Foodie Confidential With Wong Ah Yoke

Former MTV VJ Utt likes more spice in his food

The actor-host's favourite dishes here are oyster omelette, fried carrot cake and crab beehoon

Actor, host and former MTV VJ Uttsada Panichkul, or Utt, as he is known in show business, is a judge on a new food show.

Eat, List, Star is a regional search by Mediacorp for new food personalities who can cook and have screen charisma.

The search started with contestants submitting videos of themselves cooking. The judges, who include Tippling Club chef Ryan Clift, restaurateur Loh Lik Peng and radio DJ Simone Heng, short-listed 20 semi-finalists, who were sent on a five-day bootcamp last month that was filmed.

The videos of the 20 contestants can be viewed on www.lifestyle.toggle.sg/en/eat-list-star.

The actual cooking challenges will be telecast later this year.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

  • Papaya salad, just not my mum's (laughs). I'm so sick of hers.

    And I won't mind getting food poisoning since it's my last meal.

Utt, 42, was born in Chatsworth, California, to Thai-Chinese parents. His father was a professor in political studies and his mum a nurse. He moved to Bangkok in the late 1990s to join MTV Asia as a VJ, hosting the popular show Bangkok Jam.

Utt lived in Singapore in the early 2000s when he acted in Mediacorp shows such as Channel 5 drama Oh Carol!, opposite Hong Kong actress Carol Cheng.

The bachelor, who now lives in Bangkok, has just wrapped up filming a movie, Fathers, to be released in Thailand soon. It is about a pair of gay partners who adopt an orphan boy and he plays one of the fathers.

What are you doing as judge of a cooking programme?

Ryan Clift is a professional chef, so he's judging the contestants' cooking skills. Simone and I will hone their skills in front of the camera .

They are put through tests at bootcamp. We want to find someone who can not only cook, but is also charismatic. If we find something in them, we can mentor them and bring out their personalities.

Do you cook?

I don't cook much. My mum, who is retired, cooks a lot. She lives in the same estate as me in Bangkok and she's always bringing food over. So I get a lot of home-cooked food.

What does she cook for you?

She cooks the same things over and over again. She does rad na, which is noodles with gravy and broccoli.

She cooks her own fusion pad thai, a fried noodle dish. And som tam (papaya salad). She doesn't take spices very well, so most of her dishes are a bit bland. But she's adapting because she knows I like some spice in my food.

Where would you take friends visiting Bangkok to eat?

I'd take them to the more hidden places. For example, there's an auntie in the older part of Bangkok, behind Wat Saket temple, who makes an incredible crab omelette. The place is called Jay Fai, which means Auntie Mole in Thai. The crab she uses is huge. There's no train station there, so you would have to take a taxi. But it's quite close to the Siam Centre area.

Where else do you eat in Bangkok?

I like a lot of the places in the Thonglor area, such as Rocket Coffeebar. There's a new kind of community mall called The Commons with a small foodcourt downstairs that's very premium, serving everything from cheese dplatters to pasta to Thai food.

What's your favourite Thai dish?

Papaya salad. It has so many different flavours mixed together: spicy, sweet, sour, salty. The best ones are from street hawkers, but that can be a bit dangerous because you can get food poisoning. So I am a bit careful.

What do you eat when you come to Singapore?

I have to get my fix of fried carrot cake, barbecued stingray, bak kut teh and chilli crab. Here, I gravitate towards the small places and hawker centres.

One of my good friends, Justin, is the son of Roland Lim, who owns Roland Restaurant in Marine Parade, so I go there quite often for chilli crab.

For hawker dishes, I like to go to Old Airport Road, Maxwell Road, Newton Circus... anywhere.

How did you discover the eating places in Singapore?

I was living here for 13 years and my friends took me everywhere. Before moving back to Bangkok, I was living in the Katong area. I'd go to Dunman food centre and I would go for Katong laksa in East Coast Road. And I remember going to Awfully Chocolate there when it was still a small outlet.

The eateries there have changed quite a bit though. Now when I return, I go where my friends take me. There's a good dim sum place in Geylang called 126 at 126 Sims Avenue that I went to recently.

Are there any food places you would go out of your way for?

I really like the oyster omelette and fried carrot cake in Chomp Chomp in Serangoon Garden. And I would go for crab beehoon at Mellben Seafood in Ang Mo Kio. I guess you like crab a lot. I do. I like seafood. And stingray is definitely on top of the list because you can't get it in Thailand. Every time I take visiting Thai friends to eat it in Singapore, they say they have never heard of it.

Is there any dish in Singapore you won't eat?

Frog. I tried it at a place in Katong but... it's a frog. Seeing them in the tanks before they are killed is also kind of disturbing, so I can do without the frogs.

Do you have a favourite Thai restaurant here?

I used to have a favourite one in Funan Centre called Aroy Thai, but the auntie who originally owned it has returned to Thailand. When she was there, the food was good and that was my go-to place when I was craving authentic Thai food.

My second favourite is Golden Mile Complex. I eat randomly at any eatery there, no particular outlet.

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

African-American leader Martin Luther King because he stood for so many amazing things. He was so before his time and it'd be interesting to have a conversation with him.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 03, 2016, with the headline 'Utt likes more spice in his food'. Print Edition | Subscribe