Tatler Singapore


Singapore-based chefs share what they are doing in their kitchens to ensure a sustainabl­e dining experience

- By Dudi Aureus

The Hong Kong-based White Crane kung fu practition­er wants to bridge cultures through martial arts

It’s impossible to miss the Bruce Lee figurines and posters inside New Era Martial Club, a martial arts studio in Hong Kong’s Quarry Bay district. The founder, Andrew Clifford Pong, is the grandson of Chan Hak Fu, a second-generation practition­er of the White Crane style of kung fu, and grew up watching a lot of martial arts and action movies by the likes of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

Today, the 34-year-old star has accumulate­d almost 30 action film and drama credits. Most of these were produced in Hong Kong or mainland China, but some, including this year’s releases Agent Recon and 2Alone, are Hollywood production­s. It’s not surprising that Pong went down this career path, given that it’s something of a family tradition: his mother, Sharon Kwok, is a former martial arts actress of mixed American, German and Chinese heritage; his father, Chin Siu-ho, is a martial arts actor of Chinese descent, best known for starring opposite Jet Li in Fist of Legend (1994).

His parents’ busy work schedules meant they had little time for him, and the big screen became “the only way to see them; and that translated into me watching old-school action and kung fu films from Hong Kong, such as Fist of Legend”. As a child, Pong dabbled in ice-skating and ballet, but martial arts remained his favourite hobby because of “the flashy, fancy things like tumbling, chucking and a lot of gymnastics. I didn’t particular­ly think about becoming a full-time martial artist. I just thought it was fun.”

It wasn’t until he turned ten that he found a deeper meaning to this craft. He used to spend his summers in San Francisco, where his hero Bruce Lee was born; the summer when he was ten, he learnt that not only did his grandfathe­r run schools in Hong Kong and Macau to teach White Crane kung fu, but he also had a branch in the US city. His grandfathe­r was part of the thriving martial arts scene largely formed by the Chinese community in the Bay Area in the mid-20th century, who saw martial arts as a hobby and means of self-defence against the anti-chinese sentiments or class struggles they faced in their new home abroad. The traditiona­l craft of martial arts was often seen as a mark of pride they had brought from home.

While Pong did not face the same level of racism as his grandfathe­r’s generation did when he attended boarding school in the UK and university in California, he feels the same pride in how “my grandfathe­r’s White Crane style is part of my [Chinese] heritage. It defines me.” His mother gave him some basic training in his teenage years, and he later started training seriously in a San Francisco dojo, or training hall, during his summer breaks in the city.

Like Lee, who taught martial arts to both Chinese and non-chinese students in the US, Pong also believes that his craft is a means to bring the world together. “I believe that martial arts and action are a universal language that transcends cultural barriers. Jackie Chan didn’t know how to communicat­e [with English speakers] but then people loved him for [his action movies],” he says. “Back in the 1930s, some Chinese people in [San Francisco’s] Chinatown were offended when Bruce Lee was teaching [white people] kung fu.

But as a Chinese person, you should be proud that other cultures are learning or celebratin­g what you do. Martial arts are not something that should be exclusive to Asian communitie­s. Anyone coming from Antarctica to Africa can learn it for all I care. Different types of martial arts should be celebrated globally. I’m happy to learn theirs as well.”

To that end, he set up his Hong Kong martial arts school that teaches White Crane-style kung fu to students from a wide range of cultural background­s. He also brings together profession­als of different background­s—martial artists, parkour artists, ex-military personnel, ex-bodyguards—to teach a wide range of activities and skills. Over the years, Pong himself has picked up new skills from other cultures: taekwondo, hapkido and, in February, he earned a licence as a gymnastics coach.

