When celebrities Jeanette Aw and Pornsak were asked by American Express to create menus in collaboration with Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant and The Line respectively, they tapped into their heritage.
The dishes, co-crafted by the celebrities and renowned chefs, aimed at revealing and conveying personal memories and stories. Attending the media preview of the American Express Love Dining Celebrity Edition menu, I had the opportunity to taste the creations first-hand.
Jeanette Aw’s Nonya heritage and love for fairytales
Although Jeanette Aw is famous for being the lead star in Mediacorp’s drama serial The Little Nonya, a lesser-known fact is that Aw is actually Peranakan. Growing up, she always had Nonya dishes on the table. At the same time, Aw is also an illustrator who draws inspiration from beautiful fairytales.
As I ran through the menu, it puzzled me how the fairytale theme and Oriental touches could be incorporated into the Peranakan dishes. But this mystery was quickly resolved when the dishes were served. The dishes looked simply exquisite; contrasting colours and floral garnishes were used to tie into the fairytale theme.
Visibly excited when talking about the collaboration with chef Brian Wong of Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant, Aw says: “Chef Brian has done a little bit of magic incorporating the fairytale theme and my Nonya heritage. The dishes inspire a sense of wonder and amazement.”
The starter, a double-boiled soup with salted preserved vegetable and duck, incorporates premium ingredients like bird’s nest dumpling. Sitting on the soup is a piece of finely-cut tofu, painstakingly made to look like petals of a chrysanthemum flower. It was a “wow” moment for everyone at my table as we wondered about how delicately the chefs needed to handle the tofu.
Dishes in this “Oriental-Peranakan” fusion menu are designed to play up the aromatic, spicy and herbal flavours of the Nonya cuisine, but still remain palatable for beginners.
I particularly appreciated how chef Brian adjusted the intensity of the buah keluak’s distinctive taste and introduced succulent braised chicken and buah keluak infused meatballs into this dish. As someone who typically dislikes the taste, I found the taste of buah keluak palatable, even interesting, in this form.
Chef Brian says: “Instead of serving braised chicken and the nut itself, my version consists of buah keluak meatballs instead as it is an easier way for diners to consume without the hassle of extracting the meat from the shell itself.”
Complementing the Ayam Buah Keluak was blue pea flower rice with egg white and premium scallops, presented in a delicate cube form. I was struck by how the natural blue colour of the rice contrasted beautifully with the yellow flower garnish, giving it a fantastical appearance. The taste of the egg white and scallops elevated the flavour of the Cantonese-style fried rice.
Another note-worthy characteristic of the menu is that the ingredients are handmade and of premium quality. For instance, in the baked cod fish with pineapple Nonya sauce and deep-fried tiger prawn, which is commonly found in Cantonese cuisine, the cod is marinated for two whole days in a pineapple sauce concocted from fresh pineapple juice and lemongrass.
The fish is paired with a deep-fried tiger prawn wrapped with handmade minced fish paste, more commonly known in Southeast Asia as otah. To enhance the flavours, the succulent flesh of deep-sea red grouper fish is used and mixed with herbs and coconut milk.
The dessert — baked lava cake filled with gula melaka and served with coconut ice cream — rounds up the Oriental-Peranakan fairytale with a sweet ending.
Breaking into the lava cake was a delightful experience for a dessert-lover like me. The crusty exterior gave way to a warm oozing centre of gula melaka, which I paired with the coconut ice cream. Warm and cold sensations go perfectly well together in this contemporary Peranakan creation.
The menu is available all-day at S$138++ at Wan Hao Chinese Restaurant, Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.
Pornsak honours his late mother with signature Thai dishes
Award-winning TV show host Pornsak grew up in Thailand. He is famous for the highly-rated TV programme, Food Source, and also owned a successful restaurant chain called Porn’s (meaning “happiness” in Thai).
At the media preview in Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, the table was decorated with floral and fruit arrangements, including Pornsak’s childhood favourite: the pomelo.
He recounted a childhood memory in which his late mother brought him to the local “talad” (market) to pick out the sweetest pomelos. Even till today, whenever he feels homesick or misses his mother, he finds comfort in Thai pomelo salad.
It is this memory that sparked the creation of four special dishes, together with chef Davian Santang of The Line, Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.
With his larger-than-life personality, Pornsak talked animatedly about the collaboration with chef Davian.
He says: “What chef Davian did with this menu was amazing — like the Pensieve in Harry Potter. I threw out a memory into the magical bowl and he created food with flavours of my childhood that can be eaten and appreciated.”
Amidst laughter, the starter — crabmeat pomelo salad — was served. Chef Davian mixed Japanese soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, lime juice and bird’s eye chilli in precise amounts and chilled the dressing to perfection. I love how the salad is light and refreshing with a juicy crunch from the pomelo bits.
Pornsak says: “After today, you can tell your friends you’ve been treated like royalty here. In the good old days in Thailand, Yum Som’o (pomelo salad) was a dish that was consumed by royalty.”
As a lover of spicy foods, I looked forward to the soup, named Curry Seafood Velouté. Chef Davian used tom yam base, seafood stock, cream, and milk to create a soup with a chowder-like consistency. Filled with fresh seafood such as prawns, fish and crabmeat, it bears a hint of the distinctive hot and sour tom yam flavour that does not overpower.
The main course in this menu is pan-fried local Barramundi with Green Peppercorn and Kaffir Lime, inspired by Thai green curry. The sauce features a deep-fried blend of green peppercorn and kaffir lime leaves, mixed with white wine cream sauce. The result is a fusion of tastes that still draws from traditional Thai flavours.
Ending off the Thai celebrity edition menu is a light soursop pudding complemented by raspberry crystal jelly and tart summer berry compote.
Chef Davian says: “From imagining the flavour profile of the dishes based on Pornsak’s memories, to selecting ingredients that excite the palate, I had fun using my creativity to craft dishes that are not just unique and exclusive, but also meaningful for the diners.”
Aptly named “Dear Memory”, the menu is inspired by how food constitutes a large part of our memories. At the event, chef Davian recalled scenes where, as a child, he popped into the kitchen and wanted to help his grandmother and mother cook. Despite being chased away from the kitchen multiple times, it was those experiences that sparked a desire to explore and experiment with different ingredients and recipes.
The menu will be available at a special section at The Line’s renowned international buffet on Mondays and Wednesdays only. The lunch buffet is available at $62++ and dinner buffet at $79++.
American Express Love Dining Celebrity Edition
The American Express Love Dining Celebrity Edition presents exclusive menus crafted by celebrity influencers Jeanette Aw, Pornsak, Janice Wong and Lennard Yeong in collaboration with renowned chefs. The menus are available from March 4 to May 3 to all diners. American Express Platinum Series Card Members can enjoy savings of up to 50 per cent, as part of their Love Dining privileges.
Love Dining is American Express’s reward programme for Platinum Card Members offering premium dining experiences and privileges at over 60 restaurants, including those in Singapore’s finest hotels.
Mr Cheng Heng Chew, Singapore Country Manager of American Express, says: “Singaporeans love to dine out and we want to take that experience up a notch by making it unforgettable. That means offering them more than just delicious food and luxurious ambience, but also helping them create new shared memories with their friends and families.”
For more information on American Express Love Dining, click here.
Not an American Express Platinum Credit Card member? Apply now at http://amex.co/celebrityedition