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Foodie Confidential

Slow Food movement is also about Singapore's culinary culture and heritage

Mr Daniel Chia wants to spread the word that the Slow Food movement is also about preserving heritage dishes

Mr Daniel Chia, 46, hopes to set the record straight about Slow Food (Singapore), a non-profit organisation he set up with nine others in 2013.

"Slow Food is not about the duration of a meal per se. It's a philosophy," says the organisation's president, who holds a day job as a senior lecturer in culinary and catering management at Temasek Polytechnic.

Slow Food (Singapore) is the Singapore branch of the Slow Food International Association in Italy, which was founded in 1989 by Italian journalist Carlo Petrini.

A movement that opposes fast food, it is dedicated to preserving heritage dishes and ingredients, celebrating food culture and traditions, protecting diversity and promoting responsible consumption.

"It's a multi-faceted movement," Mr Chia says.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • I would like to dine at three-Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, with my group of foodie friends.

    The restaurant is ranked first on the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. I've been trying in vain for the past five years to get a reservation that coincides with my travels to Italy.

"Enjoying food slowly is one aspect. In Singapore, we're focusing on preserving and promoting local food culture and heritage."

Singaporean identity is linked to food culture, he says.

"Food here is tied to festivals and celebrations. For example, certain foods, such as mooncakes, appear at only specific times of the year."

The organisation, which currently has 27 members, has been running a Kueh Appreciation Day for the past two years and a heritage recognition programme called Heritage Heroes for heritage bakeries and confectioneries.

He hopes to expand this programme to cover heritage restaurants later this year.

Even before he joined Slow Food in 2013, he has been an informed eater. He stopped eating instant noodles more than 20 years ago and fast food more than 10 years ago.

He has been interested in the food-and-beverage industry since his teens.

After secondary school, he entered hospitality institute Shatec, where he was introduced to the fundamentals of food and beverage and picked up a love of wine.

Before becoming an academic in 2005, he dabbled in various roles in the industry, including running his own wines and spirits distribution company, heading a hotel's beverage programme and helping to open restaurants here and abroad.

His father, 79, is a retiree, while his mother, 75, is in the public relations and events industry.

He has an older brother, 52, who is a director in a film distribution company, and a younger brother, 45, who works in the petrochemical industry.

Today, juggling work and leading the non-profit keeps the bachelor busy.

Most of his meals are quick and "functional".

"I have slow meals only during dinner or when I am hanging out with friends for a meal on weekends," he says.

What is your definition of a local heritage eatery?

It is a place that has been in business here for at least 30 years and where the taste of the dishes brings you back in time.

Places that fit the bill include Hokkien restaurant Beng Thin Hoon Kee Restaurant in Raffles Place, Chinese restaurants Spring Court at Upper Cross Street and Dragon Phoenix Restaurant at Clarke Quay, and dimsum restaurant Red Star in Chin Swee Road.

What is your take on molecular gastronomy?

It's an interesting development, but it's not the sort of food I enjoy eating.

I like food that looks and feels like real food. I'm not fond of gels, foams, sands, powders and spheres.

How sure were you that you wanted to pursue a career in the F&B industry when you were a teenager?

Very sure. In Secondary 3, I wanted to be streamed into a class that taught home economics, but the principal did not approve. I was very disappointed about that.

You spent a year in Shanghai to help with the opening of a restaurant there. Did you develop a liking for Chinese cuisine then?

Yes. I arrived in Shanghai in the autumn of 2004. Because it was cold, I had to eat stuff that kept me warm.

It was there that I enjoyed Sichuan dishes such as water-cooked fish with red chilli oil and kung pao chicken, and Hunan dishes such as pork ribs with cumin, and braised pork with caramelised sugar, soya sauce and wine.

Do you cook?

Not often these days, but, yes, I do cook. Currently, I've been re-visiting Peranakan and Teochew dishes such as my father's favourite salted vegetable and duck soup, chap chye, babi assam, soya braised duck and oxtail stew.

What are some of your most prized kitchen tools?

A Chinese ladle and a chopper, both of which I purchased from kitchen equipment supplier Sia Huat.

I've had them for about 10 years and as long as I am going somewhere to cook, be it to a friend's home here or when I travel overseas, I take them with me.

What are some of the most exotic foods you have eaten?

In 2012, when I was in Piedmont, Italy, I had donkey salami, which tastes like salami; horse meat, which tastes like beef, but is leaner and bloodier; and cockscombs (the crest of chickens). The cockscombs were cooked in a stew and they were slightly gelatinous and didn't have much taste.

A few years back, I also had chicken sashimi in Tokyo, Japan. The chickens were from a farm that bred them in a very clean environment, specially for sashimi.

How many cookbooks do you own?

I don't know. But when I moved house in 2011, I had about 25 boxes worth of books.

Do you have any special, personal food traditions?

I have a tradition that I've kept for the past six years. For my first meal on the first day of the new year, I've been having onion rawa masala.

I love onions. They have a sweet, tasty and rich flavour that I enjoy.

What is food to you?

I think of food mostly as an expression of culture. Each dish usually has an origin that was based on ingredients local to that place and was created in the context of local circumstances.

Eating is the consumption and absorption of not just the physical food and its nutrients, but also the culture it came from.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 02, 2016, with the headline 'Eat slowly'. Print Edition | Subscribe