Foodie Confidential

Symmetry's chef-owner Abbyshayne Lim is big on mum's food

French cafe-restaurant Symmetry's chef-owner Abbyshayne Lim remembers the big feasts she had growing up

When chef-owner Abbyshayne Lim of casual French cafe-restaurant Symmetry was a child, the highlight of her day was when her mother came home to prepare dinner.

This was because, back then, every night was a feast.

Her parents own an electronics shop at People's Park Complex and, during Lim's growing-up years in the 1980s and 1990s, her mother would cook dinner every day for the store's 20 to 30 employees.

Ms Lim, 33, recalls: "It was just your usual chap chye png (rice and dishes), but she would cook different dishes all the time - meats, vegetables, chicken curry - and there was always a big pot of soup. I loved it."

The singleton would help her mother in the kitchen with small tasks such as cutting vegetables. Later, she would help take the cooked food from their apartment in Chinatown to the shop in tiffin carriers. Dinner was always a bustling affair.

Those meals left an indelible mark on the Singapore Polytechnic alumnus, who has a diploma in business administration.

At the age of 20, the Singapore-born Malaysian decided to pursue a diploma in French culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?


    My mother’s Chinese New Year stewed duck with chestnuts on steamed white rice.

To earn extra pocket money during her studies, she worked as a barista at a cafe at Balmoral Beach in the posh Sydney suburb of Mosman from 5.30 to 11am every day, and at restaurants including Bather's Pavilion, also at Balmoral Beach, at night.

By the end of her two-year culinary diploma course, not only was she deft at pulling espresso shots, but she had also secured stints at two prestigious Michelin-starred restaurants - Noma in Copenhagen and The Fat Duck in the United Kingdom.

But she had to turn down the stints because her visa applications fell through. Her father was also unwell at the time.

She decided to move back to Singapore, where she worked at French restaurant Saint Pierre and was later offered a job at its then-sister restaurant, the now-defunct 7atenine at The Esplanade.

She moved on to be the head chef of CMPB in Dempsey Hill, where she is now a partner. The group also runs The Coastal Settlement in Changi.

She opened Symmetry in Jalan Kubor five years ago because she felt that there was a gap in the market for a restaurant with "good food and good coffee".

Her latest venture is Xiao Ya Tou, a trendy Singapore-inspired Asian restaurant in Duxton Hill.

Symmetry will be participating in next month's Singapore Coffee Festival. What is your cafe-restaurant's style of coffee?

In general, we adopt an Australian coffee style at Symmetry. Our blend has a similar flavour profile to what you would find at cafes in Sydney and Melbourne, but ours is a little less acidic. We use a blend of coffee beans from Colombia, Guatemala and Brazil, which makes for a more chocolatey and nutty flavour.

 

How much coffee do you drink in a day?

I drink about six cups a day, which is about half the amount I used to drink when I lived in Sydney. These days, my first three coffees of the day are usually piccolo lattes. My fourth and subsequent cups are cold-brewed coffee.

What is your philosophy when it comes to cooking?

I believe in using fresh ingredients. The produce should be key. I don't like to manipulate ingredients too much.

Can you remember a taste experience that blew you away in your growing-up years?

When I was eight, my cousin's then-girlfriend, now his wife, brought back a bunch of Kyoho grapes from Japan.

It was the first time I had ever seen or tasted them. The grapes must have been a little over-ripe because I remember popping one into my mouth and the skin separating from the flesh of the grape the moment I bit into it. It was an intense explosion of flavour that I will never forget.

Where are your favourite food haunts in Singapore?

My team and I go to Nan Hwa Fishboat in North Bridge Road, which is around the corner from Symmetry, for charcoal fish head steamboat. Order the braised pig intestines and its signature four-vegetable dish of stir-fried lady's fingers, long beans, sugar snap peas and one other seasonal vegetable, with ikan bilis.

Other after-work eateries we frequent include Nana Thai at Golden Mile Complex, which serves Isaan-style cuisine food from central Thailand. I like the restaurant's spicy cockles, century egg with basil pork and pork rib soup.

I also enjoy dining at Eminent Frog Porridge in Geylang Road, but instead of porridge, I order frog legs with rice.

What is always in your fridge?

Eggs, butter, lemon, spring onions and pork stock. After a long day at work, I sometimes cook instant noodles in a pork broth with vegetables. I also have a ready supply of marinated ramen eggs in the fridge for nights like those.

What is your comfort food?

Miso-based ramen. Ippudo opens till late so that is where I usually head for my fix about once a week. I order a bowl of ramen and a separate serving of rice. I eat the noodles with the soup and the charsiu with rice.

Are you an adventurous eater?

I have tried balut (fertilised chicken or duck egg with an almost developed embryo); raw horse meat, which has a similar texture to beef; and chicken sashimi, which is strangely similar to fish. I eat everything except pets - so no rabbit or dog meat for me.

If you could dine with anyone, who would it be?

Karen Carpenter, the late American singer. I was saddened by her story after I watched a documentary about her six years ago. I would like to talk to her, to try and understand what she was going through.

Have you any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to enter the food and beverage industry?

It requires sheer hard work. Be prepared to sacrifice your weekends, your holidays. Think 16-hour days.

What I learnt is that it helps to read a lot about all things food-related and not be afraid to ask questions.

Oh, and spend all your money eating and travelling because those are the best ways to learn how other countries and cultures use produce. The more you eat, the more you understand.

• Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 09, 2017, with the headline 'Big on mum's food'. Print Edition | Subscribe