Aussie chef was told he should not be one

Australian chef Mat Lindsay is in Singapore for the first time, as part of the $100Gourmet monthly dining series.
Australian chef Mat Lindsay is in Singapore for the first time, as part of the $100Gourmet monthly dining series.PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

As a young chef travelling the world in his 20s, Singapore was never on the radar for Australian chef Mat Lindsay.

But with the spotlight on Singapore as a gourmet destination, the 36-year-old is here for the first time, as part of the $100Gourmet monthly dining series.

He notes that fellow Australian chefs such as Brent Savage of Bentley Restaurant & Bar in Sydney's Central Business District, and Luke Burgess of the now-defunct Garagistes restaurant in Hobart, have been here as well. Both were here for previous editions of the $100Gourmet programme.

Singaporeans have also been making waves in Australia, he adds. His restaurant, Ester, in the hip Chippendale area, is a stone's throw away from The Old Clare Hotel, which was redeveloped by Singaporean hotelier Loh Lik Peng. Ester is also near Kensington Street, a food and arts enclave developed by Singaporean Stanley Quek.

  • BOOK IT / $100GOURMET

  • WHERE: Cheek by Jowl, 21 Boon Tat Street; Ash & Elm, InterContinental Singapore, 80 Middle Road

    WHEN: Tonight, 6 or 8.30pm (Cheek by Jowl); Friday to Sunday (Friday to Sunday) , 6.30, 7, 7.30, 8, or 8.30pm (Ash & Elm)

    PRICE: $180++, $100++ (Citibank credit cardholders)

    INFO: www.100gourmet.sg

All this, he says, has Australians buzzing about Singapore, and the chef has been quick to dive straight into the food scene here.

At the top of his dining list when he arrived was Burnt Ends at Teck Lim Road, followed by Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck at Paragon Shopping Centre, and two- Michelin-starred restaurant Shisen Hanten at Mandarin Orchard Singapore.

He has also eaten popiah at Maxwell Food Centre, but missed out on the Bib Gourmand-rated Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice as the "queue was too long".

For $100Gourmet, chef Lindsay has also been busy in the kitchen, cooking at Cheek by Jowl at Boon Tat Street yesterday and tonight. He will also cook at Ash & Elm at InterContinental Singapore from Friday to Sunday.

Some of his offerings include Hiramasa kingfish with nori puree and burnt mandarins; and lobster with roasted gem lettuce and whipped bonito.

Back home, his 56-seat restaurant has a wood-fired oven. Besides cooking seafood and meats in it, the oven is used for smoking garnishes and sauces, as well as fermenting vegetables and culturing butter - where he leaves soft cream under the wood fire overnight.

After experimenting with various types of wood, chef Lindsay uses mallee root in the restaurant. It is native to South Australia and burns for a longer time, he says.

He jokes about becoming a chef "by mistake", after seeing his friends enter kitchens at the age of 15.

He followed suit and spent two weeks in a restaurant, only to be cast aside by the chef.

"I was not allowed to do anything, not even wash up," he says. "The chef (who took over the one who was on holiday) told me that I shouldn't be one."

Shortly after, he moved to Sydney - from the coastal town of Wauchope in New South Wales where he was born - to train as a graphic designer, but soon got a job as a waiter at Neil Perry's modern Asian noodle bar, Wockpool.

There, he met Australian celebrity chef Kylie Kwong, who helmed Wockpool and let him work in the kitchen instead. He also worked in Perry's Rockpool.

When Kwong moved on to open her own restaurant, Billy Kwong, in 2000, he moved as well. On working with her, chef Lindsay says: "She's a great person. What you see on TV is what you get."

It was at this time that he decided to travel the world, naming Britain, Spain, Thailand, and Japan as some of the countries he visited. In between, he returned two more times to work at Billy Kwong before opening Ester in 2013.

One of the first restaurants to open in Chippendale, Ester received Two Chef Hats from The Sydney Morning Herald within its debut year.

"I'm sure there are more restaurants to come, but it has helped us in a good way. Three years ago, no one would really walk into the Chippendale area."

His Sri Lankan-Australian girlfriend, O Tama, 36, is also a chef. They met while working at Billy Kwong. She is looking to open a casual curry restaurant called The Lankan Filling Station, serving Sri Lankan cuisine.

Having started out cooking Asian food, chef Lindsay says his favourite breakfast is congee and he "loves eating sashimi".

The only food he cannot stand? Avocados.

He says: "I hate avocados. In Australia, it's like blasphemy to say that. Everyone says I just had a bad one, but I really don't like the texture and flavour. I'll take durians over avocados."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Aussie chef was told he should not be one'. Print Edition | Subscribe