TO a layman, Goh Kai Kui has the best job ever. Imagine how, as CEO of food and beverage company Goh Joo Hin, he can celebrate Chinese New Year every day just by reaching into his office pantry and pulling out a can of New Moon abalone - the company's signature product.
It's just a little disappointing to hear that the 42-year-old doesn't eat it every day, although he professes to indulging in the prized shellfish at least two or three times a month. Unsurprisingly, he has tasted abalone cooked in every conceivable way, although the most unusual version he has seen has to be an 'abalone appetiser made into a shape of a small tree trunk wrapped in cabbage leaves and served with a mild, sweet special sauce in Shin Yeh restaurant in Taiwan's 101 building,' he recalls.
Even so, it can't hold a candle to his most favourite abalone dish, prepared by his wife - 'double boiled abalone with Japanese dried mushroom', he reveals.
Indeed, the food-loving Teochew credits his wife for shaping his taste buds over the years, preparing his favourite dishes like Teochew-style steamed pomfret. 'She has had a great influence on what I eat every day, ever since we got married.'
Her influence has meant that Mr Goh fancies honest to goodness Chinese cooking, and nothing fancy or pretentious. 'Abalone and high-end seafood have allowed me to better appreciate high-end cuisine as I realise the effort and skill which go into preparing them,' he says. But, 'I enjoy all types of food and it need not be expensive'.
That could range from the pig's blood that 'my father took me to eat when I was a child, which I initially thought I would not like but I fell in love with it and I do not think you can find it anymore, which is a great pity' to his favourite comfort food: Teochew fish porridge.
When it comes to corporate entertaining - which he does three times a week - it would invariably be at a Chinese restaurant like Taste Paradise or Thai Village Shark's Fin, which he says serves the best shark's fin dishes. Other favourites include Imperial Treasure Teochew, Peach Garden and Japanese eatery Sakae Sushi, where he satisfies his craving for his favourite tuna belly sashimi.
When he entertains, he's also likely to order an abalone dish, 'as it keeps me updated on the latest recipes for abalone', he explains. Even when he's entertaining non-Asians, he has no trouble getting them to eat it, probably because they are frequent visitors to Asia, he adds.
Still, that doesn't account for other culinary faux pas involving other ingredients. Mr Goh recalls taking a group of Italian suppliers to eat in a Beijing duck restaurant in China, and they 'ordered one Beijing duck each', he relates. 'They were utterly shocked when they realised that it was the entire duck being served instead of the usual small portions they were accustomed to in their home country.'
While it's mostly Asian food for him, Mr Goh also enjoys European food, particularly foie gras, and has his favourite haunts in Paris and Italy. But being the typical Singaporean, he also suffers from Chinese food withdrawal symptoms when travelling.
On a trip to Chile, he says, he went to a Chinese restaurant which looked promising, complete with 'decor and lighting very similar to a Guangzhou restaurant I used to dine in in the late 80s'. The restaurant also played traditional Chinese music, adding to the authentic ambience. Unfortunately, they served 'the worst Yang Zhou fried rice' he had ever tasted.
Naturally, he's not likely to be heading back to Chile for Chinese food any time soon. As far as he's concerned, he likes Singapore for having 'one of the world's best food quality and reasonable prices compared with some other developed countries'. Even so, he is not averse to trying out strange food in his back yard, like a dried, fried scorpion with garlic bread he was served at a local herbal restaurant. 'It tasted like a crunchy biscuit,' he muses.
Besides Singapore, 'Hong Kong, Taiwan and Shanghai are the next best dining options' for him. Otherwise, he happily falls back on his wife's cooking or when the whim strikes, he picks up the wok himself and dishes up a mean 'fried tiger prawns with egg and a dash of Thai fish sauce'. And maybe some sliced abalone on the side?