Foodie Confidential With Wong Ah Yoke

Cooking is like putting on a show

Toy Factory's artistic director Goh Boon Teck enjoys throwing dinner parties

For Goh Boon Teck, artistic director of Toy Factory, dinner is the most important meal of the day. It is when he can relax after a stressful day at work and chill out with food.

The 44-year-old is directing a new play, Grind, that is opening on Thursday. He also wrote the script for the production, which is about four homosexual men confronting different issues in their lives. It is rated R18 for mature content.

He is already working on the next play, a commissioned production with a Buddhist theme, as well as preparing for other shows on the Toy Factory 2016 programme calendar.

But he leaves work behind every evening and mostly dines out with his partner, who lives with him, as well as with friends.

He says: "Singapore is a lovely place and when the temperature is down, it's nice to dine outdoors, whether at a hawker centre or a restaurant."

A scare three years ago, when a health check revealed problems such as high blood pressure and a disposition for diabetes, led him to be more careful with what he eats. He has added more fruit and vegetables to his diet. That helped to bring his medical issues under control without the need for medication.

Goh Boon Teck likes the traditional Hokkien fare at Good Chance Popiah.
Goh Boon Teck likes the traditional Hokkien fare at Good Chance Popiah. ST PHOTO: TAMARA CRAIU

But the food lover confesses that there are cheat days when he indulges.

Where do you usually dine?

I enjoy eating outdoors at night - there's happier energy. I go to areas such as Joo Chiat, Upper East Coast and Upper Serangoon.

A place I also frequent is Ting Heng in Tiong Bahru for seafood zi char.

There is also Parklane Green, a cluster of eateries and bars in East Coast Park. I go for the atmosphere at the Western eateries.

Another place I have been going to for a long time is Good Chance Popiah, which has an outlet in New World Centre in Jalan Berseh. I like the traditional Hokkien fare there such as popiah and kong bak pau.

And I was sad that Lee Kui Restaurant in Mosque Street has closed down. It served traditional Teochew dishes.

Do you always dine at the same places?

Most of the time I seek comfort in places that I am familiar with. But every Wednesday is a "try a new restaurant" day. My partner and I would try to look for a new place to check out.

Usually, we start with the kind of food we want to try. Recently, we tried Bochinche, an Argentinian place in Robertson Quay, which was good.

A place that's on our list to try is New Ubin Seafood in Sin Ming.

What is your favourite food?

Handmade bao. My mum was a Hokkien opera actress and did not have time to cook dinner when she had to perform. So she would buy a tua pau (big steamed bun) for me to eat. It was a standard pau, with a filling of chicken and pork and half a hard-boiled egg, and dripping with juices.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • A good tua pau.

The best tua pau for me these days is from a stall in Bedok North Street 1 called Shou Gong Bao, where the owner handmakes only about 20 in each batch. After they are sold out, you have to wait for the next batch to be ready. They are best eaten straightaway.

Do you cook? Who do you cook for?

I cook very often. This year, at Chinese New Year, I made pencai (festive pot of meats, seafood and vegetables) for a party of friends. I was curious about how it was done and deduced the recipe from what I've eaten. I also asked several of my aunties.

I used to cook for friends almost once a month, but that was cut down to about six times last year because of my schedule.

There are usually six to eight people at the parties and they comprise either theatre or other friends. Cooking for them is a show of love and friendship.

What do you cook?

I cook mostly Chinese dishes. I have no flair for Western cooking. I cook dishes such as steamed pomfret and orh nee (yam paste dessert).

I got tips from my aunties and learnt recipes from the Internet. I'm going to try paella though, as I was in Barcelona recently.

Have you had any cooking disaster at these parties?

It was when I tried to cook lotus leaf yam rice. I fried the rice, wrapped it in the leaf and steamed it.

But after 1 1/2 hours, it still wasn't cooked. And the guests were arriving.

In the end, I had to cook it in a rice cooker.

How did you start cooking?

It was my mum who dragged me into the kitchen and taught me to cook. She felt it was an important survival skill. I was six or seven at the time.

The skill did come in useful when I was studying theatre directing in London from 1996 to 1997. I would cook dishes such as curry chicken for schoolmates.

What do you enjoy about cooking?

It is like doing a theatre show. You have the preparation, chopping, cutting. Then you put everything together and create something.

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

Madonna. I watched her concert in Bangkok last month and am madly impressed with her flexibility and stamina at 57. I will cook her curry chicken and Hokkien dishes.

  • Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 20, 2016, with the headline 'Cooking is like putting on a show'. Print Edition | Subscribe