Welcome to Time Out Singapore's 52 Weeks of #ExcitingSG – our commitment to showing you the best of what's going on in the city this week. Every Monday, a guest writer who's "in" with the scene shares a recommendation on what to see, eat, do or buy in the city. This week, we chat with chef Malcolm Lee of Candlenut, the world's only Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant. The culinary innovator recently whipped up a delicious storm – specifically dishes such as turmeric coconut curry of crab, calamansi, kaffir lime and beef short rib rendang (braised meat stewed in coconut milk and spices) – at the Crazy Rich Singapore Week in Los Angeles, celebrating the launch of the much-anticipated film Crazy Rich Asians.
Hi Malcolm! What gets you excited about Singapore?
Being a Singaporean, I’m proud to say that Singapore has a rich and colourful dining scene that comprises a melting pot of cuisines from different cultures. From the humble hawker centre to a Michelin-starred restaurant, there’s a culinary gem that is worth discovering at every turn. Best of all, one can tuck into proper fare at any time of the day, even in the wee hours of the morning.
Tell us a bit about what you did during Crazy Rich Singapore Week. What was the inspiration behind your menu for the event? What was the takeaway for guests trying these dishes for the first time?
In curating the menu for Crazy Rich Singapore Week, I was inspired to take diners on a journey through the streets of Singapore and experience the rich culture that we have to offer. I wanted to showcase local favourites that have won the taste buds of visitors from around the world, dishes like kueh pie tee, satay, curry and rendang, in a way that has been reimagined, elevated and yet preserves the traditions.
What are some of your favourite local dishes? If you could modify it based on your taste buds, how would you do it and why?
There’s a wide array of local dishes that are astoundingly good, and some of my favourite dishes include the signature Moonlight Horfun from Keng Eng Kee Seafood (KEK), a well-known zi char joint that’s highly regarded by foodies and that has been around since the 1950s. A simple dish of fried kway teow topped with an egg, it has a lot of ‘wok hei’ – the charred aroma that arises from a perfect stir fry – the hallmark of a good zi char restaurant.
I also enjoy a quintessentially Teochew dish – fish head steamboat is my go-to comfort food, especially on rainy days. While many steamboat joints now use electric induction cookers or portable gas stoves, Whampoa Keng Fish Head Steamboat still uses the traditional charcoal stove, which adds to the flavour and richness of the fish soup.
One of Singapore’s most famous dishes, Hainanese chicken rice, is a dish that’s deceptively simple but difficult to master. For me, Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant brings back many fond childhood memories. While most focus on the tender, juicy boneless chicken, I would hone in on the aromatic rice. I love it for its perfect balance of flavours and impeccable texture. Topped with the special chilli sauce, it really takes a lot of self-restraint to stop at just two plates!
What’s next for you?
I’m constantly looking at ways to tell the story of Peranakan heritage through the dishes we serve and the experience we create, redefining classic Peranakan dishes into an inspired and elevated form.