Pictured here: Joe Leong. All photos: Frenchescar Lim, Art direction: Shan
One is a skilled kaiseki chef whose entire menu focuses on Japanese wagyu. Another is reinventing Chinese desserts. Then there are the young talents creating unique renditions of modern Korean cuisine. All have carved out a niche in Singapore's crowded dining scene.
1. Home-grown innovator: Joe Leong of Forest
Joe Leong, 25, has culinary pedigree. He's the son of renowned chef Sam Leong and his wife Forest, of the eponymous restaurant at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS). His late grandfather was a famous Cantonese chef in Malaysia, and his grandmother ran a chicken rice stall. So it's not surprising that Joe chose to continue the family tradition.
After training in various Western pastry kitchens for the last seven years, Joe joined his parents at Forest in January this year as junior sous chef. This is his first foray into the professional Chinese kitchen. His signature style: apply Western pastry techniques to classic Chinese desserts while staying close to the original Chinese and Asian flavours.
At 15, Joe told his parents that he was keen to follow in their footsteps. "My father never wanted me to enter the kitchen as he knows that it's a very tough industry. But my interest and passion eventually won my parents over."
At 16, Joe started as a trainee under award-winning chef and Her World Young Woman Achiever 2011/12 Janice Wong, who had then just launched 2am: Dessert Bar. "I actually learnt in an unorthodox way. I learnt a lot of new and advanced molecular techniques. Although it was tough, it fuelled my interest."
Four years later, he joined RWS' central pastry kitchen. This gave him a foundation in classic techniques, which he gleaned from award-winning executive pastry chef Kenny Kong. A stint at Laurent Bernard Chocolatier introduced him to the art of chocolate making - chocolate is an ingredient he loves. In 2016, he joined Tippling Club. "I worked mostly in the hot kitchen, where I learnt various modern techniques from the chefs," shares Joe.
At Forest, Joe takes inspiration from his childhood to create new desserts. "I think of the Chinese desserts that my family enjoys, such as black sesame soup or egg tarts. I then break them down into individual components before recreating the dish using modern techniques, but with the same traditional ingredients," he says.
Chinese egg tarts are often served warm, but Joe's Reconstructed Egg Tart is presented cold, with salted egg custard between two layers of puff pastry. It is balanced with sweetened whipped cream. "I want it to look elegant and taste nostalgic," he adds. For his black sesame dessert, Joe adds various textures to the dish to create different sensations for the palate. He's also reinvented mango pomelo sago - the pomelo is frozen, giving the dish a different kind of punch, and served with deep-fried sago cracker.
And what has it been like working with his father? "There is always that level of pressure where I am compared to my father. But my dad always tells me to stay and be respectful in and out of the kitchen. And most importantly, not to have a big ego as a young cook."
Equarius Hotel, Resorts World Sentosa, tel: 6577-7788. www.rwsentosa.com/forest