Never before has the restaurant business been this sexy in this part of Asia and the annual Epicurean Market in Singapore is a testament to this booming industry
By Audra Roslani
Imagine an event catered to serious food aficionados, held in one of the most exclusive venues that serve only the best drinks by top mixologists and divine award-winning bites by some of the world’s most sacrosanct chefs (think Marinated Botan Shrimp with Sea Urchin and Caviar by Waku Ghin’s Chef Tetsuya Wakuda to delicious servings of pizza by Mozza’s Nancy Silverton) with good pumping music to boot. It’s a multi-sensory overload.. and we mean that in the best possible way. Now, extend this extraordinary gastronomic experience over the span of three days, and judging by the throngs of well-heeled visitors to the Epicurean Market by Marina Bay Sands, now in its second year, it’s an idea that works.
“We are proud to bring back the Epicurean Market which will showcase the finest food, wine, spirits and fresh produce under one roof,” said Tamir Shanel, the Vice President of F&B, Marina Bay Sands. “This is an opportunity for our renowned chefs, wine distributors, gourmet hunters and food connoisseurs to gather and celebrate a weekend of great food and entertainment.”
“Very rarely can you try five to six world-class restaurants all in one evening through small portions but you can at the Epicurean Market and I’d love for foodies to come here, share their experiences and have a good time,” he said.
Undoubtedly, food is a big deal in this part of the world as apparent through all the food photo updates on our various social networks and the Epicurean Market, which took place from September 12 to 14 this year, provided ample photo opportunities from its tasteful set up as a sophisticated indoor picnic within a chic garden setting (that brilliantly eliminated unwanted elements had it been organised outdoors in the sweltering Singapore heat), to the smorgasbord of fine-dining dishes that were available at a fraction of the price for a sample, an opportunity that now comes once a year. But what really makes the Epicurean Market such a memorable experience is the accessibility it allows us mere mortals to get up close to some of the most revered celebrity chefs in the world who can be seen walking on the grounds, sharing a quick laugh with their equally distinguished counterparts and avid fans, and conducting life-changing master classes to visitors when they’re not busy keeping a sharp eye manning their respective booths.
We first spotted Chef Nancy Silverton of Osteria Mozza and the James Beard Foundation’s 2014 “Outstanding Chef”, and had to ask her about her eclectic style.
“I really enjoy fashion and sometimes I feel guilty for enjoying it so much! However, I think when we get to dress ourselves and feel good in what we’re wearing it makes all the difference. There are a handful of designers that I tend to gravitate to and I love Issey Miyake. It doesn’t wrinkle and it’s so lightweight which is great for packing, you can’t stain it because it’s not natural fibres – and I’m one who’s very prone to spilling things so I like it for that too. But I also like it because it’s very individual.”
While Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich may be the heavyweight names behind Osteria Mozza, little do many know that it’s the woman behind the men that first sparked the idea for this Italian restaurant.
“In Los Angeles, the food business has become such a platform for raising money for all sorts of charitable causes and that’s how I met Mario. We would do these dinners together and when I told him I wanted to open up an Italian restaurant with a mozzarella bar as the focal point, without even thinking he said ‘I want to do it with you’ and the next week he sent Joe – his partner, and we started looking for locations,” explained Silverton.
“Even though in Los Angeles I did have a following and a reputation, people were confused that I was partnering with Mario and questioning why I didn’t do it on my own, but having them as partners turned out to be the right decision because I would have never ended up here, if not for them.”
She admitted that while it was a male-dominated industry, women could still leave their mark in it.
“I’ve been very lucky to have worked in kitchens with chefs who are very open-minded, that are very demanding and particular but also very nurturing. Did I know this is what I wanted to do at a young age? I feel that I was very young at 18 when I had just started college, but that was back in 1974 which was pre ‘celebrity chef’, pre-food bloggers, pre everything. There almost wasn’t a reason for me to fall into a field like this back then so for 1974 I think I was young but for today’s world, it’s probably considered old.”
