Foodie Confidential With Wong Ah Yoke

Tott director Grace Tan was bowled over by husband's cooking

Grace Tan, who runs kitchen equipment company Tott, fell for Taiwanese-American Wen Huang because of his culinary prowess

Tott director Grace Tan's job may be selling kitchen equipment and appliances, but she does not use them much herself.

That is because her husband, Mr Wen Huang, is the one doing the cooking at home. In fact, she dated him because of his culinary skills.

"I was attracted to him because of his cooking, so it's very upfront," she says with a laugh.

They met when they were studying at the University of San Francisco in the late 1990s. Mr Huang is a Taiwanese-American who grew up in the United States. His parents live in Colorado.

They registered their marriage in San Francisco in 2005 and Ms Tan returned to Singapore four years later to join the family business, Sia Huat. The kitchen equipment shop in Chinatown was started by her grandfather in 1959 and is now run by her father.

In 2010, the company opened Tott, short for Tools Of The Trade, a hip spin-off store in Dunearn Road. The second outlet opened at Suntec City last year.

When Ms Grace Tan once craved foie gras ice cream, her husband Wen Huang made it for her.
When Ms Grace Tan once craved foie gras ice cream, her husband Wen Huang made it for her. ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Ms Tan, 38, oversees its operations and says the company is exploring options to open more outlets in two to three years. But in the meantime, it is focusing on expanding its e-commerce business.

The store's best-selling items are its bakeware and the line of Jamie Oliver products it carries, which includes baking dishes, cooking utensils and knives.

Mr Huang, 40, is a business development director. The couple have two sons aged five and 11/2.

Do you use the kitchen equipment from your store?

Actually, it's my husband Wen using them as he's the one doing the cooking. We have a sous vide machine and a pressure cooker.

He likes to make duck broth in the pressure cooker because it comes out clear. He has also used it to make American-style chilli with beans.

With the sous vide machine, he has made duck confit. And he sous vides meat such as pork and keeps it in the fridge. In the morning, the domestic helper reheats or pan-fries it lightly.

For Thanksgiving, he cooks turducken, which he makes as a roulade, in the machine.

What else does he cook for you?

When I had a craving for foie gras ice cream once, he made it for me.

He has also done sous vide cheesecake and made tonkotsu ramen broth from scratch, cooking it for 10 hours.

How did you start dating?

It was just after Sept 11 and, being the kiasu Singaporean, my first instinct was to top up the petrol in my car. We already knew each other and were neighbours in the same block in San Francisco, so I messaged him to get petrol together.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE ?

    Anything that my husband cooks for me.

Afterwards, we didn't want to go home to watch the depressing news on TV and ended up chatting at the beach instead.

When we felt hungry, we bought some food from 99Ranch Market and had dinner at Wen's place with some friends. He cooked a soup with lima beans and spare ribs. It was so good, I went back the next day to finish the leftovers.

What is your favourite cuisine?

I like Asian food, especially Japanese. Both times before I gave birth, I went to Aoki at Shaw Centre for its chirashi set before going for my caesarean section.

I go to Yakiniku Yazawa in Robertson Quay for grilled meats. I also like the yukke (raw beef), which comes with pine nuts. I eat that with rice.

For sashimi, I go to Arakawa at Odeon Towers. It used to be called Han and does a good mix of raw fish and kushikatsu (deep-fried skewers).

I also like Ooi Japanese Dining at Holiday Inn Parkview. It's run by a Japanese couple and they bring in ingredients from Japan. I like the omakase, but it's a bit on the pricey side, at up to $400 a person.

When we travel to Japan, we plan the trip around meals. On a recent visit to Fukuoka, we had a very good meal in a beef restaurant near the Grand Hyatt hotel. The meat was cooked in different styles and the meal cost about 10,000 yen (S$135).

We found out about it from a cousin who is a great foodie and travels to Japan a few times a year.

Where do you eat if you are not having Japanese food?

For Shanghainese food, I go to Pu Dong Kitchen in Balmoral Plaza. I like the pan-fried bun and fenpi (bean sheets).

I also like Putien Restaurant for its noodles, and cockles with garlic and chilli. We usually go to the outlet at Marina Square because it's more convenient.

We also go to Coca steamboat for family meals once in a while because my father likes the chilli sauce there.

If I want Western food, Corner House in Botanic Gardens is definitely one of the places I would go to.

I recently tried Labyrinth at the Esplanade. It's quite interesting, but I was with my cousin who can't eat cream and the restaurant could not replace the cream for her.

I really like its version of bak chor mee though.

Are you a fan of hawker food?

I love kway chap and I'm so glad my American husband eats innards too.

I grew up eating at the Chinatown hawker centre, which is near Sia Huat in Temple Street. There is a stall there selling duck noodles together with kway chap that I like. I also like Xiu Ji Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Foo. There's good chee cheong fun there, too, and a stall selling nice desserts such as sesame paste and walnut paste.

After Joseph Schooling came home from the Olympics for his favourite fried carrot cake, I had to eat the dish. So we went to a stall in Clementi near our home. Like Schooling, I prefer the black version.

If you could choose anyone to have a meal with, who would that be?

My late paternal grandmother, who died in 2014, six months before I delivered my second child.

She was my role model in many ways. She went through a lot to bring up her seven kids and even pawned some of her dowry to help my grandfather start Sia Huat.

She also appreciated good food and enjoyed eating. But she was very frugal and didn't like to waste food.

I would love to have a good chat with her and update her on her latest great-grandkid.

• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter@STahyoke

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 28, 2016, with the headline 'Bowled over by husband's cooking'. Print Edition | Subscribe