Service is a hectic time for all restaurant staff, who expend every bit of energy to make sure every dish that comes off the line is perfect and that customers leave the restaurant happy. So when service is over and guards are down, that’s when the fun begins. “At Pasta Supremo and The Salted Plum, we always make it a point to have our staff meal together once lunch service is over — this is also the time we tend to get a little mischievous and pull pranks on each other,” says Krishnan. “Recently, we battered a dish sponge (new and clean) to look like a fried chicken dish we were serving that day and waited for an unlucky staff to take a big bite of the spongy imposter. His reaction was priceless! We’ve also prepared a special meatball that was filled with chopped chili padi (bird’s eye chili) for one of our staff that has a ridiculously low spice tolerance. For everyday laughs and giggles, I’ve added ingredients such as salt and vinegar to my sous chef’s water bottle which usually results in him trying to hold a spit-take”.
Fancy a big bite of dried cinnamon bark for starters? At Soigné in Seoul, Lee is known for his episodic menus where the restaurant’s entire food offerings change from season to season according to themes. The current episode 20 is named Aroma, which focuses on presenting each course as a different scene with aroma as the focus. It opens with a snack called “Cinnamon Stick” where guests are invited to identify the edible cinnamon stick amongst the real cinnamon sticks. Lee says: "Guests are usually quite pleased when they find the edible cinnamon stick. It’s like a treasure hunt for them.”
What would you do when you’re in the middle of a multi-course meal at a polished fine-dining restaurant and the waiter makes the mistake of serving the same dish twice? “We had a couple come in recently and the guy was in on it, but his date was getting very worked up until she realised it was actually a different dish,” says Arevalo, who created the dishes Elude and Allude which are served consecutively. Presented on black plates with a white cloud of foam and a dollop of caviar, the dishes look identical but are actually completely different — one sweet, one savoury; one cold, one hot; even the type of caviar is different. “The servers still get a kick out of it and will come back into the kitchen to report the reactions.”
You think you’re at an unassuming kopitiam on Circular Road for a beer and a good bowl of wanton mee — that is, until you open the fridge door and find yourself in another world. Enter The Dragon Chamber, the newest speakeasy-style restaurant and bar by the Ebb & Flow Group and Tung Lok Group. “It’s a fridge we have in our kopitiam and in it we have all our own beer labels,” says Hartono. But then you open the door and instead of chilled beer, you find yourself in a darkened passageway covered with edgy artwork from local and regional artists such as Sabotage, Mister Tucks and Riandy Karuniawan. “The idea is that this is like a portal that takes you from the street into The Dragon Chamber.” On the menu are hearty Chinese-American eats as well as some more unconventional, prank-worthy items: think braised crocodile foot and mammal innards.
Eunji Lee, executive pastry chef, Jungsik in New York
This is one banana you don’t have to peel. At two-Michelin-starred modern Korean restaurant Jungsik in New York, Lee serves up a brilliant five-course dessert tasting menu that’s full of whimsy and surprise. Her signature dessert, Baby Banana, has fooled more than one guest into making a monkey of themselves. Valrhona Dulcey chocolate ganache, banana cream and Bailey’s cake is encased in a white chocolate shell formed to look exactly like the fruit. Guests must select the dessert from a fruit basket containing real bananas. “Guests usually look quite confused when the fruit basket is brought to the table, unsure about which ‘fruit’ they need to pick up. They often don’t trust that it’s actually a dessert, as it looks so real,” says Lee. “They’re usually very impressed when they break it open. Sometimes they even try to peel it with their hands.”