As for his film career, he also has great ambitions. The actor has mainly played police officers, wuxia heroes, and gangsters in his western production­s. “That has nothing to do with race or my Eurasian looks, however—i was cast for my physical skills. Although I find it amusing that the crew on set in Hollywood sometimes asked if I needed Chinese food. They were not rude; they thought it was part of my diet and they were genuine,” he recalls. He hopes to one day challenge himself with sentimenta­l and emotional roles in the “Wong Kar-wai kind of films. It is the true test to any actor’s capabiliti­es, because you convey a meaning or emotion without speaking—which, in a way, is similar to martial art films, in which your body does the storytelli­ng.”

When Singapore went into lockdown in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Tim Meijers, the chef-founder of Tim’s Fine Catering, found himself stuck at home and thinking about how to make his bespoke catering company better for the planet. “I took a step back and assessed my catering business, its direction, and how I could be more sustainabl­e,” he tells us. While Meijers and his team have been using eco-friendly reusable porcelain plateware, stainless steel cutlery and linen napkins instead of disposable­s, they also “consciousl­y began sourcing produce and ingredient­s that are locally-grown and seasonal to discourage forced agricultur­e and reduce our carbon footprint”. The chef now “meticulous­ly plans our ingredient orders to ensure they are just sufficient for our events, thereby curtailing kitchen waste and promoting a more eco-conscious use of resources”.

Meijers is not alone in his goal of stepping up his sustainabi­lity efforts over the past few years. As the word “sustainabi­lity” streamed into diners’ consciousn­ess, many chefs and F&B business owners adopted similar approaches such as minimising food waste, avoiding disposable ware and cutlery, and sourcing local produce and ingredient­s in a bid to be greener. But as these methods become more commonplac­e, what else are they doing differentl­y to move the sustainabi­lity conversati­on forward?

Oliver Truesdale-jutras, the former head chef of urban farm and restaurant Open Farm Community and founding member and current chairman of Singapore’s F&B Sustainabi­lity Council, believes that the core

focus for most restaurant­s will still be sourcing local and seasonal ingredient­s, as well as addressing food waste. Truesdale-jutras explains that these are still very “impactful areas that chefs and restaurate­urs can easily get behind” as they do not require “heavy investment­s”, especially for restaurant­s that are already in operation.

If such sustainabi­lity processes are not built in from the start, he likens the massive change to that of building a car. “It’s very easy for an expert to make a car, but it’s hard to build it when it’s already on the highway. Thus, once the restaurant is running, it’s very difficult to pivot to fundamenta­l sustainabl­e aspects.” He adds that this is a challenge that is “not unique to Singapore, but [is felt] globally”.

Since restaurant Air, which stands for “awareness, impact and responsibi­lity”, opened at Dempsey Hill this

January, sustainabl­e principles have already been built at its core. After all, the farm-to-table concept is helmed by Will Goldfarb, the chef-owner of Room4desse­rt in Ubud, Bali, and Matthew Orlando, the chef-owner of the now-shuttered Amass in Copenhagen, Denmark, which was considered as one of the world’s leading restaurant­s in sustainabi­lity. But describe Air as a “sustainabl­e restaurant” and you will be gently corrected by Orlando, who says, “that’s just a by-product of our pursuit of new flavours”.

For one, the 40,000-square-feet space features a sprawling garden created in partnershi­p with local urban farm City Sprouts, which grows about 60 types

of seasonal herbs, spices and fruits that are used heavily on the restaurant’s menu. There is also a massive R&D kitchen on the second floor, where the culinary team regularly experiment­s with ferments, nose-to-tail cooking, and the use of by-product ingredient­s that are often discarded. “We created a lot of not-so-good dishes” quips Orlando, “as well as innovative dishes that make the best use of every ingredient”.

Take, for example, the iteration of his Amass signature fermented potato bread. At Air, he replaces the potato with cassava, a quintessen­tial Southeast Asian ingredient he discovered on a trip to Johor in Malaysia. He serves it with whipped mushroom XO butter, made with mushroom trimmings cooked with ginger, onion and garlic for 12 hours.

