People 2 minutes 26 April 2018

On Friendship And Fusion Food

We chat with Morsels’ Petrina Loh and visiting Korean chef Tae Hwan Ryu during their grocery run at Tekka Market.

Singapore chefs Korean wet markets

It’s a muggy morning and Tekka Centre is abuzz with the sights and sounds of the local wet market. Here to visit is Korean chef Tae Hwan Ryu of Michelin-plated restaurant Ryunique in Seoul, and showing him around is Petrina Loh, chef/owner of Morsels atop Dempsey Hill, where they were to present a special four hands collaborative menu on the evenings of 18 and 19 April.

They stop at a fruit stall with cartons upon cartons of colourful berries and melons and citruses to look at an unusual tropical offering—the rose apple, colloquially known as jambu. The fruitseller offers chef Ryu a taste of the crisp, tart fruit. “As a traveling chef, it’s nice to see what the local market has to offer”, says chef Petrina. “We don’t travel empty-handed, we do bring our own ingredients and sauces, but it’s always nice to add a touch of something local to the menu”.
Chef Ryu's dish of silky fowl and ginseng. You can see the local rose apple that he has incorporated.
Chef Ryu's dish of silky fowl and ginseng. You can see the local rose apple that he has incorporated.
The next evening, the rose apple finds its way into a Ryunique signature dish. In Seoul, chef Ryu works magic with silky fowl, transforming the grey-tinged flesh of the chicken into tender morsels and serves it with wild honey ginseng and dehydrated young ginseng atop a swirl of soba noodles. Fine cubes of sweet, crisp jambu are studded within the noodles, a tart counterpoint to the umami gochujang-based sauce.

We join them on their wet market tour and have a chat with the chefs who share a passion for progressive fusion cuisine that is proudly Asian and wildly creative.
What have you guys been busy with prior to this four hands collaboration?

Ryu: I just opened a third concept in Seoul, Rooftop Bar Ryunique, three months ago, so I’m focusing on this new restaurant, which is situated on the rooftop of a luxury department store. It’s a 70-seater with a huge team of staff and many customers to manage. Every day I am running between three restaurants and doing media interviews, events, masterclasses!

Petrina: Our schedules are very crazy, he doesn’t have time to travel so we were very lucky to make our times meet this time. Just before this, I was in Bali for the Ubud Food Festival where we did a kitchen takeover at Hujan Local.

What have you been up to since arriving in Singapore yesterday?

R: Ninety per cent is working, 10% is eating. I’ve been to JB Ah Meng, and wow its very good and I ate a lot.

P: I brought him to eat bak chor mee for breakfast and then we went to Farm Delight to pick out micro herbs. Friday, we’ll be visiting Kuhlbarra’s farm. Most foreigners don’t see Singapore as an agricultural place and Kuhlbarra has been doing a great job in changing that with their very good farming techniques. The water there is so clear.

R: Can we swim there? (laughs)

P: Yah you bring your swimming gear and jump in and swim with the fish.
How are you going to bring your cooking styles together for this collaboration?

P: we both focus on nourishing foods and are very produce-driven. But we come from very different cultures, so we both bring a different perspective into this collaboration. We do fusion cooking—he calls it 'hybrid'—where we bring together traditional cooking techniques with our own modern interpretation of things.

R: I’ve brought some of my signature dishes here with me. Like this pork jowl from pigs in Yesan that are apple-fed so the meat is so soft and umami. I also brought three kinds of Korean ginseng. All in, about 80kg of ingredients and sauces.

P: Chef Ryu has brought some of his signature dishes and his current menu items from Seoul, while I want to bring in some of his touches into my food as a new experience for our own regular guests. We’ll see how we can craft something together with the central theme of nourishing, umami and produce-driven.

What are the two of you learning from one another?

R: I have cooked in three continents but I have never experienced Peranakan cooking and its unique flavours and ingredients. This is something I am learning from her.

P: He’s very good at balancing flavours. For example, I made this gochujang—it tasted very strong on its own and he suggested putting it in a base chicken stock. It’s something that has come out of his own experience, and I’m continually learning. If it were just my style, I would have just put it on the side, but with his input it’s something new.

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