Enjoying a cuppa while quizzing our team at ST Reading Room

The audience having a good laugh as executive photojournalist Alphonsus Chern gives them a behind-the-scenes look at what he and his colleagues go through to get their exclusives. Food critic Wong Ah Yoke taking the questions in stride as deputy mana
The audience having a good laugh as executive photojournalist Alphonsus Chern gives them a behind-the-scenes look at what he and his colleagues go through to get their exclusives.ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
The audience having a good laugh as executive photojournalist Alphonsus Chern gives them a behind-the-scenes look at what he and his colleagues go through to get their exclusives. Food critic Wong Ah Yoke taking the questions in stride as deputy mana
Food critic Wong Ah Yoke taking the questions in stride as deputy managing editor Fiona Chan tries to pin him down about which restaurants in Singapore might merit three Michelin stars and what the future holds for hawker culture.ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Some wanted to know which restaurants The Straits Times food critic Wong Ah Yoke considered Singapore's best, while others sought senior transport correspondent Christopher Tan's views on which car to buy and whether to get one now.

The Straits Times editor-at-large Han Fook Kwang fielded questions on his new book Singapore In Transition: Hope, Anxiety And Question Marks, which comprises 40 of his favourite columns.

These seasoned journalists were among several who took to the stage for askST sessions at the ST Reading Room, a cosy space with sofas, cushions and chairs where readers could lounge and have a cuppa while engaging with the writers.

Senior writer Wong Kim Hoh moderated an engaging exchange between three guests from his It Changed My Life interview series - Mr Harold Lee, managing director of courier service XDel; Mr Edwin Tan, chef-owner of Japanese restaurant Yoyogi at The Grandstand; and Mr Bert Tan, film investor and owner of Bert Lighting House - during his chat session titled From Samsengs To Towkays.

"They all have a colourful background. They were bad boys, hoodlums and gangsters who now own multimillion-dollar businesses. I think people were pretty interested in that transition," said Mr Wong.

Photojournalists Neo Xiaobin and Alphonsus Chern entertained the crowd with humorous anecdotes and a behind-the-scenes view of their day-to-day lives, while deputy managing editor Fiona Chan quizzed Mr Wong Ah Yoke on which local restaurants might deserve three Michelin stars and the uncertain future of hawker culture.

Response to the askST sessions was positive, and readers welcomed the opportunity to put questions to the journalists.

Forty people also paid $60 to secure a spot at one of two eight-course meals hosted by The Straits Times food editor Tan Hsueh Yun over the weekend.

Ms Tan curated the omakase lunch to highlight some of the festival's best dishes, serving different menus on Saturday and Sunday. She explained why she selected each dish as they were presented to her guests.

Highlights of yesterday's menu included crab and sweet corn fritters from Symmetry cafe, a coffee pork chop bun from Antoinette patisserie, and White Magic, a chilled latte by Strangers' Reunion cafe.

Human resources manager and foodie Soh Huiying, 29, said she enjoyed the meal, which was worth paying for because of the food and the chance to meet Ms Tan.

"I thought the lunch would be a great opportunity, and I know the food would be of quality if she selected it.

"The best part is you get an explanation of what you are eating - where the food comes from, how it was made, why she chose it. You get a story about the food, and you enjoy it even more," she said.

Summing up the sessions, ST editor Warren Fernandez said: "Quite a few people came up to me to say they enjoyed hearing from our columnists and engaging with them.

"They liked being able to chat with the people they read and hearing about what goes on behind the scenes in getting our newspaper and digital content to them.

"Many asked if ST could do more of this, and I told them that, seeing the strong response, we would certainly be happy to."

Lydia Vasko

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2016, with the headline 'Enjoying a cuppa while quizzing journalists at ST Reading Room'. Print Edition | Subscribe