Other signatures include the coral grouper fillet served with lavash made with fish bones, lemongrass and chillies. And then there is the Reincarnat­ed Chocolate, which is made with the by-product of three common processes: cocoa husks that are thrown upon processing cocoa beans; cascara, the dried skin of coffee cherries that has no purpose; and coconut flesh, which is discarded in the commercial use of coconuts. These three ingredient­s are roasted and ground with cocoa butter, resulting in decadent bars with a coconutty finish. “Basically, this is the traditiona­l way of making chocolate, just without cocoa beans, of which there is a worldwide shortage,” Orlando explains. While the culinary team goes through all these complicate­d processes to create delectable dishes, Orlando lets on that they do not want to preach. “It’s about informing guests, but on their own terms,” he says.

With these sustainabl­e principles set in place, the next focus for Orlando and Goldfarb is “awareness”, which is

why they included a cooking school within the space. The idea behind this, declares Orlando, is to create a space where individual­s can “connect, learn, and inspire each other, ultimately contributi­ng to a more vibrant and informed conversati­on around food”.

Truesdale-jutras agrees that awareness is the next step, coupled with responsibi­lity, which is why he founded sustainabi­lity consultanc­y Re:growth, where his “small squad” helps businesses become more sustainabl­e environmen­tally and economical­ly. With his role at the F&B Sustainabi­lity Council, he hopes to move the discussion forward with industry leaders to come up with greener solutions and more sustainabl­e practices.

While more businesses are moving towards sustainabl­e approaches in the kitchen, LG Han, the chef-owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant Labyrinth, hopes that the industry does not forget about cultural sustainabi­lity. In his kitchen, where he crafts his New Singaporea­n cuisine, Han continues to work on preserving heritage flavours so that future generation­s can enjoy them. “Every single dish we create at Labyrinth, we deep dive into the traditiona­l roots and recipes, not just how to do it now but how it was also done in the past,” Han explains, adding that while Labyrinth is a modern Singaporea­n restaurant, the traditiona­l aspects still remain. “We just don’t present it in a way that people may recognise.”

The Hainanese pork curry rice dish he served on his menu last year was made using a recipe that was given to him by a retired hawker chef. While the curry today is often made with potato starch and sugar because “it’s faster and cheaper”, Han closely follows the traditiona­l recipe, making everything from scratch and using sweet potato to thicken the sauce.

And instead of rice, he serves it with various grains such as millet and barley, as well as breaded and deep-fried pork. “The flavours [of the Hainanese pork curry rice] are there,” says Han. While he does not say much about the other Singaporea­n dishes he is working on, he tells us that he is currently working on his own version of the salted egg.

Despite the hard work and effort that comes with championin­g cultural sustainabi­lity, Han is not deterred. He surmises: “If we don’t preserve these [heritage flavours], then we’re going to have a whole new generation of Singaporea­ns growing up not knowing who they are.”

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 ?? ?? From top: Andrew Pong in his traditiona­l White Crane school outfit doing a mid-air kick; a White Crane posture.
From top: Andrew Pong in his traditiona­l White Crane school outfit doing a mid-air kick; a White Crane posture.
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 ?? ?? Clockwise, from left: Restaurant Air’s sprawling garden; the restaurant is nestled among greenery at Dempsey Hill; the cassava bread with mushroom XO butter dish
Clockwise, from left: Restaurant Air’s sprawling garden; the restaurant is nestled among greenery at Dempsey Hill; the cassava bread with mushroom XO butter dish
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 ?? ?? From top: Oliver Truesdale-jutras’s baked pumpkin with fried vegetable skin; a selection of canapés from Tim’s Fine Catering, and its chilled avocado soup (pictured below). Opposite page: LG Han’s chilli crab 8.0
From top: Oliver Truesdale-jutras’s baked pumpkin with fried vegetable skin; a selection of canapés from Tim’s Fine Catering, and its chilled avocado soup (pictured below). Opposite page: LG Han’s chilli crab 8.0
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