Building bridges with theatre and cuisine

Theatre practitioner Marc Goldberg (above), who moved here two years ago partly because of Singapore's multiracial culture, has translated local plays into French, while Mr Xavier Le Henaff (left) arrived 20 years ago as a trainee chef and now runs a
Theatre practitioner Marc Goldberg (above), who moved here two years ago partly because of Singapore's multiracial culture, has translated local plays into French, while Mr Xavier Le Henaff arrived 20 years ago as a trainee chef and now runs a bistro in Serangoon Road that specialises in the cuisine of his native region of Brittany.ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN, LAU FOOK KONG
Theatre practitioner Marc Goldberg (above), who moved here two years ago partly because of Singapore's multiracial culture, has translated local plays into French, while Mr Xavier Le Henaff (left) arrived 20 years ago as a trainee chef and now runs a
Theatre practitioner Marc Goldberg, who moved here two years ago partly because of Singapore's multiracial culture, has translated local plays into French, while Mr Xavier Le Henaff (above) arrived 20 years ago as a trainee chef and now runs a bistro in Serangoon Road that specialises in the cuisine of his native region of Brittany.ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN, LAU FOOK KONG

Two years ago, the seminal Singaporean play The Coffin is Too Big For The Hole was staged in Paris. Playwright-director Marc Goldberg translated into French the late Kuo Pao Kun's tale of a man's struggles with bureaucracy as he tries to fit his grandfather's coffin into a standard-sized plot.

"I'm building bridges," said Mr Goldberg, 48. "I'm trying to get the French people and audience to know more about Singapore as a place where there is theatre... and not just a place where nobody is chewing gum."

Mr Goldberg, who moved here in 2013, is among a growing number of French citizens who have made Singapore their home.

As French President Francois Hollande begins his state visit to Singapore today, he will find nearly 14,000 French citizens registered with the embassy here as of the end of last year. This is a 40 per cent jump from the 10,000 in 2013. The actual figureis probably higher, as registration is not mandatory.

The bulk of French people here are working adults, and more than a third are below 18 years old. A fair number - 330 - are entrepreneurs.

Last year, there were 714 French companies here, including Breton Restaurant Bar in Serangoon Road, set up by Mr Xavier Le Henaff.

When Mr Le Henaff, 56, moved to Singapore 20 years ago, he found that people had the misconception that French food was expensive, as the cuisine was offered mainly by upscale restaurants.

"They thought they have to spend thousands of dollars to eat French food and that the French have fine dining every day," said the chef, who hails from Brittany, a region in north-western France.

To change that impression, he opened his bistro in 2000, selling affordable fare such as onion soup and charcoal-grilled sirloin steak.

Ms Joelle Santoni, 38, immigrated here two years ago with her husband and two young children, leaving both her job as a venture capitalist and the island of Corsica in south-eastern France, where she had lived her whole life.

"We wanted a new personal and professional challenge abroad," she said. "And Singapore is safe, it has a good education system and the people are nice."

But she did not forget her roots. The month she arrived, she started Isula - Flavours of Corsica, importing produce from her home town such as goat cheese, cooked meats and beer made from chestnut flour.

Ms Santoni supplies the goods to more than 30 restaurants here, including the Michelin-starred Joel Robuchon Restaurant and Odette.

While the perception is that France and Singapore are vastly different, some, such as Mr Goldberg, revel in the different environment.

Mr Goldberg moved here partly because of Singapore's multiracial culture - his wife was born in China - and because he felt stuck in France's theatre scene. "People there were more posturing than directing," he said.He also relishes Chinese food and never dines at French eateries here.

French food and theatre by artists such as Mr Goldberg will be showcased at the annual Voilah! French festivalfrom April 8 to May 21.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'Building bridges with theatre and cuisine'. Print Edition | Subscribe