While Singapore Festival 2020 is a week away, we had a chance to e-interview one of the featured chefs, Malcolm Lee. We talked about the parallels between the two food cultures and what to expect at the festival.
Festival-goers will get the chance to taste Peranakan and Myanmar dishes crafted by Chef Lee and The Pansodan at the Singapore Festival 2020. Lee is the head chef and owner of Candlenut in Singapore. His hard work and passion for heritage cuisine were recognised when Candlenut became the ﬁrst Peranakan restaurant in the world to receive the acclaimed Michelin star in 2016. The restaurant is committed to creating inspired Peranakan dishes, celebrating Peranakan culture and the joy of sharing good food with family and friends.
‘Peranakan’ is a Malay term that generally refers to people of mixed Chinese and Malay or Indonesian heritage, and whose ancestors settled in particular places around Southeast Asia, including Singapore. The mixed heritage of the Peranakan people is reflected in their food, which includes ingredients from Chinese, Malay, or Indonesian cuisine.
Let us take you to the interview below.
Could you briefly tell us about your culinary journey?
As a child, I loved to eat and after years of helping out in the kitchen, I learnt how to cook from my grandma and mum. Peranakan food for me has always been about the joy of sharing and gathering over a communal meal of rice, curries and dishes. I trained with western techniques, but it was during my culinary scholarship that I was reacquainted with Asian cooking and the complexities behind it.
In 2010, Candlenut first opened on Neil Road, and later moved to New Bridge Road and now at COMO Dempsey (Neighborhood in Singapore where people can experience vibrant dining and nightlife). I’ve always dreamt of having my restaurant at Dempsey, so this is truly a dream come true. In 2016, we became the world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant and have received the star for four consecutive years. It is heartening to receive this recognition for heritage food and to see Peranakan food celebrated among other cuisines on the global culinary stage.
Today, Candlenut continues to serve Peranakan cuisine that preserves the essence and traditions of heritage family recipes but refined to appeal to today’s diners with dishes made from scratch with the freshest produce.
How did you end up participating in this festival?
I’ve always felt that Singapore has such a unique and vibrant dining scene, and it would be amazing if more friends of Singapore can explore and share in it as well. So, when Singapore Tourism Board invited me to participate in this event, I jumped at the opportunity to showcase our unique food heritage and love of food with the rest of the world and hopefully they will enjoy it as much as we do.
Do you find any parallels between the two countries’ food cultures? (Something in common?)
Both Myanmar and Singapore are made up of different ethnicities and this diversity is evident in the food. Similar to Myanmar, our food is a melting pot of flavours, some distinctive and others a fusion of cultures rooted in tradition. Peranakan food perfectly illustrates this as it is a wonderful fusion of Chinese and Malay cultures, with flavours of Malay-style curries and sambals combined with Chinese ingredients and cooking techniques coming together to create something new and different.
In addition to sharing Southeast Asian flavours and ingredients, we both share a mutual love for comforting curries rooted in history like our Chicken Curry and the iconic Burmese Ohn No Khao Swe. And our mutual love for food definitely connects us.
May we get any sneak peeks into the fusion dishes you have prepared with The Pansodan?
We are in the midst of finalising the menu for the four hands dinner with The Pansodan, but diners can look forward to dishes that showcase both Burmese and Peranakan cuisines using local ingredients. We are excited to see how diners respond to our collaboration and hope it is a memorable experience for all.
Have you tried Myanmar food before? If you have, what’s your favourite?
Yes, I have. My favourite dish has to be the Mohinga. The comforting bowl of rice noodles, full of flavour from the lemongrass and herbs, is something I enjoy whenever I come to Myanmar.
Singapore Festival 2020 will take the form of a garden party, held on the grounds of the historic Chin Tsong Palace on 1 and 2 February. Visitors will be entertained with live music by acoustic bands and DJs. It will also feature an instagrammable Art Walk and the Designers’ Market to purchase a piece of Singapore as a keepsake.
Besides Lee and The Pansodan, there will be special dinners by celebrity chefs Aaron Wong and Jeremy Cheok, hosted by Yangon favorites Rangoon Tea House and Shwe Sa Bwe respectively.
For those who would like an up-close and personal encounter with Chef Lee before the festival, he will be cooking a special four-hand dinner with The Pansodan at their premises on 31 January.