We all know Singaporeans are obsessed with food.
We eat a lot.
We spend a lot - Singaporeans beat the Japanese as the top spenders on dining in the Asia-Pacific region in 2012, according to a MasterCard survey released last year.
We talk about food a lot.
And in a place that has everything, from Thai to Turkish, the buffet is king.
Last month, Carousel at Royal Plaza on Scotts was named the best buffet restaurant for the fifth time in a row at the sixth annual AsiaOne People's Choice Awards.
The restaurant said its concept is different. Instead of a line of cooks churning out grub of military proportions, Carousel's strategy is to prepare small portions at regular intervals.
Mr Abraham Tan, who was the hotel's executive chef before he was promoted in January to its food and beverage manager, revealed that he keeps a close watch on the chefs to ensure that food is not mass-cooked.
"Cooking a lot at one shot means you can save the effort of doing it again and again, but that's not the way to go since excess food can sit there for a period and go stale.
"Cooking smaller portions regularly also helps in reducing food wastage," said Mr Tan.
The buffet restaurant, which offers breakfast, lunch, high tea and dinner, has 33 chefs, said the 47-year-old, whowas a key player in the restaurant's revamp in January 2007.
Carousel replaced Cafe Vienna, which was also a buffet restaurant.
"At the time, the concept of an open kitchen, which refers to having chefs cook in front of guests, was a novel one and we were one of the first few to adopt that," Mr Tan said.
These days, diners are increasingly affluent and discerning - and they dine out a lot.
According to the MasterCard survey, diners in Singapore spent an average of US$262 (S$328) a month on eating out in 2012, up almost 25 per cent from US$212 in 2011.
As a result, Mr Tan and his team are always racking their brains to think of innovative ways to stand out from the competition. Last year, a teppanyaki station and a tandoori oven were added.
There is also a small kitchen within the dining room, so that chefs can monitor food levels and replenish trays quickly.
"To keep things fresh for the guests, we get overseas chefs to come in on a regular basis, so that we can offer different cuisines, such as those from India, Japan and Thailand, among others," Mr Tan said.
Still, the mainstay of the restaurant are its fresh seafood items such as sashimi, lobsters and oysters.
While Royal Plaza on Scotts caters mainly to business travellers, up to 95 per cent of the lunch, high tea and dinner crowds are locals.
The secret to a great buffet restaurant?
Said Mr Tan: "These days, good food and good service are the norm. It's really about offering an extensive range that people can choose from and offering the best experience to foodies."
Buffet regular Noorfarahin Ahmad, a 43-year-old assistant manager, said: "From Asian cuisine to great seafood, Carousel offers fine cuisine from all over the world.
"I really enjoy the dining experience, which is accompanied by great-quality staff."
This article was published on May 5 in The New Paper.
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