Singapore Cooks

Economics undergraduate hones cooking skills at Le Cordon Bleu

Undergraduate Andre Ng is so serious about cooking that he took a six-month cooking course at Le Cordon Bleu in London

Most home cooks may attend short cooking classes to feed their culinary interest.

But undergraduate Andre Ng is so serious about his craft that he headed to London for six months earlier this year to attend a culinary diploma course at the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school.

The 21-year-old learnt more than 100 classic French recipes, from duck confit to vanilla souffle. His parents paid the $53,000 for the course fees and his living expenses.

His father, 56, is an engineer and his mother, 49, a housewife. He also has a younger sister who is 18.

He developed an interest in cooking after accompanying his mother to a Western cooking class five years ago and became serious about the craft three years ago.


Mr Andre Ng learnt to cook herb-crusted rack of lamb with ratatouille from Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. ST PHOTO: DON CHI

After being "wowed by how various ingredients can be put together to create a dish", he watched cooking shows and experimented with Western recipes such as pasta, burgers and shepherd's pie from cookbooks and culinary websites.

Mr Ng, who completed the cooking course last month, says: "It seems extravagant to fly all the way to London to learn cooking, but this was the best way to try out cooking for real and see if I could make a career of it."

The timing of the course also fitted into his schedule - he had six months free between the completion of his national service and starting school at the University of Warwick in Coventry tomorrow.

He will be studying economics, though he is considering pursuing an "alternative career route" as a chef after he graduates.

At culinary school, he picked up a plethora of skills in the kitchen, from deboning birds to using sous vide machines to plating dishes with flair.

Since returning from London last month, he has been busy cooking for friends and family, whipping up dishes such as roast chicken stuffed with beans and chorizo, beef Wellington and crab pasta.

He flew off to England earlier this week, where he says he will be cooking frequently and also plans to take up part-time cooking stints in cafes and organise supper clubs.

"Cooking keeps me focused and excited, and I feel proud after plating a dish that looks like a work of art."


MAKE IT YOURSELF: HERB-CRUSTED RACK OF LAMB WITH RATATOUILLE

INGREDIENTS

60g flat leaf parsley

2 to 3 sprigs thyme

2 to 3 sprigs rosemary

120g breadcrumbs, store-bought

350g lamb rack (3 rib bones)

Salt and pepper to taste

20ml olive oil

2 Tbs Dijon mustard

For sauce

30ml olive oil

600g chopped lamb bones, store-bought

100g carrots, diced into 1cm cubes

100g onions, diced into 1cm cubes

50g celery, diced into 1cm cubes

100ml white wine

1 litre water

Salt to taste

For ratatouille

1 tsp salt

100g eggplant, diced into 1cm cubes

80ml olive oil

100g onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

100g red pepper, diced into 1cm cubes

100g yellow pepper, diced into 1cm cubes

100g green pepper, diced into 1cm cubes

2 tsp canned tomato paste

200g zucchini, diced into 1cm cubes

60ml water

400g halved tomatoes, de-seeded, roughly chopped

5 basil leaves, finely sliced

Salt to taste

White pepper to taste

METHOD

For lamb

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C.

2. Pluck leaves from the sprigs of parsley, thyme and rosemary sprigs and mix them with breadcrumbs in a mixing bowl.

3. Blend contents in an electric blender till breadcrumbs turn green.

4. Pour breadcrumb mixture into a tray and set aside.

5. With a knife, remove trimmings in between the bones of the lamb rack and scrape bones clean. Set trimmings aside.

6. With a knife, score the fat on top of the lamb rack in a criss-cross pattern and season the rack with salt and pepper.

7. Place an oven-safe pan on the stove on high heat, add olive oil and sear the lamb, fat side down, for three to four minutes, before turning the lamb and searing all sides until they turn brown.

8. Place the pan of seared lamb into the oven and roast for 10 to 12 minutes.

9. Remove the pan from the oven and brush the meat on all sides evenly with Dijon mustard.

10. Using a pair of tongs, roll and coat the meat in the mixture of herbs and breadcrumbs.

11. Place the rack of lamb back into the pan and roast in the oven at 180 deg C for another five minutes to crisp the breadcrumbs.

12. Remove the lamb from the oven and let it rest on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before using a knife to slice it into individual rib bones.

For sauce

1. In a clean oven-safe pan, add olive oil, chopped lamb bones and meat trimmings and place it in the oven at 180 deg C for 20 to 25 minutes until the bones turn dark brown.

2. Remove pan from the oven and add diced carrots, onions and celery and let the mixture roast for 5 to 10 minutes till it turns slightly brown.

3. Use kitchen towels to dab the food lightly to remove oil. Add white wine into the pan and use a spoon to scrape off the meat stuck on the bottom of the pan. Add 1 litre of water, enough to cover the bones.

4. Set the pan over high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Skim away the fats from the surface of the mixture with a spoon and then switch to low heat. Allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Turn heat off and strain the mixture into another pan by pouring it through a strainer lined with a damp muslin cloth (pictured).

6. Set the pan with the stock over high heat and reduce the stock for about 15 minutes until it thickens. Add salt to taste and set aside.

For ratatouille

1. In a bowl, sprinkle salt on diced eggplant and set aside for 15 minutes.

2. In a pan set over medium heat, fry chopped onions in half the olive oil for two minutes till they turn translucent. Add garlic and fry for another one to two minutes. Switch to low heat and leave pan on the stove.

3. In another pan set over medium heat, fry red, yellow and green peppers in the remaining olive oil for two minutes and add them to the pan of fried onions and garlic.

4. Add tomato paste into the pan and mix well.

5. Rinse salted diced eggplant under running water and dab it with kitchen towels to remove excess water.

6. Add diced eggplant and zucchini, 60ml water and chopped tomatoes into the pan. Cover the pan and let the mix simmer for 30 minutes. Add chopped basil leaves and salt and white pepper to taste.

7. To plate the dish, scoop up ratatouille, arrange three lamb pieces with the rib bones criss-crossing one another and garnish with chopped basil leaves. Drizzle sauce on the plate. Serve.

Serves four

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