Chef of the Year

Putting his spin on dishes

Martin Foo, executive head chef of VLV in Clarke Quay, wins the inaugural Best Asian Restaurants' Chef of the Year award. The awards are presented by The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao.
Martin Foo, executive head chef of modern Chinese restaurant VLV at Clarke Quay, with his Kagoshima Kurobuta Char Siew.
Martin Foo, executive head chef of modern Chinese restaurant VLV at Clarke Quay, with his Kagoshima Kurobuta Char Siew.ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Keeping the loyalty of diners over the years may be a tough feat for chefs and business owners, but not for executive head chef Martin Foo, 50, of modern Chinese restaurant VLV at Clarke Quay.

Innovation is the key, as he can customise menus and dishes for diners - in addition to serving his signature dishes, such as beggar chicken and Peking duck.

He says in Mandarin: "Your dishes can't always be new, but you can't always do the same thing either. It's about creating my version of traditional dishes or taking a dish that is not so common and putting my spin on it."

This is evident in three new dishes introduced at VLV this month.

One is a poached spotted grouper with fresh Sichuan peppercorns in clear soup ($18 a person), his take on the Sichuan boiled fish dish, or shui zhu yu. He says: "The dish is usually very oily, but my version is with a clear soup.

"People like the mala flavours - but they prefer the heat to the tongue-numbing aspect. Using fresh Sichuan peppercorns instead of dried ones helps to tone down the tongue-numbing sensation, while retaining the heat."


Martin Foo, executive head chef of modern Chinese restaurant VLV at Clarke Quay, with his Kagoshima Kurobuta Char Siew. ST PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Another dish is an appetiser of egg white, crab meat and ikura in a seaweed cone ($6 a cone), with the ikura or salmon roe reflecting the Japanese influence in his cooking.

And his Hakka abacus seed with Boston lobster ($13 for 100g) is an elevated version of the traditional dish, which does not have the shellfish.

On picking him as Chef of the Year, The Straits Times Life editor Tan Hsueh Yun, 49, says: "We looked at chef Foo's track record over the years and how he has managed to bring serious Cantonese cooking to a modern setting. He has definitely upped his game."

Chef Foo, who worked at Lei Garden and the TungLok Group before joining VLV, says: "I'm very honoured to get this recognition. Cooking has always been my passion. If not, I wouldn't have stayed in the industry for so long."

He is married to a dental laboratory technician, 42.

They have an 18-year-old daughter, who is studying green building and sustainability at Temasek Polytechnic.

As for his plans in 10 years' time, the chef says with a chuckle: "By then, I should retire, right? Or I may consider opening my own restaurant or doing food consultancy.

"No matter what, I will remain in the industry."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2017, with the headline 'Putting his spin on dishes'. Print Edition | Subscribe