05 | Grass in Concrete

Made in Sg

In the past week, we’ve seen the release of this year’s best 50 restaurants in Asia. Much can be said about that. The Straits Times ran a half-page critique on the dubiety of certain rankings, but as usual, everything should be taken with a pinch of salt… because sodium acetate reduced the bitterness of urea more effectively than sucrose. Molecular gastronomy stuff, which has tickled the minds of chefs and gastronomes alike. But the fad in the food scene has petered out, perhaps giving way to a more mature understanding of modernist cuisine. Yet another, more down-to-earth (literally), theme is on the rise – sourcing for local produce and putting them into dishes served.

I have always felt a sense of pity living in Singapore. On this sunny tropical island, there isn’t much that grows as quickly as condominiums and the population of foreign labour. While I was on a farm-stay in Nagano, Japan for two-weeks, the idea of planting corn, basil and blueberries was just as foreign as it was intriguing. It doesn’t mean that Singaporeans don’t get the idea of ‘you reap what you sow’. Everyone knows when we plant our heads in books, we get stars and scholarships. Not a concept too difficult to grasp.

Yet, it is more than heartening that it isn’t all about stars and scholarships for many young people these days. Last weekend, a handful of craftspeople put up a collaborative exhibit to showcase what exactly can be Made In Singapore. Bespoke leather goods, home-made jams, hand-carved rubber stamps, earthy ceramics, and of course… locally-roasted coffee.

The Gentlemen’s Press was most intriguing, for I’ve always had a thing for letterpress. There wasn’t a full range of type sets or a full-size typesetting frame, but that little red letterpress machine pictured below was in itself a fascinating contraption. Like a typical Singaporean, I joined the queue and had my hands on the press to make myself a “Made in SG” card.

It was all good fun, and coffee. But craftsmanship isn’t just about fun – especially in Singapore. It demands a deal of devotion, a spirit of ‘making’, and an undaunted belief that even the greenest grass can grow anywhere in the barest concrete jungle.

Letterpress Machine
Letterpress Machine


One thought on “05 | Grass in Concrete

  1. Molecular gastronomy, or rather, modernist cuisine, when done right, is rarely about the shock appeal. It’s about understanding the processes that happens when you cook and eat, and through that understanding, improving upon the cooking process/final dish. Take sous vide for example, though it’s been around for a while, it was first embraced by avant garde chefs in a restaurant kitchen setting, and now everyone is using it. It’s quite simply a better process. Or the use of hydrocolloids to thicken. We can now thicken sauces without using slurries or roux which dull flavor. And when you get right down to it, what is modernist cuisine? The use of hydrocolloids? Gelatin is a hydrocolloid.

    And even when you think of chefs who do “crazy” things with food, it’s rarely ever about simply shocking the diner, it’s more about using the process to create a setting to spark memories, for example, a dish that uses aromas to transport you to the sea, or the use of smoke to remind you of a backyard barbeque. Even the much maglined “foam” or espuma, when used correctly, improves a dish, take tempura for example, it loses crispness when dipped into soy/ponzu. But a soy foam would allow the tempura to maintain crispness.

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