Meet Eugene See, head chef at Birds of a Feather, who up­dates Sichuan flavours with Western flair


Eugene See up­dates Sichuan flavours with Western flair

Head chef Eugene See rules the roost at Birds of a Feather (BOAF), a Sichuan-in­flu­enced mod­ern Euro­pean restau­rant opened al­most a year ago. Set in a two-unit shop­house on Amoy Street, the in­te­ri­ors of all-day diner BOAF is an eclec­tic mix of lush plants, wooden fur­ni­ture and loud dec­o­ra­tive pieces such as ceil­ing lamps shaped like bil­lowy clouds and wall art made of bulbs and cop­per pipes. An ex­pan­sive bar greets you upon ar­rival, serv­ing up clas­sic and orig­i­nal cock­tails.

See grew up in Malaysia lov­ing Asian flavours, but chose to study French cooking tech­niques at culi­nary school. It was the pre­ci­sion and fi­nesse of the cui­sine that ap­pealed to him. He then cut his teeth at French restau­rant Guy Savoy in Singapore for nearly three years from 2010, be­fore mov­ing on to other restau­rants like mod­ern Euro­pean diner San Bistro, lo­cated at East­wood Cen­tre.

His pro­file was just what BOAF own­ers, Liu Bin and He Ning from Chengdu, were look­ing for. The cou­ple, who also own a pop­u­lar cafe chain in Chengdu called Good Wood Cof­fee, wanted to bring the au­then­tic taste of Sichuan to Singapore. They had at the ready a team of chefs from Chengdu, but needed a head chef who could marry the strong flavours of Sichuan with the re­fine­ment of Western cui­sine. With See in­stalled in BOAF, their unique all-day din­ing cafe and bar picked up one star and the Best New Con­cept spe­cial award in our Singapore’s Top Restau­rants 2017/2018 din­ing guide.

Many peo­ple think Sichuan food is just about numb­ing, spicy ‘ma la’, but it is not.

I’m slowly in­tro­duc­ing other Sichuan flavours through our small plates menu. There is a clas­sic Sichuan sauce that uses gar­lic as a base which I have used with oc­to­pus. Then there is what the Sichuan peo­ple call “guai wei” (怪味), lit­er­ally mean­ing ‘weird taste’. It is com­plex and tasty, a com­bi­na­tion of spici­ness, sweet­ness and salti­ness. I pair this sea­son­ing with chicken which has more of a fa­mil­iar, ‘neu­tral’ flavour pro­file.

We have a unique col­lab­o­ra­tive work­ing style at BOAF.

I work very closely with the chefs on my team, es­pe­cially the Chengdu chefs. We work with an idea in mind, then to­gether, we brain­storm and re­search the dif­fer­ent culi­nary el­e­ments. I’ve learnt a lot in par­tic­u­lar from my Chengdu chefs about Chi­nese cooking tech­niques and the use of spices.

We aim to cre­ate new dishes without for­get­ting the orig­i­nal flavours.

For ex­am­ple, our ‘xiang su’ duck seam­lessly blends culi­nary el­e­ments from both East and West. It looks like a French­style duck con­fit, but the sauce has strong Asian in­flu­ences as it is made up of tian mian or sweet bean sauce, hoisin sauce, duck jus, Sichuan pep­pers and other spices. The duck jus is made by first brais­ing a whole duck, bak­ing it and then brais­ing it again in the orig­i­nal liq­uid. That liq­uid is then sim­mered for three to four hours and strained. This jus is also used as the base for mar­i­nat­ing the duck breast, to which we add cin­na­mon, star anise, old gin­ger and aged or­ange peel. The duck breast is mar­i­nated for about three to four days be­fore cooked sous vide in the mari­nade.

Play­ing with Sichuan flavours can be tricky.

An ex­am­ple is the R&D we did for our ‘hong shao’

“We aim to cre­ate new dishes without for­get­ting the orig­i­nal flavours.”

short ribs. Some­thing that is ‘hong shao’ or red­braised is ac­tu­ally very oily in part be­cause of the large amounts of red chilli oil used. We wanted to re­duce the oili­ness and cre­ate a jus con­sis­tency for the coat­ing of the ribs. But a lot of flavour ac­tu­ally comes from the red chilli oil, so we also needed to think of a way to main­tain the spice level if we re­duce the amount of chilli. That took a lot of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion to get the flavour right. It also took us a while to find a way to emul­sify the red chilli oil to get a good jus con­sis­tency.

More ad­ven­tur­ous din­ers can en­joy a meal of dif­fer­ent di­men­sions and flavour pro­files with dishes such as For­tune Skewer in Sichuan pep­per broth, hot and sour chazuke, Kawa Ebi Swim in the Chill­ies or tofu burger with mapo meat sauce. Those who aren’t fond of spicy food can try dishes such as Ori­en­tal bolog­nese, an an­gel hair pasta with pork ragout, on­sen egg, wilted kale and sakura ebi, or the char­coal-roasted wagyu striploin. Our cock­tails fea­ture lots of Asian in­gre­di­ents such as gin­ger and ly­chee. We keep them light and re­fresh­ing to bal­ance the strong flavours of our food.

Our braised pig ear served cold with Sichuan red and sour dress­ing and ar­row­root noo­dles is light and re­fresh­ing with a de­light­ful, crunchy tex­ture and a strong sour and spicy flavour. The Mono­tone is made up of black sesame coulis and co­ral sponge, white sesame par­fait, sesame sable and a co­conut mousse. I’ve used French pas­try tech­niques to give the dessert dif­fer­ent tex­tures and a very Western style of pre­sen­ta­tion.

I want to do a twist on a fa­mous Sichuan fish or pork belly next.

And I’m dream­ing up a menu for the fes­tive sea­son at the end of the year.

#01-01, 115 Amoy Street. Tel: 6221 7449

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