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Thursday, 25 February 2016

Singapore – The Spotlight Nation at San Sebastian’s Gastronomika

Gastronomika is a major international gastronomic conference in San Sebastian, and now in its 17th year, it has gained a significant following and importance. 

Many of the big names in the culinary world flock to San Sebastian in October each year to take part in it, and the whole town, already a major destination for any foodie, becomes the place to be (or be seen).

I love San Sebastian and have written about it here (read this post for a list of Pintxos bars and their unique specialties).

San Sebastian Old Town

San Sebastian is without a doubt, my favourite European destination for food, be it for its incredibly good value and quality pintxos (the Basque tapas) or for its 3-Michelin starred restaurant experiences. I had one of the best meals of my life at Martin Berasategui, reviewed here.

The burnt Basque cheesecake by Bar La Viña in San Sebastian - not to be missed!

So what should you expect to see or do at Gastronomika? If you are a hospitality professional or a hardcore foodie, there will be plenty to keep you entertained for days – tastings, lectures, cookery demonstrations and a vast range of Basque and international exhibitors.

For the latest Gastronomika, Singapore was the spotlight nation at the congress, and so I was lucky enough to be invited by the Singapore Tourism Board to San Sebastian to attend the congress and meet 12 of the biggest names in Singaporean cuisine flown in especially for the occasion.

One of these chefs was the charming Malcolm Lee, head chef and owner of Candlenut in Singapore, a restaurant specialising in the traditional cuisine of Peranakan heritage also known as Nyonya (a cuisine created from Malayan and Chinese heritages unique to the straits of South-East Asia).

Other chefs included Justin Quek of Sky On 57, one of the most celebrated French cuisine chefs in Asia today, Andre Chiang of Restaurant Andre, currently the 37th restaurant on San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best, and the British chef Ryan Clift of the Tippling Club in Singapore, who cooked us one of the best meals we had during the congress, but more on that later.

This extraordinary line-up of Singapore’s emerging and established culinary minds were involved in a variety of different activities during the congress ranging from high-tech cooking demonstrations and discussions in the main auditorium to preparing and feeding a hungry San Sebastian street crowd with what Singaporeans do best – street food.

Chef Wayne Liew’s “Coffee Pork Ribs” were one of these Singaporean street-foods I got to sample - tender pork on the bone, cooked in caramel and plenty of coffee, this was sweet, savoury and surprisingly addictive.

Chef Wayne Liew’s is the head chef of Keng Eng Kee Seafood (or KEK for short) in Singapore, and is known for his highly creative dishes, his Marmite Chicken being just one other example.

Chef Emmanuel Stroobant (originally from Belgium) has lived in Singapore for the last two decades where he opened his first Belgian restaurant Saint Pierre in 2000, gaining Relais & Châteaux accreditation in 2008. Chef Emmanuel Stroobant is the author of cookbooks, host of TV cookery shows and the head-chef and owner of 4 restaurants in Singapore. At Gastronomika, his “Chicken Rice Croquetas” drew a curious crowd wanting to try his modern spin on Singapore’s national dish – Hainanese Chicken Rice.

Available in every corner of Singapore from hawker centres to high-end restaurants, the chicken is steeped in boiling water until fully cooked before being soaked in cold water to ensure the tenderest of meat. The equally important rice is cooked in chicken stock, ginger and pandan leaves making it extra aromatic and delicious. Chef Stroombant’s version had succulent, juicy pieces of chicken wrapped in a ball of flavoured rice, then shallow fried for a crispy outer layer. It was very good and a really clever way to turn a classic sit-down kind of dish into a snack(able) number. I just wished I had eaten more of them!

One of the most representative dishes of Singapore’s blend of races, cultures and ethnic foods, the Singaporean “Laksa” in the hands of Chef Peter Teo, was given a complete make over specially for Gastronomika. Made from a mousse of mussels and prawns served in an intensely rich broth with squid ink noodles covered in foam of coconut milk and spices, his “Laksa Turban” was a real hit on the streets of San Sebastian.

Peter Teo is the executive chef of the French restaurant Les Amis in Singapore, part of the Les Amis Group, a collection of dozens of top-class restaurants located throughout Asia.

But one of the most memorable meals that we enjoyed during Gastronomika was the official congress dinner cooked by British born chef Ryan Clift of the Tippling Club in Singapore. Clift moved to Singapore in 2008 after training with some of the biggest names in Europe including Marco Pierre White, Peter Gordon and Emmanuel Renaut.

Chef Ryan Clift seasons his dishes using the ingredients’ natural glutamates avoiding the use of salt or pepper in any of his creations. His cooking incorporates a range of highly flavoursome, seasonal ingredients with ultra-modern techniques. Take for example his starter of clams with garlic and parsley – a delectable dish with different textures, great flavours and unique presentation.

It was great to experience a different facet of Singaporean cooking in San Sebastian. I must admit that whenever I find myself there, I tend to eat Nyonya, Hokkien Chinese or Indian but Chef Ryan Clift has shown what I am missing out on!

Singapore is one of my favourite Asian destinations for many reasons - it is the perfect place for either a busy city holiday with loads of things to do or as a place to chill and recharge your batteries. Being a major financial hub, there is a large expat community living in Singapore alongside the locals who come from a mix of Chinese, Malay and Indian heritages.

Perhaps for all these reasons, the food scene in Singapore is one of the best you will ever experience – from hawker centres to Michelin standard restaurants, the quality and variety of food are superb and with many options to fit every possible budget. 

If you are planning a visit to Singapore and would like to experience some of the best cooking in town as seen at San Sebastian’s Gastronomika, I list below all the 12 chefs who were participating in the congress and their respective restaurants. This will make for a great Singaporean restaurant list, and if my experience is anything to go by, you will not be disappointed!

The 12 Singaporean chefs at Gastronomika were:

André CHIANG - Restaurant André

Dave PYNT – Burnt Ends Restaurant

Emmanuel STROOBANT – Saint Pierre

HAN Li Guang – Labyrinth

Jet LO – Ding Dong

Justin QUEK – Sky on 57

Malcom LEE – Candlenut

Pepe MONACAYO – Bam!

Peter TEO – Les Amis

Ryan CLIFT – Tippling Club

Wayne LIEW - Keng Eng Kee

Willin LOW - Wild Rocket

About the Singapore Tourism Board

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is a leading economic development agency in tourism, one of Singapore's key service sectors. Known for partnership, innovation and excellence, STB champions tourism, making it a key economic driver for Singapore. STB aims to differentiate and market Singapore as a must-visit destination offering a concentration of user-centric and enriching experiences through the "YourSingapore" brand. 

For more information, visit www.stb.gov.sg or www.yoursingapore.com or follow the STB on Twitter @STB_sg (https://twitter.com/stb_sg).  

Many thanks to the Singapore Tourism Board for inviting me to San Sebastian's Gastronomika


  1. Sounds wonderful! I love singapore and its food.

  2. The Tippling Club was a total immersive experience - I LOVED my visit there in 2013!


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