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Foodie Confidential With Wong Ah Yoke

DJ Claressa Monteiro prefers casual eateries

Radio DJ and jazz singer Claressa Monteiro hosts gourmet events, but prefers to dress down when she eats

Claressa Monteiro, 46, may be better known as a radio DJ and jazz singer. But the Kiss92 DJ, who rules the airwaves from 10am to 1pm on weekdays, can often be found hosting gourmet events too.

It all began when high-end kitchen equipment maker Miele asked her to contribute recipes to its cookbook, Heritage Feasts, in 2011. She sent in her mother's recipe for oxtail soup and one for a barbecue seasoning that she came up with.

After that, events organisers started approaching her to host gourmet food events. Now, she is a regular face at dinners for Gourmet Japan, Gusto Italiano and Salon Gourmet. Occasionally, she also sings at these events.

She has been married to American music director Brian Benson, 55, for 21 years. They have two sons, Misha, 21, and Dante, 19, who are in national service.

Do you prefer fine-dining or casual eateries?

With my work in hosting and singing, I have to dress up. So for my meals, I like to go to places where the dress code is at most smartcasual. Fine-dining restaurants are very nice, but I'm too lazy to dress up and put on make-up just to eat.


Claressa Monteiro loves the food at Muthu’s and goes to the restaurant often with her husband. ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

So I go to restaurants such as Gattopardo in Tras Street where you don't have to dress up. I also love it because it does not serve the usual Italian fare. The menu features a lot of seafood, which I love.

Alati in Amoy Street is another favourite because my husband loves Greek and Turkish food. Again, you don't have to dress up to dine there.

Don't you go for fine-dining for special occasions such as wedding anniversaries?

My husband's idea of a great anniversary dinner is a place where the food is good, you can sit outside, take 21/2 hours for the meal, have a few drinks and chat.

Where can you find that?

We go to Muthu's at Dempsey a couple of times a month. Even though it is in Dempsey, you don't feel the crowd because the restaurant is in a quieter section.

We like the Fried Rice With Prawns, Crispy Ladies' Fingers and the Gobi Manchurian.

I like Indian food because of the layers of flavours.

Is there any cuisine you do not like?

Japanese food such as sashimi is too subtle for me. And I really hate teriyaki sauce because it's just sweet, flat and one-dimensional. It's like Japanese 101.

I do like Okinawan food though, especially the grills over open charcoal fires. I used to go to Nirai Kanai Okinawan Restaurant when it was in Tanglin Shopping Centre. It's now in Liang Court.

I also used to go to a nice robatayaki place called Takumi in Keppel Bay, which has a beautiful view. It's expensive though.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • It would be all my favourite foods, starting with a Thai pomelo salad and ending with Indian gulab jamun. It’ll be an around-the-world meal.

The problem I have with Japanese restaurants here is that the good places are very small, so you feel you have to eat and leave. That's why I like Takumi. It's big and the staff don't mind if you hang around.

Where do you go for hawker food?

My favourite place is the Zion Road hawker centre. The char kway teow and the big prawn noodle are very good. On weekends, when I'm in shorts and T-shirt and the family do not want to dress up to go out to eat, Zion Road is our default stop.

Do you travel just to eat?

I'm Eurasian, so how can I not love food right? Whenever I travel, I want to try the local food.

I'm going to Hanoi soon to eat. I went there for the Hanoi Jazz Festival about 10 years ago and have gone back three or four times just to eat.

Even the hotel food is great, which is so unusual. One of my favourite places is the restaurant at Sofitel Metropole Hotel.

Hanoi cooking has a lot of Chinese influence. It's not very spicy, but has beautiful flavours. There are a lot of stirfries where the vegetables are still crunchy.

Where do you eat in Hanoi?

There are some very good eateries around the famous Hoan Kiem Lake in the middle of Hanoi. The must-try restaurant there is Highway 4.

How did you discover these places?

You ask the hotel concierge or the driver taking you around where they go to eat on their days off.

I also walk a lot when I travel. When I pass a place that looks right and smells right, I go in.

What places have you discovered this way?

There's an eatery in Johor that my family discovered by accident because we took a wrong turn. We drove onto a dirt track and were looking for a place to turn around when we saw a sign that just said "restaurant".

We walked to the end of a jetty where there was a rickety eatery that isn't the cleanest place, but the food is to die for. Later, we discovered it is called Orang Asli Seafood and is famous. It is between the Causeway and the Second Link, so you can go by either way.

We had claypot curry prawns with big prawns, but the curry was so good that no one was interested in the prawns. We paid RM200 (S$67) for six people for that meal.

Do you cook?

I cook quite a bit. I learnt when I was very young. It was a way to spend time with both my grandmothers, who were good cooks.

My maternal grandmother, who lived with us, did not believe in mixers. So I would be sitting there with the mixing bowl, stirring the cake batter - only one way, at a certain speed, cannot stop.

My grandma would go to the fridge and say: "Oh, I've got a bit of fish, a bit of chicken. What other ingredients do I have?" And she would whip up a meal out of those.

That's how I cook now. It's not to a recipe, but depends on what I have in the fridge or what my family members feel like eating.

How old were you when you started cooking?

I cooked my first family meal when I was in Primary 5. It was simple stir fried baby kailan and sweet and sour pork. I remember we ran out of an ingredient for the sauce for the pork, and I ended up cutting up an orange and using the juice.

How often do you cook now?

Not often because I'm really busy. Maybe once a week. But my sons cook too because I passed the tradition on to them. They bake cookies and cakes.

What do you cook?

My two kids are very different. One likes very spicy food and the other likes Western food.

So I end up having to cook dishes that one will be able to eat and the other one will not hate. So there's always a balance.

I can do a butter chicken with less spice. Or I may cook a very spicy Eurasian lamb curry or a curry devil, but the fish stew will be there so the other boy has something to eat.

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

Michelle Obama, because she's incredibly smart. She looks like she'll be a lot of fun after a couple of glasses of wine. And I have a great curiosity about the adage that behind every good man is a great woman and I'd like to know how true that is in the case of the Obamas.

• Follow Wong Ah Yoke on Twitter @STahyoke

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline 'Thumbs up for casual eateries'. Print Edition | Subscribe