The afternoon session of 'The Future of Food' forum reconvened at Singapore’s historic Raffles Hotel with an honest and impassioned discourse on authenticity by Thai master chef David Thompson of Nahm restaurant (Bangkok); and a surreal movie from Ben Shewry of Attica (Melbourne, Australia).
“I have no right to cook Thai food. I arrived in Thailand a novice, uncertain,” admitted Thompson. But the food was to transform the Australian chef, and spurred him on to understand the complexities of Thai cuisine through deep and thorough investigation. Today, Thompson’s cuisine is lauded for its authenticity, but the chef concedes that cooking Thai food is like a chess match. “You make one move, then another, until you reach your goal.”
Expanding on the themes of integrity and authenticity in cooking, Shewry returned to the stage with more emotional storytelling, revealing how a lack of early success and a bout of depression taught him to live each day to the full. His playful and creative nature was revealed in a darkly comic movie short entitled ‘What Grows In The Garden’, which depicts the chef as an egocentric taskmaster who mistreats his staff, but finally gets his comeuppance. The irony wasn’t lost on anybody familiar with the down-to-earth Kiwi chef’s open and inclusive approach.
The audience was enraptured by the appearance of Joan Roca, whose El Cellar de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, was voted the World’s Best Restaurant sponsored by S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna in 2013. A series of short films demonstrated the creative thread running through three generations of the Roca family; and a tribute to Marcel Proust highlighted the eternal link between food and memory.
Roca’s creations are inspired not only by his own childhood recollections, but also his travels around the world and the history of the Catalan people. “The menu is full of the local cuisine of Catalonia,” said Roca. “But the restaurant is not fundamental or radical - we are open to new cultures, techniques and methods of working.”
'Keeping It Real - The Rise of the Celebrity Chef' was the day’s final session.
Raymond Lim, Director at Les Amis Group, listed the pros and cons of putting a chef’s name above a restaurant door, concluding that eponymous restaurants are only a good idea if your first name is Ronald, and your surname McDonald.
By way of riposte, Alvin Leung - a self-confessed celebrity chef who made his name with Bo Innovation in Hong Kong - insisted the chef was greater than the restaurant. The flamboyant three-Michelin star chef and Masterchef Canada judge, pleaded: “Am I not real? Do I not bleed?” before adding (jokingly, we hope): “I do bleed, but the blood is blue.”
Loh Pik Peng, whose Unlisted Collection chain of hotels and restaurants stretches from London to Singapore, posed the question that fine dining may eventually be doomed in favour of casual dining. Thankfully, group editor of Restaurant Magazine William Drew was on hand to allay such fears, stating that the existence of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants sponsored by S. Pellegrino & Acqua Panna was proof enough that fine dining is alive and well.
Which should come as blessed relief to Fine Dining Lovers everywhere.