Celebrity Chow with host-actor Bryan Wong

Celebrity Chow with host-actor Bryan Wong

Books and films nourish the soul.

For host-actor Bryan Wong, that cliche takes on a more literal meaning.

While tucking into our hearty meal at French celebrity chef Daniel Boulud's casual restaurant db Bistro Moderne at Marina Bay Sands, Wong explained animatedly how his love for escargot and foie gras - his picks for lunch, along with a lobster salad - began.

Call it the lure of the printed word and a certain classic Hollywood rom-com.

"As a kid, I read many storybooks about Paris and two things always pop up - croissants and foie gras," recalled the affable 42-year-old bachelor.

"For the longest time, I wondered how foie gras tasted like. Finally, when I was a young lad in my 20s, I took my first trip to Paris, scouted around, got myself into a comfortable bistro and ordered it.

"Till now, I'm not quite sure if I truly liked it or that I simply liked the idea of eating it, but I took to it quite well."

His curiosity to try escargot, on the other hand, was piqued after catching the 1990 feel-good romance Pretty Woman.

In one famous scene, Richard Gere and Julia Roberts' characters are dining in a posh restaurant when the latter hilariously sends her snails flying into the air.

"Pretty Woman really romanticised the dish," said Wong.

Ahead of the premiere of his new Channel U infotainment programme A Taste of History, which sees him tracing the heritage of local traditional fare (it airs on Jan 7 at 8pm) - the veteran TV star shares his interesting food adventures and why sweet and sour pork holds a special place in his heart.

What are your all-time favourite dishes?

To me, food isn't about how it tastes but the memories it evokes.

I have just one - sweet and sour pork. It's my comfort food and if I had to eat only one dish for the rest of my life, that would be it. Growing up, my family was poor and having my mother do sweet and sour pork for us was a luxury. Meat was expensive and it was something we could have only once a month. My mum's version is the ultimate. It's done Western-style, with small meat patties and chunks of pineapple and cucumber.

I was eight years old and on my first day of filming an SBC (Singapore Broadcasting Corporation) children's drama, she made me a lovely lunch box with rice and sweet and sour pork in one corner. It was her way of encouraging me: No matter how tough my day was, I'd get through it.

Till now, whenever I think of that lunch box, it brings tears to my eyes.

You have showed off your cooking skills on variety shows such as 3-Plus-1 and Knock Knock Who's There. Did you start young?

I started cooking when I was six. One day, my mum had an urgent errand to run and when I returned home from school, only the rice was cooked.

I've always watched my parents cook in the kitchen, and I remembered the steps. I took out a piece of thawed meat and used a parang to slice it.

Then I put oil in the pan, threw the meat in, adding soya sauce, pepper and a healthy amount of sugar before frying it.

Considering that I was six, I think I did a pretty good job. All my meat slices were so thin! (Laughs)

I've never looked back since.

Any favourite eating places in Singapore?

For hawker food, I like Hill Street Char Kway Teow at Bedok South Market. There is a kopitiam at Geylang Lorong 39 that has lots of delicious food, including Hainanese satay, oyster omelette and Hokkien mee.

If I want to eat chye tow kway (fried carrot cake), I'd go to East Coast Road, and for roti prata, I'd head to Simpang Bedok. Chwee kueh (steamed rice cake) is another one of my favourite local dishes.

As for fine dining eateries, I like celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's steakhouse Cut and Chinese restaurant Jin Shan Lou, both at Marina Bay Sands. Noti, an Italian restaurant at Club Street, is great too. The chef is an extremely charming Italian man who goes from table to table, wowing guests with his humour.

As someone who is so widely travelled, do you have memorable or fun food encounters to share?

Sometime back, I was in London and decided to visit one of Gordon Ramsay's famous Michelin-starred restaurants.

The food plating for our appetiser was exquisite, exactly like what you'd see on his reality shows.

It was so exquisite that at one point, my friends and I were laughing that we were paying 39 pounds (S$80) for such a tiny portion of food on a huge plate.

But after taking the first bite of the salad and having the gel-like pomegranate sauce explode in my mouth - woah!

When you eat to live, you're merely gobbling down food. But when you live to eat, eating is a joy and becomes a truly intimate experience.

As for fun food experiences, I think the sight at Lin Heung Teahouse, an old school dim sum eatery in Hong Kong, is quite funny.

It's so popular and packed that whenever I am there, I have to share a table with a bunch of strangers.

When the trolleys of dim sum are pushed out, everyone becomes yao gwee (Hokkien for hungry ghosts) and makes a mad dash for the food, grabbing whatever they can see. If you're not fast enough, forget it, you won't get to eat anything.


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