It was a cosy homecoming for Sydney-based celebrity chef Adam Liaw when he hosted Australian food programme Destination Flavour, which puts the spotlight on Singapore food in its fifth season.
The 38-year-old Australian, who won MasterChef Australia in 2010, shares an intimate connection with the Republic. He was born in Penang to a Singapore-born British mother and a Malaysian-Chinese father, and his late maternal grandfather was interned in Changi Prison during World War II.
Liaw's family uprooted to Adelaide when he was three. These days, he visits his paternal Hainanese relatives here once a year and he always looks forward to eating one of his favourite Singapore dishes, chicken rice.
He has a cousin who worked as a chicken rice hawker for more than 30 years.
When he was here to shoot the show in the middle of last year, one of his post-work activities was checking out food places. Some of his favourite food haunts include Tong Ah Eating House in Keong Saik Street that is famed for its wafer-thin kaya toast and a roast meat stall in Bishan.
In a phone interview with The Straits Times, Liaw says with a chuckle from Sydney: "The great thing about living in Singapore is that there is always something to do, unlike filming in Norway where all you can do after work is watch hours of Norwegian television programmes in your hotel room."
Destination Flavour Singapore, which airs at 8pm on Thursdays on FYI (StarHub TV Channel 404), sees Liaw exploring Singapore's culinary melting pot by talking and cooking with home cooks and prominent chefs.
Being a reality television contestant is stressful. I enjoyed it when I was single, but with two young children now, I certainly do not need the extra stress in my life.
CELEBRITY CHEF ADAM LIAW, who won Master Chef Australia in 2010
They include culinary doyenne Violet Oon, pastry chef Janice Wong and the owners of eateries such as 328 Katong Laksa and Hainanese curry puff stall Rolina.
Liaw also shares recipes for dishes such as chilli crab, beef satay and one of his childhood dishes, lei cha fan (Hakka thunder tea rice).
The nine-episode series culminates in a five-course banquet that Liaw whips up for local food and beverage professionals, including The Straits Times food critic Wong Ah Yoke.
While Liaw is well acquainted with hawker food, he is not familiar with the local fine-dining scene.
"Fine-dining restaurants have developed quickly over the past five years and I wanted to have my finger on the pulse of the world-class restaurants here while shooting the series."
He visited one-Michelin-starred restaurants such as Jaan and Waku Ghin, which is run by his former boss, Sydney-based chef Tetsuya Wakuda.
Liaw says: "Eating hyperlocal is a mantra that other countries are into, but Singapore doesn't buy into that. What surprises me is that it is so easy for chefs here to get ingredients from all over the world anytime."
For example, he reveals that chef Wakuda told him that Singapore has three truffle seasons as it imports the fungi from countries such as France and Australia throughout the year.
Filming the series has given Liaw a stronger impetus to introduce his food heritage to his three-year-old son and one-year-old daughter.
At home, Liaw, who is married to a Japanese, cooks an "international range of cuisine" for his family, with influences from Japan, where he once worked as a lawyer, and Scandinavia. Both countries were featured in past seasons of Destination Flavour.
"I grew up eating chicken rice once a week, but my son was almost three and I had not cooked the dish for him," Liaw says.
So he did just that when he returned to Sydney after filming.
"That was the first dish that we made together after I came home."
He has also made other Singapore foods such as kaya toast and wonton noodles for his family.
With his whirlwind travelling schedule to film the Destination Flavour series, what dish does he miss the most when he is on the go?
"Braised pork belly. I feel most at home when I have the time to cook a dish for three hours and enjoy it with my family," he says. "That requires a lot of stability in life."
Thus, Liaw, who released his fifth cookbook last year, rules out participating in another televised cooking competition.
He says with a laugh: "Watching MasterChef Australia now makes me feel old. Being a reality television contestant is stressful. I enjoyed it when I was single, but with two young children now, I certainly do not need the extra stress in my life."
• Destination Flavour Singapore is on Thursdays, 8pm on FYI (StarHub TV Channel 404).