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

Wine & Dine Cookbook - - CONTENTS - IN­TER­VIEW JOYCELINE TULLY PHO­TOS AN­NETTE TAN

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.

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