COOKING AT HOME
From writer to cook, Annette Tan is enjoying the best of two worlds with FatFuku, a private kitchen launched early last year
From writer to cook, Annette Tan is enjoying the best of two worlds with FatFuku, a private kitchen launched last year
She started out as a writer for lifestyle magazines, which meant she wrote about subjects like fashion, design, art, food and drinks. When food became popular about 10 years ago, she would volunteer to cover the food-related stories and “somehow worked [her] way into it being [her] specialty” as she was a keen home cook. Over the years, Annette Tan transcribed recipes, interviewed chefs and learnt their kitchen hacks and carried on cooking on weekends for loved ones. Finally, with a little encouragement from friends and family, she took the plunge and set up FatFuku, a private kitchen serving Peranakan and Singaporean food.
She hasn’t looked back since. To date, she has had a Singaporean actress, a Masterchef Asia contestant and numerous strangers feast at her home. “I think the highest-profile person that’s dined at my table is New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer, who’s the founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group (he might be better known in Singapore as the man behind Shake Shack),” she shares. “He was a guest of the equally famous Aun Koh of the Chubby Hubby blog.”
For Tan, the best thing about running FatFuku is meeting new people and hearing their stories and food memories. “People who love food can’t help but want to share in the joy of something authentic and delicious that they have cooked or discovered. I’ve had customers drop in with sambals from Indonesia, babka from New York, their mother’s pork curry—it’s incredibly heart-warming.”
While FatFuku has been very successful since it launched, Tan has no plans to set up a restaurant. “Cooking for up to 10 people at one sitting is very different from cooking for a crowd and running a restaurant,” she says. “I love the intimacy of a private kitchen and have no ambitions for a restaurant.”
This means that food lovers keen on a taste of her signatures such as mee siam gareng, aka twice-fried crispy mee siam pancake with prawn and quail egg sambal; and pork belly buah keluak biryani, stewed pork belly in a buah keluak rempah and served on biryani-style basmati rice cooked with buah keluak, can only do so at FatFuku, in the cosy comfort of Tan’s home. Which is not a bad thing at all in our humble opinion.
I’ve always entertained a lot. I love cooking for friends and family, and often they would say, “Oh, I would love to bring so and so over to try your food.” To that end, I toyed with the idea of a private dining outfit, but never found the time (or the gumption) to do it. These days, I don’t write as much, which means I have more time on my hands. So I decided to bite the bullet and start FatFuku.
To me, cooking is another means of storytelling. The food we cook speaks about who we are, where we come from, the people we love and our personal tastes. So I see my cooking as an extension of my writing and the sharing of my own stories.
The Japanese word ‘fuku’ and its kanji character ‘福’ (which is the same in Mandarin) means ‘luck’. And to the Chinese, fat equals prosperity. I wanted a name that is playful and with a nod to eating well, so that’s what I came up with.
My mother taught me to cook from an early age. She was that quintessential Peranakan woman who spent most of her day preparing our meals. I grew up on a steady diet of dishes like ayam tempra (chicken stewed in onions, chillies, soy, lime and sugar), ikan belado (fried fish stuffed with belacan), and babi pongteh (pork stewed in fermented soybeans). So when I moved out to live on my own in my 20s, I had to learn to perfect those dishes if I wanted to eat them regularly. Through my work as a food writer, I’ve been privileged to meet chefs and other cooks who have been very generous about sharing their knowledge and techniques, so I’ve learnt from them too.
Right now, my favourite ingredient is unripe jackfruit. It’s common in wet markets, but people don’t think to look out for it… and it’s a real pain to prepare because it has a sticky sap that will coat your hands and your utensils. But it stews down to lovely, tender tendrils, not unlike pulled meat (I recently discovered that jackfruit is a popular meat substitute in the US). I use it to make nangka lemak, which is a classic Peranakan dish that is hard to find outside of homes today.
As a Singaporean cook, the ingredient I find most indispensable is the humble shallot. It goes into just about every rempah (spice mix) and sambal I make. Without shallots, there would be no Peranakan food!
The barrier to entry for private dining is very low. You just have to make sure you serve good food and a memorable dining experience, which is what most people who entertain often already know how to do. If anything, I think confidence is a challenge for me. I’m always asking myself if the food I serve is up to scratch.
My food at FatFuku is a mix of the Peranakan and Eurasian food I grew up eating, but brought into the now with techniques I’ve picked up from chefs and research that I’ve come across in the course of my work as a food writer. It’s very Singaporean in the sense that the flavours are diverse, but I wouldn’t call it modern. It’s just how we eat today.
I’m very happy with where I am right now. I’m extremely lucky that I get to do the two things I love most for work— cooking and writing. These keep me very busy as it is! I’m discussing collaborations with other F&B companies and I would love to produce a FatFuku cookbook in the near future too.