SIMPLE yet tasty is the cooking mantra of chef Eddie Goh, 41, who heads Fairmont hotel's Plaza Market Cafe.
So it comes as little surprise that his decision to become a chef was spurred by army food.
He says: 'The sergeant in charge of the army kitchen was passionate about cooking and he whipped up such simple but delicious food that the soldiers kept coming back for more.'
Impressed by the man's love of cooking, chef Goh, who has always been enthusiastic about cooking, decided to pursue his culinary interest professionally.
|WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?
|A bowl of salted vegetable and duck soup.
However, he was unable to find any openings for cooks in restaurant kitchens after he completed his national service. So he worked as an operations assistant in a transport company for three years.
In 1991, he finally learnt of a vacancy for a cook at the American Club and willingly took a 50 per cent pay cut to fulfil his dream.
After stints at the Royal Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza and Les Amis in Shaw Centre, he joined The Fairmont in 2004, when the hotel was called Raffles The Plaza.
On his claim to serving authentic Peranakan cuisine at the cafe's buffet spread, the Teochew says he inherited his recipes from his late grandmother.
Although she was also Teochew, she grew up in a predominantly Peranakan village and learnt to cook from her Nonya neighbours. She then passed on these recipes to his mother who, in turn, taught him the secrets to a great ayam buah keluak (chicken braised with black nut) among other Peranakan dishes.
Married to a procurement officer, the father of a six-month-old son says: 'My greatest fulfilment is to see repeat customers at the cafe who cannot get enough of our Peranakan food.'
Care to share the secret to cooking a good Peranakan dish?
A good Nonya chicken curry cannot do without rempah (curry paste) that is carefully made from scratch. The key to a good rempah is to fry the lemongrass first before adding ingredients such as shallots, turmeric, belachan and galangal, so that the zesty smell of the lemongrass permeates the rempah.
Plaza Market Cafe offers buffet-style meals. What is the best way to get the most out of the buffet?
Although the highlight of the buffet is the Peranakan dishes, we serve an international mix of Asian and Western food. I would suggest that customers begin with some of our top-grade sashimi before trying our Peranakan specialities such as ayam buah keluak and mee rebus. Our roast meats are very tasty too. The creamy durian pudding dessert is another must-have.
|NONYA CLASSIC: Eddie Goh serves up yummy ayam buah keluak.
What is your favourite meal of the day?
It has to be dinner. I don't eat breakfast because it disagrees with my stomach. My lunch is usually light because I'm busy with work.
But I have a substantial dinner when I get off work.
The meal usually consists of rice with a hearty soup, such as pig's stomach soup, and a side of curry or buah keluak gravy.
What food do you never get sick of eating?
Curry chicken noodles. I must have it at least every fortnight, and I usually go to the stall in Hong Lim Food Centre for it. I can't get enough of the taste of tender chicken chunks drowned in a rich curry gravy.
In fact, I like it so much, I introduced it to the cafe's menu this year and it has proven to be popular with diners as well.
What are your favourite local eating haunts?
I like eating at the Hong Lim Food Centre. It has great curry chicken noodles, char kway teow and bak kut teh. I also go to Lee Kui (Ah Hoi) in Mosque Street for traditional Teochew food. My family has been patronising the restaurant for more than 20 years. I like the steamed crab, which is eaten with a garlic-chilli vinaigrette. It is a simple but tasty dish.
What is your favourite food from childhood?
Mee sua with pork blood jelly from a stall in China Street. I liked it so much, I would have two bowls at a time. I don't see anybody selling it any more these days.
What was your best dining experience?
It was at a fine dining restaurant in the Atlantis Hotel in the Bahamas. The steak was juicy and tender and the tomato-based crab stew was especially memorable because I had never tasted seafood that fresh.
What dish is your restaurant famous for?
Our ayam buah keluak, which is not too heavy flavour-wise. We stuff the fragrant black nuts with minced chicken and pork to enhance the taste. We also add a little tamarind juice to the dish to reduce the bitterness of the buah keluak.
This article was first published in The Sunday Times on Mar 16, 2008.