I laughed as I opened the front door, “he was so drunk he couldn’t possibly be serious”.  Emily looked at me.  “You know, you should probably go.  How would it look if he organises everything and you didn’t rock up?”  I pondered this for about one minute before passing out on the couch.

So the following morning, uncertainty compounded by the incessant drumming in my head, I made my way to the Hilton.  10.03 am, said my Blackberry as I crossed the threshold into the lobby.  “Great, I’m on time!” I thought.  Well, almost.  “Where ‘ave you been?” Ludovic cried as he gave me a meaty handshake, “I ‘ave been waiting for you”.  Well, at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious… He led me to the cream-and-wood Kaspia Bar, where a daunting row of ten wine bottles, each decorated with an angel in rapture and the legend “Domaine Ludovic Belin”, stood to terse attention.

Try taking these guys on while labouring under a hangover (courtesy of William Chong)

To cut a long story short, we swirled and we gargled, we swished and we spat.  Every now and again, we even swallowed.  I’m no expert, but we found much common ground as we shared our opinions on the wine.  At the end, he said “Your tasting eez quite good.  Maybe eef you like, you come to Pernand-Vergelesses in Septembre, you stay wiz me, we do ‘arvest, drink good wine?”

Now by this stage, I’m conditioned to obey our white masters.  Hell, I’ve been married to Emily for over five years now.  So the next thing I knew, I was back home on the interwebs booking flights to Paris for us and Liz.  And the next thing I knew, it was mid-September and I was at the departure lounge in Changi Airport.  Liz, as we had come to expect, was running (un)fashionably late.  She finally appeared as boarding commenced, wearing a chunky pink windcheater.  “Is this thick enough?” she babbled, clearly having rushed out of the office and straight to the airport, “I don’t know how cold it’s going to be and…”

But who cared?  We were finally going to Burgundy!

(To be continued…)

Related Posts:

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy (Part 2) -  

A Winemaking Holiday in Burgundy (Part 3) -

The Hill of Corton -