Hospitality from the heart
Private banker Sandra Hee enjoys being around people and cooking for them, which is why her new home is designed to entertain friends and family. By Low Shi Ping
As a senior private banker of a foreign bank, Sandra Hee is no stranger to stress and long hours. To mitigate this, she cooks. Fortunately, her three children, husband and mother, who all live with her, “love to eat”, perfectly complementing her therapeutic hobby. Her friends are also lucky recipients of her kitchen experiments; she has them over almost every Friday for dinner, “I am a people person and having them around makes me happy.”
Entertaining by design
The hospitable foodie stands in the spacious dry kitchen of her 612 sq m semi-detached house in Bukit Timah, which she and her family moved into in March. In the middle of it is an expansive island measuring 1.25m by 4.3m, where she is plating the local snacks she has created for a tea party. That sense of space is further enhanced by floor-to-ceiling sliding doors that wrap arounds the dry kitchen – deliberately included by architect Rene Tan, co-founder of RT+Q Architects. The side looks out to the swimming pool running the length of the house; the back looks out to an al fresco terrace anchored by a long table that can sit 12. Beyond that is an unobstructed panorama of the southern part of Singapore, made possible because the house is built into a slope and elevated above the landed residential estate. “We always entertain on the terrace because it is also very windy,” reveals Hee.
The kitchens and back terrace take up approximately half the built area of the ground floor, which are the main areas she use when she entertains. “My pre-requisite to Rene, when we were designing the house, was that I had to have a big space for cooking,” shares Hee, as she lays the table. Another request she made was to have a pantry where she can, “in one look”, see what it contains, to help her decide what to cook. Tan’s solution was to glass off one end of the wet kitchen and line it with shelves for storage purposes. “He helped me make my dream come true,” Hee enthuses.
A varied repertoire
The spacious kitchen has bound the family even more closely together, “My elder daughter Nicole loves to cook, so we spend the weekends doing this. We like to make pasta, pita bread and pizza. I also learn to make Chinese food from my mother – many of the recipes are hers.” Hee’s repertoire also extends to sweets. Chocolate cake is one of her favourites, and she is trying to master ganache now. She counts tiramisu – which she serves in individual glass jars learnt from local dessert shop Awfully Chocolate – as one of her signature dishes (seafood paella is another), admitting her son Naaman is currently “in love” with it.
For the local snack themed tea party this afternoon, she has prepared steamed radish cake cake, glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaves, banana cake with a sea salt gula melaka glaze and kueh kosui. A jar of home-made calamansi juice stands on the side to wash all the food down. The glutinous rice is a recipe of her mother’s, who watches over Hee as she unwraps the lotus leaf. “Preparing this makes me happy,” she says, “Because when you cut it up, it looks like a sunflower.” It proves to be a hit among her eight friends from church who have joined her today, in addition to Rene and his wife Wei Wei. Just as popular is the carrot cake, which is finished in a few minutes.
Hee says the decision on what to cook is guided by what she feels like at that moment in time, as well as what is in the pantry. While she turns to the internet for ideas and inspiration, her social circle, many of whom are home chefs too, also guide her in her hobby. “And of course, I have to practice. But I am lucky because I have good supporters to eat and critique my food, so I can improve.”