Retrospectives in the culinary world.
ARTISTS who've been making art for a decade or two or longer, and built up a reputation and a bank of work, often find themselves honoured with a retrospective exhibition. One which showcases their development and changes over the years.
Retrospectives are more common in the art world, rather than in the culinary one, possibly because where food is concerned, we seldom view it as a high art form.
Shouldn't we though? Especially when it comes to dishes that have been thoughtfully invented, and passionately cooked up? Here's a chance to sample - instead of view - a culinary retrospective of one chef's career.
Chef Chan Chen Hei has 'curated' a list of 22 dishes which he will put on his a la carte menu for two months - each dish commemorates every year the Hong Kong-born chef has been working in Singapore since 1986.
'Some of them mark milestones in my career, such as the fried shark's fin with crab meat and scrambled eggs which won me a cooking competition award in Hong Kong in 1998,' he shares.
The year 1986 is represented by braised supreme shark's fin with crab roe, while 2008's dish is a braised two-head South African wild abalone. In between, expect to see a variety of ingredients ranging from geoduck clams in XO sauce to pigeon steamed with cordyceps.
Our starter of steamed, sliced and air-dried eel (1996) was one of Chef Chan's unique preparations. My dining companion and I were intrigued by it because we usually have eel slathered in teriyaki sauce and grilled.
His creation saw the eel sliced thinly and marinated ever so subtly, so that salt and sichuan pepper dance on your tongue but don't mask the light flavour of eel meat, slightly oiled. It also epitomised the chef's typical approach - dishes might look simple and unassuming, but often they were the refined results of lengthy processes of preparation.
For 2002, the dish is prawn balls filled with pate liver and wine, deepfried with crunchy breadcrumb-like coat. Again, a balanced mix of flavours, tastily encased in a very crispy crunch.
Chef Chan's braised supreme shark's fin with crab roe is a must-try; it tastes hearty and enriched, although a tad salty on the day we had it.
For those who'd like to know, his crispy roast chicken was introduced in 1987, while two years later, he scored another hit with his beef in black pepper.
The dessert that's made it into his permanent menu is double-boiled supreme bird's nest with cream of almonds topping (1990).
This is how it works: for April and May, diners can call up the restaurant to book dishes from the list of 22 for their customised lunch or dinner, at $65++ and $88++ respectively per person, four persons minimum.
However, the reservation will have to be accompanied by a credit card payment for the full amount. It all sounds a tad fussy but understandably so since the boutique restaurant runs on a private dining model with only seven tables; and dishes such as abalone, braised from fresh catches rather than canned ones, require five days' notice.
While an art retrospective is a chance to admire how an artist has changed his style over the years, in a chef's case, what's impressive is how he manages to reproduce his classics in a consistently fine manner.
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