(THE BUSINESS TIMES)
WOO WAI LEONG
When Woo Wai Leong won the inaugural MasterChef Asia competition in 2015, the first question was: Would he open his own restaurant?
He said he was in no rush at the time, but by March 2018, this question will be answered with the launch of his own eatery in North Canal Road.
It has been a whirlwind past couple of years for the self-taught chef, former lawyer and part-time bartender. "I've been busy honing my skills, both in and out of the kitchen and bar," says the 29-year-old.
Besides joining fine-dining chefs on their overseas and local collaborations, he also started doing his own pop-up dinner events working with the likes of MasterChef Australia's dessert king Reynold Poernomo and Labyrinth's Han Li Guang. He also took part and won a bartending competition, while judging others. All of which proved good training for his ultimate goal - his own restaurant.
While the space is still not ready and he has no firm menu or even a name as yet, it will not be a Western dining experience. Instead, he has decided "to explore my heritage and apply these techniques and styles to a Chinese basket of goods".
"The menu will focus on modern interpretations of these Chinese flavours and include ingredients sourced from traditional Chinese medicine, but used in unexpected ways to create a new vocabulary of flavours, both in the food and cocktails. We'll also have separate dining concepts for lunch and dinner."
The restaurant is funded by chef Woo and two investors who will be involved in the operations.
He says he is going into the tough F&B business with an open mind. "I was recently reminded that for every four outlets registered with Acra, three close within a year. Opening a restaurant is one of the greatest challenges and (I hope) highlights of my professional career. I don't have perfect knowledge, but I do have people who specialise in the skills I lack. By analysing both the successful and failed restaurants, I intend to adapt to the changing parameters of the F&B scene while still preserving the restaurant's unique voice."
He has certainly toughened himself up in the meantime, trying to earn acceptance from professionals chefs who dismiss him as a "TV chef" who did not come through the culinary school route. "I've accepted that I can't please everyone, so as long as I look after my business and my team, I believe things will fall into place. I've longed for this moment but by no means is this the end game. This is where it all begins."
Anthony Yeoh is a chef after your own heart. Cooking in a restaurant is one thing, but he understands why people go out to eat in the first place - so they can have a good meal with friends that they would not be able to do in their own homes.
That is why his new venture addresses something he finds lacking in the local F&B scene - it is a private meal service that takes care of the cooking for you so you can spend more time at home with your guests.
Summer Hill is not a personal chef service or caterer per se - his focus is on small parties of "two to 12 people in their home - which is what a flat, condo or small landed house can comfortably accommodate without (the hosts) getting suicidal", quips the affable former chef of the now-defunct Cocotte. "Everything is prepared in advance and the host just adds the finishing touches."
Summer Hill is chef Yeoh's first solo outing which is personally funded with family support. He recently also parted amicably with restaurateur Bjorn Shen, when the latter decided to close the "dudestronomy" eatery Bird Bird.
"I didn't set out to open a bistro initially," he says of Summer Hill's dining premises in the cosy Sunset Way neighbourhood. "I was looking to serve a need that wasn't being addressed - which is to encourage people to have gatherings at home."
But when he spoke to friends and regular guests, they all said the hassle of cooking was a major deterrent to socialising at home. Hence, Summer Hill will do everything - right down to the condiments and wine - which can be assembled in less than an hour so you can even have people over after work.
The food he serves is traditional, comfort food. "We're not targeting foodies or hardcore culinary hobbyists. I believe strongly in the importance of sharing a meal together and how that makes a house a home. Because we get so much from sharing, nourishing and engaging with one another."
The restaurant, therefore, acts more as a showcase "for the quality and experience we can deliver".
He knows full well it is a cut-throat business, but "I believe we are connecting with a need that hasn't been addressed yet. It's what I care about most, more than my peers who, logically, focus on their restaurants".
He adds: "What I learnt from Cocotte and other restaurants is that you never just sell a plate of food - that just commoditises your work. Restaurants are about selling fantastic experiences. That is still our focus - we're just moving it from the restaurant to your home."
Where: 01-62, Block 106 Clementi Street 12, tel: 6251-5337
OTHER NEW OPENINGS
The second restaurant by chef Sun Kim of the Michelin-starred Meta is a 48-seat innovative modern bistro that offers simple yet intelligent fare with an Asian twist.
The South Korean chef has always wanted to open something casual since he opened Meta. "Also, my team has grown with me since we started. I felt that it was time to open something different."
The sharing concept menu features highlights such as poached prawns paired with fresh Thai basil and endives; shima aji tartare served with grated salted egg yolk and topped with Oscietra caviar; and pork belly slow-cooked for 12 hours with soya bean paste, coffee powder and soya sauce. Expect to pay from $70 to $100 a person including drinks, which include unusual sake and boutique wine.
Where: 47 Amoy Street, tel: 6514-1588
The Lo & Behold Group's first Japanese restaurant Esora is an intimate restaurant designed by Takenouchi Webb which seats fewer than 30 diners.
The kappo-style eatery is headed by Shigeru Koizumi, who has worked at Tokyo's three-Michelin-starred Nihonryori Ryugin and the two-Michelin-starred Odette. Expect a modern Japanese menu with an affinity for nature and attention to detail, with a few surprises thrown in.
A spokesman for the group says: "We were fortunate to meet an incredibly talented chef and wanted to work with him to bring his vision to life and tell his story."
Where: 15 Mohamed Sultan Road; opening in April 2018
In 2012, married couple Indra Kantono and Gan Guoyi opened their first bar, Jigger & Pony. Now, three of their bars - Jigger & Pony, Sugarhall and Gibson - have been on Asia's 50 Best Bars list for two years in a row. The couple also own Humpback restaurant and Flagship bar.
In February, they will open their sixth outlet - Caffe Fernet, an all-day Italian restaurant-bar, which Mr Kantono says "has the cosmopolitan energy inspired by our personal travels".
They were recently in New York and were wowed by cuisine there.
Group executive chef Polo Seah is fine-tuning the menu, which will lean towards light, cosmopolitan flavours rather than heavy "grandma's kitchen'" fare. The drinks will feature updated Italian classics such as spritzes, negronis as well as froses.
Where: Customs House; opening in February 2018