Chef Matthew Orlando reproduces New Nordic cuisine in Singapore

When American chef Matthew Orlando visited Singapore last Tuesday with his sous chef, they had 50kg worth of ingredients such as vacuum-packed beetroots, carrots, black malt flour and bottled sauces among a "minimal amount of clothing" in their three pieces of luggage.

The 37-year-old was in town last week for Two Nights Of Four Hands, a cooking collaboration with Nouvelle chef Andre Chiang of Restaurant Andre in Bukit Pasoh Road.

Orlando is the chef and owner of Amass Restaurant in Copenhagen, which is hailed as one of the hottest New Nordic cuisine restaurants in Europe. From 2010 to 2013, he was the head chef of acclaimed Danish restaurant, Noma, which took top position in The World's 50 Best Restaurants list last year.

On bringing farm-grown Danish produce here, he says: "When you travel to Singapore to do such dinners, it is important for diners here to try ingredients that cannot be found here; the root vegetables are sweeter during winter time in Scandinavia as the sugars start to over-develop."

Those ingredients were vital in creating the Nouvelle-meets-New Nordic menu, comprising dishes such as pickled pine shoots served with reduced carrot juice, buttermilk, and sprinkled with caramelised yogurt bits; raw scallops and roasted chicken skin gelatin, wrapped in bok choy (Chinese cabbage) leaves.

The dinner was priced at $450 a person. The two sessions, which had 32 slots each, were sold out last month.

The two chefs met in 2010 when Chiang visited Noma. Last year, he broached the idea of doing a dinner in Singapore after he dined at Amass Restaurant.

Orlando says: "When you're friends with a fellow chef, the natural progression is to cook together."

He also relished the opportunity to use Asian ingredients, such as wasabi root and bok choy, in his dishes. He says: "As a travelling chef, it is fun to cooking with unfamiliar ingredients and explore with different flavours."

The hectic food preparation schedule during his maiden four-day trip here meant little free time to visit the wet markets. However, he spent at least two hours every night trying out local foods, such as chicken rice, fried pig's intestines and claypot frog porridge.

He has since left Singapore to go to Chiang's Taipei restaurant, RAW, for another cooking showcase scheduled for yesterday.

According to Chiang, the cooking showcase was an opportunity for foodies here to have "a closer peep into the New Nordic movement, which is the hippest cuisine in the world". New Nordic cuisine is characterised by the use of locally sourced ingredients at their prime.

Orlando says: "Cooking local is nothing new, but it is the use of little-known products that exist only in Scandinavia that is drawing attention among diners."

These ingredients include sea buckthorn berries, douglas fir pine shoots and kamut grains.

He adds: "New Nordic cuisine is very honest and product-based. It is straightforward and focuses on at most four ingredients to lift the flavours on a plate."

His foray into New Nordic cuisine was sparked by a chance meeting with Noma's owner Rene Redzepi when Orlando worked at three-Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck in the United Kingdom.

What started out as a one-week trip to Copenhagen grew into a two-year stint as a sous chef at Noma till 2007.

Subsequently, he worked at the three-Michelin- starred restaurant Per Se in New York before returning to Noma. In 2013, he left to start his restaurant, Amass, which means to gather, in Copenhagen. The 8,000 sq ft restaurant, which is housed in a former shipyard warehouse and has a huge garden, serves Nordic cuisine. A tasting menu costs 575 kroner (S$120) and comprises six items such as brussel sprouts with butter and egg yolk, and squid with pickled pork fat.

Orlando notes that the supportive environment of the Copenhagen dining industry was a key factor in making his post-Noma debut there. He says: "It's very communal; I exchange staff with other restaurants such as Ralae and BROR and share farm suppliers with other chefs. This builds a collective of restaurants that makes a great food city."

Orlando, who grew up in San Diego and once considered a professional snowboarding career, is married to Julie, 29, who is from Denmark and works as an operations manager in his restaurant. The couple have no children.

Despite the success of Amass, Orlando is not looking at replicating its concept or opening another restaurant in Denmark. He says: "It is so weird to take a concept and put it somewhere else; a restaurant is based on its surroundings, you need to let the area pick the restaurant and its food."

Some cities that he is considering for his next restaurant include Nashville and Austin in the United States. But he rules out New York.

He says: "It is too saturated there, everyone is fighting for guests by stealing recipes, ingredients and cooks.

"I want to get that feeling when I first arrived in Copenhagen, that I can do something there. A lot of the stuff that I do is based on gut feel, and it is right 90 per cent of the time."

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