Foodie Confidential With Wong Ah Yoke

Shaw scion a weekend cook

Mark Shaw could cook when he was in primary school and still cooks for his family and friends

One would not have expected Mr Mark Shaw to grow up helping out in the kitchen.

After all, he is the son of Mr Shaw Vee King and grandson of the late Runme Shaw, one half of the famous Shaw Brothers who started the film-making and cinema empire. The other Shaw founder is the late Run Run Shaw.

Mr Shaw, 46, who is the executive vice-president for operations of Shaw Organisation, remembers going fishing with his father as a young boy and helping to clean the catch afterwards.

"I would also help in the kitchen, chopping and browning the onions," he says, adding that he grew up handling food and learning to cook "by osmosis".

"I grew up in a foodie family. Family meals would have at least 10 dishes on the table. Both my parents cook. So I guess I got it from them."

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

    An outstanding burger. There are two kinds of burgers for me, a fast-food burger or a gourmet burger. For fast food, I used to like American chain In-N-Out, but standards seem to have dropped a bit. For a gourmet burger, I make my own. But one of the best ones in a restaurant is at One-Ninety in Four Seasons Hotel.

Although the family could certainly afford to hire domestic help, his mother would prepare lunch for him to take to school. He lived in Hong Kong for a few years, where he attended all-day school, and moved back to Singapore for Primary 4.

By that time, he could already whip up dishes such as scrambled eggs.

His first attempt at what he calls a difficult dish was to steam a fish and that was when he was 17 and attending boarding school in England, where he sat his O- and A-level examinations. He came home for national service, but returned to England to study at Imperial College London.

"If you couldn't cook while you were at university, you would be in trouble," he says with a laugh. "The food there was terrible."

Now, despite his busy work schedule - he is also chairman of the Orchard Road Business Association - he still cooks for family and friends.

He lives with his homemaker wife Tiara, who is in her late 30s, and their two-year-old daughter.

Are you a hawker food or restaurant person?

I'm just a food person. I go for the food experience, so it's not so much about sitting in air-conditioning or the atmosphere of a street cafe.

What hawker dishes do you like?

I like fishball noodles, bak chor mee and wonton mee.

For fishball noodles, I like the noodles a bit al dente, with nice fishballs and soup that's sweet - not just MSG or pepper water. I really like the one at the basement of Tangs. But I don't like ketchup in the noodles.

I like the Kuala Lumpur type of wonton mee with dark soya sauce, but that's really hard to find here. There used to be a good one in Rowell Road but that's gone.

Now I go to a coffee-shop stall in Binjai Park which sells roast meats, but they do a good wonton mee. They add char siew sauce to the noodles, but it's more Hong Kong style.

Which are your favourite restaurants?

For Chinese food, it's the Imperial Treasure restaurants. I like its Super Peking Duck and I enjoy its Shanghai restaurant a lot.

I like barbecues, so I like yakitori for Japanese food. I go to Aburiya in Robertson Quay for that.

I also often lunch at the Les Amis Group restaurants such as Shabu Shabu Gen and La Taperia because they are just downstairs from my office in Shaw Centre. The Japanese lunch sets are good value, you can get a sukiyaki bowl for $40.

Do you always go back to the same restaurants?

I'm a creature of habit. I like really good quality food and if a restaurant offers that, I'd frequent it.

But Tiara likes to explore a little more. So we do go to new places. Whether they get on the regular list depends on how good they are.

It's usually a joint decision where we go, depending on how we feel that night. But I much prefer casual, bistro-style places to fine dining. I don't like to sit down for three hours for a meal.

What's your favourite cuisine?

I don't have one. But I really like a good roast pork, not the Cantonese type, but an English one with apple sauce. I like roast beef too. I like to eat the meat on its own without any sauce or anything fancy.

Where do you go for these here?

I make the roast pork myself. It's hard to find a really good joint of meat here that's done right. For roast beef, I do that myself too. But I go to Bedrock Bar & Grill in Somerset Road for a good tomahawk steak. I also like fried breaded meat and Garibaldi has a good crispy pounded and breaded veal chop.

How often do you cook?

Most of the time, the maids do the cooking. They are Indonesian and I enjoy their Indonesian dishes.

But every weekend, I make stock. My daughter Victoria is two and a lot of her food, such as pasta and noodles, is stock-based.

And once a week, I'd do something in the kitchen. Sometimes, I have a dinner party and cook for about 10 people. I usually don't cook local dishes, except for myself. For friends, it's usually something big, like a prime rib.

What don't you like to eat?

I don't like food that's too sweet. When I was a kid, I didn't mind ketchup in my fishball noodles, but now, no.

I don't like bad ingredients, but I don't mind cheap or junk fish, or junk cuts such as rump or brisket.

And I don't like offal. I hate kidney, though I'd eat intestines and some kinds of liver. I also don't like to eat at restaurants where the food tastes like it's churned out, chucked together by someone who didn't care.

Do you travel to eat?

I would explore restaurants when travelling for work or holiday, but I won't go out of my way to eat. For example, I'd go to Noma if I happen to be in Copenhagen. I travel for the experience, not so much for the food experience.

What are some of the more memorable places you have explored?

I used to go to Milan for the film festival, but it has stopped. Years later, I revisited my favourite restaurants there, such as Ristorante Bagutta, a trattoria that is very atmospheric and used to be where all the film people would dine at during the festival. Al Girarrosto de Cesarina, a classic Tuscan restaurant, is also one of my favourites.

What is the most unusual food you've eaten?

Seagull. And I won't eat it again.

I didn't know it was seagull when I ate it. It was in Jakarta, where there was good roast pigeon. Someone went out to buy some and came back with a strange-looking bird. We had no idea where it came from.

The next day, we commented that it tasted odd, unlike anything we'd eaten before. It was not pleasant and the beak looked funny.

Then the guy said: "You know, it's that white bird that flies by the sea."

I was like: "Okay, I was really glad I didn't eat too much of it."

It reminded me of an incident years ago at a restaurant in England, where I had ordered teal, a small, gamey wild duck. I didn't like that either.

But I'm okay with game meat. I don't mind venison, buffalo and rabbit. In Africa, I've eaten kudu, though that tasted just okay. And I don't mind eating blood. I love black pudding.

After having lived in London, what do you eat when you go there?

I really like the Indian food. Or I'd have lobster noodles in Chinatown. Or go to The Brass Rail in Selfridges department store and have a salt beef sandwich, that sort of thing. I wouldn't go to The Fat Duck, which I found highly overrated.

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

Anthony Bourdain, before he became famous. In his Kitchen Confidential days, I'd have enjoyed meeting him. He was irreverent and would be a fun dinner guest. He definitely had a big enough personality to be interesting.

  • Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 13, 2016, with the headline 'Shaw scion a weekend cook'. Print Edition | Subscribe