Reaping a good harvest

Chef Elson Cheong with butterfly pea flowers at the farm of One Farrer Hotel & Spa.
Chef Elson Cheong with butterfly pea flowers at the farm of One Farrer Hotel & Spa.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM
Other organic produce grown there include the dragonfruit (above) and the hairy gourd.
Other organic produce grown there include the dragonfruit (above) and the hairy gourd.ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

One Farrer chef Elson Cheong says he creates new dishes all the time as the hotel's farm yields different produce every week

Chef Elson Cheong heads up to the seventh floor of One Farrer Hotel & Spa at least twice a week to source fresh produce.

Located there is the hotel's lush 11,000 sq ft farm, which boasts more than 60 varieties of vegetables, herbs, fruit and edible plants.

Passionfruit vines and papaya trees grow alongside beds of dill and varieties of basil, kailan and ladies' fingers.

The number of crops does more than just impress the average hotel guest or visitor. Some 70 per cent of the herbs, 30 per cent of the vegetables and 10 per cent of the fruit used in the hotel's dishes come from the farm.

Cheong, 40, the hotel's executive chef, says: "The farm yields different produce every week. Because I never know what I'm going to get, I come up with new dishes all the time."

Next month, he will take 10 pairs of Straits Times subscribers to tour the hotel's farm and taste some of its produce.

Other organic produce grown there include the dragonfruit and the hairy gourd (above).
Other organic produce grown there include the dragonfruit and the hairy gourd (above). ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

The event, hosted by Life editor Tan Hsueh Yun and jointly organised by The Straits Times and One Farrer Hotel & Spa, includes a farm-to-table cooking demonstration and lunch.

The multi-course lunch will showcase items picked from the farm.

For starters, guests will enjoy a salad of smoked chicken with herbs. It will come drizzled with the chef's dressing, made with honey, lemon and lime juice, and yogurt.

The main dish will be one of chef Cheong's signature creations - baked barramundi marinated in Nonya laksa paste and served wrapped in ti leaves.

The ti plant is native to the state of Hawaii in the United States and is growing at the farm because the hotel's chairman, Dr Richard Helfer - who lived for six years in Hawaii and owns a property there - brought the seeds to Singapore.

He is the man behind the hotel's urban farm and he prides himself as being its chief gardener.

The American hotelier, 67, says the farm is part of the hotel's intent to create a "total lifestyle environment" for its guests.

The farm serves as "a natural beacon of learning and knowledge" to all, he adds.

For chef Cheong, it is a place of inspiration.

Just last week, he harvested an unripe papaya from the tree and used the fruit to make som tam (Thai green papaya salad) and pickles.

Since joining the hotel in December, his farm-to-table dishes have included a butterfly pea flower and honey cooler, a mulberry tart and a passionfruit cake.

He is looking forward to having ST subscribers try his creations.

"You will be able to taste the difference because the produce is grown organically. I daresay it's fresher than what you can get from the market," he says.

The farm's four horticulturists use no chemicals on the crops. Instead, they use an in-house organic spray made of soapy water, oil, chilli, orange peel and garlic to repel pests.

Ms Tan, 49, says: "One Farrer's farm is an enchanting place. To see everything growing so profusely and lushly in what is a very urban area is quite something. I'm looking forward to showing readers the bounty from the farm and for them to see how this produce is used in chef Cheong's food."

Dr Helfer's hope is that after the event, the invited ST subscribers "will become converts to enjoying and creating their own pocket green spaces at home, neighbourhoods and even in their workplace".

"We are also sure that once bitten by the farm-to-table bug, they will seek out where such fare can be experienced, savoured and enjoyed."

ST subscribers who are keen to be part of this event can enter a lucky draw at str.sg/farrer to stand a chance to be selected.

The contest will close on June 2 and winners will be notified by e-mail.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2017, with the headline 'Reaping a good harvest'. Print Edition | Subscribe