Besides trying out the usual suspects, the Epicurean Market is also a great way to sample food from soon-to-open restaurants in Marina Bay Sands by celebrity chefs before anyone else does, an absolute bragging right for serious food lovers. Two big names are set to open shop here, the first being Chef Thompson’s Thai street food-inspired Long Chim.
“Long Chim means ‘to come and sample’ and often (Thai) people would say, “Come taste the food”. So it’s just an easygoing, casual invitation to come and have a look, come and have a taste, come and have a drink – just come and try,” says Thompson, whose restaurant Nahm in Bangkok was recently awarded the No. 1 spot on San Pellegrino’s Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014.
“Long Chim is a street food restaurant, not necessarily a celebrity-chef driven restaurant, but more of a respectable, casual, easy and happy dining – just like on the streets of Bangkok. I’m quite relentless in trying to retain a certain faithfulness in representing Thai food, so (Long Chim) will be affordable and accessible.”
The second new restaurant to open at Marina Bay Sands is celebrated Chef David Myers modern Californian restaurant which will have a shared plates concept with a taste that will be heavily influenced by his travels.
“Californian cuisine is about the quality of the ingredients and doing the least amount of work to them but you’re doing one little edge that makes that dish stand out and be spectacular; so a lot of the chefs there are adding a little bit of Asian influence that makes it exciting and new. My dream goal is really to create an experience that really makes people excited and feel the energy and want to come back and dine but they also get to appreciate the sophistication of the dishes that are my personal style of cooking that I love, which is Californian with a bit of an Asian edge.”
We asked this L.A. native what he’d make us for dinner on a first date, and he said the first thing was to break away from the monotony of a 3-course meal and dessert.
“I’d do grilled scallops over charcoal with different types of pepper that are dried and crusted on it, and then maybe a noodle dish, and finished off with some grilled meats or fish. That’s how I want to see my guests eat, and of course have a couple of cocktails while they’re at it,” says Myers. “So fun little bites; salty, sour, sweet and bitter – all those elements ranging in one way or another that’s gonna drive you to enjoy that cocktail a bit more.”
Chef Tetsuya, a goliath in his own right with a reputation that’s second to none can be seen at Waku Ghin, with an unsurprisingly long queue patiently waiting to try his delectable dishes.
“You know, I’m really grateful (that people are queuing up) but at the same time, I hate it and I feel really bad for the people – and also my colleagues,” says this humble chef who often personally distributes small little dishes to those standing in line while apologising for the wait.
When asked what makes him happy, his answer is both surprising and expected.
“I still love to eat. I’m always thinking about what I want to eat. And I love fishing. I have many fishing rods, many lures, many reels – the latest. I’ve got enough gear but I still visit tackle shops and look at new rods and I still get excited. So you’d think I’d be a good fisherman, but I’m not,” he laughs. “I just love to go fishing and think about it – to use a lure or plastic, makes a big difference and it sounds absolutely idiotic but that’s how it is.”
“But also, I like when people around me are happy; whether it’s my staff that are happy and successful in their career or in their personal life, it makes you smile too – don’t you think?”
With so many celebrity chefs under one roof, it’s inevitable that some may think it’s a way for to sniff out the competition, but the chefs insist it’s nothing of the sort.
“People think that we’re all competing against each other but it’s not really. We’re like brothers, that’s why I call every chef ‘Brother’! We have nice camaraderie; we work together and have fun afterwards. On normal work days after we’re done working, we go to each other’s restaurants, sit down and have a drink together and chat. It’s like catching up with family, and it’s really, really nice,” says Tetsuya.
“It’s more like having a gossip by the back fence with a cup of tea or a glass of champagne,” muses Chef Thompson.
For a gastronomic experience like no other, check out next year’s Epicurean Market by Marina Bay Sands for all that’s new and exciting in this part of the world.