About once a month, bartender Peter Chua looks forward to a scrumptious feast whipped up by his 83-year-old Peranakan grandmother.
His tightly knit family and relatives would gather on some Sundays after attending church to tuck into dishes such as laksa, mee siam, pig stomach soup and chicken curry.
The 28-year-old says: "Due to the odd hours of my job, I don't get to eat such food often. Besides, my grandmother is getting old, so I cherish every opportunity to eat her food."
He also dug into his Peranakan roots to concoct a cocktail inspired by chendol for the Asia-Pacific leg of the Diplomatico World Tournament, an international bartending competition last month.
It won him the top prize, beating other bartenders from 10 Asian countries in the regional competition in Bangkok organised by Venezuelan rum label Diplomatico.
He is one of 13 finalists who will compete at the finals in London on June 25.
His chendol-inspired cocktail, The Heritage Flip, is a concoction of dark rum and a cordial made of coconut milk, gula melaka and pandan syrup. To inject some acidity to balance the rich flavours, he tops the drink with orange-flavoured espuma and serves it with a piece of dark Venezuelan chocolate.
The co-head bartender at American restaurant and bar Crackerjack in Tanjong Pagar Road also created another drink for the competition. Called The Nobleman, it has notes of dried fruit, chocolate and spices with its blend of fig syrup, spiced pear liqueur and Angostura bitters.
Mr Chua has participated in three international bartending competitions over the past three years and reached the finals in every one. He was placed sixth in the prestigious Diageo Reserve World Class global finals in 2014 and represented Singapore in the Bacardi Legacy Global Cocktail Competition in 2015.
He says: "Competing is the only way to keep myself from becoming lazy, as I give myself the most pressure."
Presenting one's cocktail to the judges at these competitions can be nerve-racking and that is where his experience in performing before an audience comes in handy.
The oldest of three children, he played the guitar and sang with two bands at live music venues for five years before national service (NS) derailed plans to follow in the footsteps of his musician father, 63. His mother, 54, is a primary school teacher. After completing NS, he worked in various bars, including a five-year bartending stint at 28 HongKong Street.
Mr Chua, whose girlfriend, 26, works as an events coordinator at Crackerjack, says: "Performing is similar to bartending. Both require showmanship and that creative spark to stand out."
Which are your favourite eating places?
I like Pow Sing Chicken Rice in Serangoon Gardens for its fragrant lemongrass-scented rice that is not too oily. I also like a wonton noodle stall in a coffee shop in Alexandra Road that serves its dry noodles with lots of lard. I used to visit the stall at 7am after ending my gaming sessions at 5am.
I also like the hor fun at Hong Sheng, a zi char stall in Toa Payoh North. The noodles are moist and aromatic from being served on opeh leaves.
WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?
My grandmother's laksa, a McSpicy burger with French fries and chicken rice.
Which are your supper haunts?
Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant in Jalan Besar. There is nothing like digging into deep-fried wonton, har gao, char siew bun and siew mai at 4am.
I also frequent the coffee shop at Block 401 Hougang Avenue 10 for oyster omelette and mee pok.
What is the best thing you have eaten?
Thai wonton noodles from a street-side stall called Bamee Slow in Bangkok. The stall gets its name from how slowly the owner makes the dish. You need to mix the noodles, chilli powder and poached egg. I always have two or three bowls at a go.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Vanilla or hazelnut ice cream. I can eat half a tub of it at one go. And French fries. Though not the two of them together.
What is your favourite overseas destination to go to for bars?
San Francisco. The bars there have a cosy neighbourhood vibe. I like ABV in 16th Street. It serves good food and drinks and offers efficient service.
When you sit down for a meal, what drink do you order?
I always start a meal with an aperitivo, Americano, which has sweet vermouth, Campari and soda. It is refreshing and wakes up the appetite.
What are some of your favourite food and drink pairings?
I would pair burgers with a Penicillin Cocktail, a blend of Scotch whisky, honey, lemon juice and ginger. The citrus cuts through the greasiness of a burger.
I also like to pair desserts such as ice cream and chocolate tart with an El Presidente, a mix of rum, curacao, vermouth and grenadine. It is a fruity drink that is not too sweet.
What is a perfect bar experience?
There is no such thing. It is basically adapting to what each customer feels comfortable with in that space.
Do you cook at home?
I started cooking daily two weeks ago as the food options after work are limited and unhealthy. I do quick and easy meals such as pairing baked or steamed salmon fillet or chicken with kailan or broccoli.
If you could choose anyone to have a meal with, who would it be and why?
The late Freddie Mercury, who was the frontman of rock band Queen. I would like to know his life journey from being born in Africa to having his music heard all over the world. It would be cool to pick his brains on his creative process in making music.
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