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Interview: Willin Low

The man who single-handedly made Singaporean food sexy again speaks to us about the origins of Mod Sin cuisine

Known for remixing local staples such as laksa, congee and rendang, and updating them with foreign techniques, Willin Low of Mod Sin – short for ‘modern Singaporean’ – restaurant Wild Rocket has stoked a newfound appreciation for homegrown cuisine. We quiz him on the genesis of his unique cuisine and how his decade-old restaurant has evolved over the years.

Tell us about Mod Sin and how you came up with the cuisine? 

When I was a student in the UK, I missed food from home but I could never find all the ingredients to make the dishes I wanted to eat. I had to mix and match ingredients and make some substitutions. The dishes never looked like food from Singapore then, but when I ate it, it always reminded me of home. Likewise, with the dishes at Wild Rocket, the idea is to present local dishes, flavours and ingredients in a different way without changing the original spirit of the dish. 

Who came up with the label Mod Sin? And are you happy to have people label it as fusion cuisine? 

It came about because everyone wanted to put a label on our cuisine. They started calling it contemporary European, which it isn't, and also fusion, which it is, but fusion was done very badly in the ’80s. I didn't want to be associated with that. 

So, I thought I was a modern Singaporean embracing both my food heritage and that of other cuisine, hence my cuisine should reflect who I am – a modern Singaporean. I also coined the term Mod Sin to make it catchier. 

Take us through Wild Rocket's journey so far. 

Ten years ago, in 2005, we were one of the very few restaurants that opened in an out-of-the-way location – destination dining wasn't common. We were worried that Singaporeans might be upset and feel that we've ruined our cuisine, but we were very encouraged by the warm reception to our creations. Over the years, we've been very blessed and count premiers, royalty and Michelin-starred chefs as guests. We've earned a lot of accolades for our food both in both local and international media. In 2014, I starred on Wok Stars [a cooking competition] on local TV and A Party Affair [a cooking show about party food] on the Asian Food Channel, and we renovated Wild Rocket to include an omakase counter. 

You constantly marry Eastern and Western flavours. What are some of the weirder ingredient combinations that just work?

Dark chocolate and soy sauce, curry and cheese. We've used both to the surprise and delight of our guests. 

And what would you say are some of your less successful pairings so far? 

The less successful ones don't get to see the light of day! [Laughs]

Mod Sin's slowly trickling down to more casual settings like cafés. What do you feel about this? 

Wonderful! We were worried ten years ago that people might not embrace Mod Sin, but now new cafés and restaurants are celebrating local ingredients and dishes in such fun and creative ways. We are humbled to have been a part of this movement.