Meet the three chefs helm­ing 田Magic Square, a year-long pop-up at Ports­down Road


Meet the three chefs helm­ing Magic Square, a year-long pop-up at Ports­down Road

It’s not so much risqué as it is risky, putting three largely un­known chefs at the helm of an ex­per­i­men­tal kitchen. Nev­er­the­less, in the spirit of sup­port­ing lo­cal tal­ent, Tan Ken Loon of Naked Finn and Nekkid backed three chefs, Des­mond Shen (25), Mar­cus Leow (26) and Abel Su (29), in start­ing 田Magic Square, a min­i­mal­ist, loft­style kitchen and in­cu­ba­tor named af­ter a se­ries of paint­ings by Swiss-Ger­man artist Paul Klee. Through­out the course of the space’s one-year lease, Shen, Leow and Su, in that or­der, would take turns pre­sent­ing month-long nine-course tast­ing menus (priced at $78 per per­son) along their cho­sen themes and have a hand in man­ag­ing the busi­ness side of things. They would also get to work with fresh, lo­cal in­gre­di­ents, courtesy of Naked Finn’s net­work of lo­cal sup­pli­ers, 3am vis­its to Jurong fish­ery port and an in­door veg­etable farm. Though young, all three chefs have had kitchen ex­pe­ri­ence at renowned restau­rants such as Odette, White­grass, Cu­rate and Iggy’s. On the pass since May, they are now into their sec­ond cy­cle of menus and go­ing strong.

Hav­ing each done one round of menus at 田Magic Square, what are your thoughts?

Leow: In my pro­gres­sive Per­anakan-cen­tric menu, the dish I was most happy with was my buak keluak and olive veg­etable emul­sion, with a vari­a­tion of brus­sels sprouts. It gave me great joy when din­ers fin­ished the brus­sels sprouts as this is an in­gre­di­ent that peo­ple typ­i­cally didn’t like or thought was bor­ing. On the other hand, I would say I was most dis­ap­pointed with the pork belly and chin­chalok sauce with a burnt pineap­ple sauce. I re­ally liked it and so did the din­ers, but it just didn’t re­ally fit in with the other cour­ses, so we changed it to a 90-day­old French chicken smoked in a co­conut husk, with an egg­plant purée in­fused with Per­anakan aro­mat­ics of pick­led gin­ger flower and chopped pep­per leaves.

Su: I loved the jas­mine rice par­fait with a sweet potato skin caramel, topped with anise flowers and pur­ple sweet pota­toes with a brit­tle crust that re­flected my Can­tonese her­itage. It was an idea that I came up with seven years ago, but it is some­thing that would have never been pos­si­ble with­out the seven years since, or with­out this place (I would have never thought to fry the pota­toes if not for Des­mond’s in­put). The dish looks sim­ple, but it has made so many guests happy, which makes me happy.

I like how the pork dish with 10-year aged plum vine­gar and burnt plums turned out, be­cause I felt a strong con­nec­tion to the aged vine­gar I made with my par­ents 10 years ago. I also learnt the value of adapt­ing to feed­back with my In­dian threadfin dish. It was ini­tially gently steamed in a broth of salted co­conut wa­ter in­fused with gin­ger flower. The flavour po­larised din­ers due to the warm sweet­ness of the broth. I changed it to an In­dian threadfin atop glutinous rice sea­soned with roasted bone pow­der and some dried sole fish, which was then wrapped in sweet potato leaves and added to a roasted fish bone broth topped with crispy egg threads and a green scal­lion oil. This dish was much bet­ter re­ceived.

What’s on your up­com­ing menus?

Leow: For the month of Septem­ber, I will con­tinue with a pro­gres­sive Per­anakan theme and fea­ture dishes such as buak keluak pesto or a berg­amot in­fused salted veg­etable broth. I also hope to add some ex­per­i­men­tal dishes to the menu. One is a binka ubi that has a smoky flavour when grilled over hot char­coal, served with a very rich jack­fruit curd. An­other is Bom­bay duck—a fish that’s in­cred­i­bly com­mon in Tekka mar­ket and very af­ford­able— used in a dish of fish dumpling and a broth made from dried Bom­bay duck in­fused in a black grape­fruit peel.

Su: I cook with my her­itage and train­ing in mind, but I just want the food to be sim­ple, well-ex­e­cuted, and make sense as part of the whole menu. I am usu­ally most ex­cited by desserts. We have an ice shaving ma­chine loaned to us by a friend, and I would feel like I am let­ting him down if I did not use it at least once.

In ad­di­tion, Pike con­ger is not some­thing I have used be­fore. Up un­til we went to the fish­ery port in Jurong, I had al­ways thought it was only avail­able in Ja­pan. It is an in­ter­est­ing fish with a very com­pli­cated bone struc­ture, and it is some­thing I hope I can make a great dish out of.

Shen: Well my next menu is com­ing up in Au­gust, which will prob­a­bly be over by the time this ar­ti­cle come out, but I will be in­ject­ing sub­tle Malay and In­dian in­flu­ences to my dishes. My god­mother is an In­dian-Mus­lim and she, along with my Mum, in­spired me to learn how to cook in the first place. I’m cur­rently de­vel­op­ing a dish com­posed of grilled man­goes, kaf­fir, spiced yo­ghurt and Maqaw pep­per, a moun­tain pep­per berry from Tai­wan. It’s a flavour com­bi­na­tion that I re­ally en­joy and iden­tify with be­cause of its heat and fra­grance.

From left to right: Des­mond Shen, Abel Su and Mar­cus Leow

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