Singapore laksa at Cure Singapore

Singapore laksa at Cure

Test Kitchen has been adept at pulling chefs away from their own restaurants in some of the top culinary cities around the world and getting them to come to Hong Kong to showcase exactly what they can do, testing the Hong Kong market and its astute palate at the same time. The pop-up expert continues its run with next week’s guest chef and team from restaurants Cure and Butcher Boy in Singapore. The renowned restaurants are known for championing fine dining in a relaxed setting – or “bistronomy”, as it’s become known – and for chef-owner Andrew Walsh’s experimental dishes that come across as both elegant and playful.

Chef Andrew Walsh

Chef Andrew Walsh

We spoke with the Irish-born chef, who trained under Jason Atherton and Tom Aikens before opening Cure, ahead of his time here in Hong Kong. He gave us the skinny on his dishes and culinary philosophy and offered some sage advice for budding chefs in the business:

How would you describe your cooking style and philosophy?

My cooking philosophy is to cook with pure intentions of serving good food, with nature’s best seasonal ingredients at the heart of my dishes, to highlight the ingredients’ inherent purity and intrinsic flavours and to showcase the story behind each dish. This translates into an expressive, elegant and approachable style of cuisine and is in line with the concept of “bistronomy” at Cure.

What’s your most far-out dish?

We used to do blown-out sugar cylinders, which are blown up with a pump and done under a heat lamp. It’s a very temperamental component that is prone to breakage. It was complemented with a basil sorbet inside the cylinder and paired with coconut rice tarts. It was a total pain to execute!

Have you made any interesting cooking discoveries over the recent years?
An East-meets-West pairing of sake with goat’s cheese tortellini. Foie gras custard – our version is delicate and creamy yet light compared to the traditional heavy foie gras dish. It has become our signature partly because of our guests’ feedback and thoughts on the dish as well.

Foie gras custard at Cure

Foie gras custard at Cure

What initially drew you to Singapore and what keeps you there?

I first came to Singapore to head my mentor Jason Atherton’s concepts – Esquina and The Study – but have since fallen in love with the burgeoning F&B scene and the bustling city of Singapore. As one of the world’s top food cities, Singapore has remarkably diverse food influences, and I am on a fascinating journey of culinary food research and discoveries. Having gotten very familiar and fallen in love with Asian flavours over the years, I have also opened a sister-concept restaurant to Cure called Butcher Boy – a contemporary East-meets-West grill restaurant driven by innovative cocktails and great selection of sake. In summary, Singapore has become my home right now.

Why do you personally do pop-ups? And do you do many of them?

It’s always a pleasure to travel and meet other chefs and restaurateurs – we get to pick each other’s brains on the latest trends and discoveries. Right now, I do just a handful of pop-ups or collaborations a year, not too many because it takes me away from my restaurants as well.

Do you enjoy cooking collaborations or prefer being in your own kitchen?

Both are immensely rewarding. On one hand, there is always so much to learn from working with other chefs and restaurateurs because of differing influences and cultures. It has always challenged me to push myself beyond the boundaries with my own style of cuisine. With that, tinkering around in my own kitchen allows me to develop deeper into my own headspace and shape my personal cooking style through my life experiences. One example would be the Chocolate | Pandan | Coconut dessert. After eating kaya jam (pandan-infused coconut jam) with toast for breakfast one morning, I was making a chocolate mousse in my kitchen when it struck me to combine the two flavours. The result is a fragrant dessert with unmistakably Southeast Asian influences.

Cure in Singapore

Cure in Singapore

What restaurants do you like here in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is such a vibrant city with so many talented chefs. Matthew Abergel and the guys at Yardbird are exceptional. Daniel Calvert from Belon is super talented. Jowett Yu is doing good at Ho Lee Fook. New to town is Cary Docherty from Gough’s on Gough, whom I worked with at the Atherton group. I’m also excited to try VEA and good Chinese food at The Chairman.

As a chef, what are your thoughts on the new rules for The World’s 50 Best – that you can’t reappear as a winner but instead enter a category of Best of the Best for life? And on the change of an equal split of the voting panel being made up of men and women?

It’s a great change. To give great opportunities for other chefs to shine on the awards list and showcase their creativity and restaurants. And regarding the change on the 50 per cent panel list, I welcome this with open arms and believe we need to attract more women in the industry and champion them, which is something we are also trying to achieve in both my restaurants as I believe we are all equal in all walks of life.

Whom do you admire in the industry?
I admire everyone who has pride and delivers great work. I would like, in particular, to acknowledge the recently departed Andrew Fairlie, chef of his eponymous two-Michelin-starred restaurant at Gleneagles hotel in Scotland, and, last year, the greats of the cooking world, Joël Robuchon and Anthony Bourdain.

What changes and shifts have you seen happen over your time in the kitchen? What changes have you yourself made?
Food waste has always been an issue in the F&B industry. At Cure, we tackle these issues through our root-to-stem food philosophy and repurpose what are usually deemed “food scraps” in other dishes. One example is our slow-cooked egg, which uses leftovers from our homemade sourdough. It adds extra texture to the smooth smoked potato espuma, which elevates the entire product. With plant-forward cuisine currently trending in the food scene, we take it to another level by celebrating whole vegetable in dishes on our plant-based menu. One such vegetable is the humble potato. Last year, we served a Potato | Seaweed | Soil dish that utilised every part of the tuber – mashed potato is accompanied by crispy potato skin that’s been dehydrated and fried. We strongly believe that all parts of the vegetable can be savoured and showcased in innovative ways by turning potential food waste into unconventional elements of dishes.

What are your favourite ingredients to cook with?

My creations are intimately linked to the seasons and freshest local produce that are sourced at their peak. For example, beetroot appeared in several of my dishes in different forms last year, such as Beetroot Tartare | Compressed Apple | Burrata Ripple Ice Cream, beetroot dumpling and beetroot-cured salmon with Irish potato flatbread. Varying cooking techniques are employed to extract an ingredient’s best possible flavour while ensuring we retain its overall integrity.

Beetroot-cured salmon at Cure

Beetroot-cured salmon at Cure

What will you be making at Test Kitchen in Hong Kong? And do you have a dish you’re especially excited to serve?

At the Test Kitchen pop-up, I will be preparing some of my signature dishes that showcase the marriage of different techniques and influences, including Chocolate | Pandan | Coconut and beetroot-cured salmon with Irish potato flatbread. As an ode to Singapore, the Singapore laksa uses fresh neighbourhood market ingredients and local flavours. Sous-vide squid is thinly sliced to resemble noodles, then enveloped in laksa broth and garnished with local lime and curry leaves. It’s very hard to pick just one – I’m excited to showcase them all to Hong Kong’s discerning food lovers.

What advice would you give young chefs starting out in the industry in Asia?

Don’t be hypnotised by the glamour, media and groupies. Focus on your apprenticeship and craft. Respect the ingredients and your fellow workers. Have patience as one day your time will surely come.

Cure pop-up at Test Kitchen

Dates: 13–15 February 2019

Time: 7pm/8:15pm seatings

Location Shop 3, 158A Connaught Road West, Sai Ying Pun

Price: $1,080/person for 6-course tasting menu; +$480 for wine pairings; +$180 for corkage

To book: click here

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