It is not often that a chef styles his own photo shoot. So it is refreshing when Moosehead Kitchen-Bar's Spanish executive chef Manuel Valero Ruiz does so, laying out red and yellow bell peppers in a bowl, spring onions on a tray, asparagus in an ornamental bucket and vine-ripened tomatoes in a carton.
All these frame the flames in the 27-year-old bachelor's beloved charcoal oven, the main feature of the restaurant in Telok Ayer Street.
When SundayLife! comments on his eye for detail, the Catalan-born chef says: "I like design and adding colour to a picture."
He later adds that he studied art and design in Barcelona and took up a part-time job in a catering firm to pay for his rent. However, with a semester of school left, he decided to pursue a career in the culinary world instead - a return to his childhood days when he cooked with his grandmother.
He took the opportunity to work at Spanish restaurant Migas in Beijing, which also has a charcoal oven, and helped with restaurants opening in Cambodia.
In Singapore, he has helped with the opening of tapas restaurant Foodbar Dada and Prive Grill and with research at chef Janice Wong's 2am: lab.
He still shares the passion for both art and food, as he likens cooking to his previous job as a graphic designer. He says: "Actually, for both jobs, the creative process and the end is the same. And people love beautiful designs and plating."
The chef, who is clearly in his element handling the charcoal oven, is hoping that people move beyond grilling only meat. "There are many more smoking techniques that add to the taste and textures of barbecued food. For example, I do a roasted pineapple on the grill. The dessert is something fun and I like that it is still cooked in a charcoal oven."
What are your childhood memories of food?
Eating incredible seafood and going fishing with my grandfather.
What are your favourite local foods?
I love dim sum, Peranakan food and prawn noodles.
What are your favourite restaurants?
Chinese restaurant chain Din Tai Fung - I'm glad it's everywhere. For Japanese food, I go to Teppei at the Orchid Hotel. I remember its dashi and yuzu, shishito peppers and salmon roe. I love Japanese cuisine as it is similar to the Mediterranean style of using small plates. For dessert, I go to 2am: dessertbar at Holland Village as I like what pastry chef Janice Wong does.
Are you an adventurous diner?
I've tried insects from Asia, which were imported into Barcelona. I've also tried crocodile and live octopus. One day, I would like to try fugu.
What can you eat every day?
Toast and soft-boiled egg with coffee. It starts my morning every day.
What is always in your fridge?
Chocolate from any good chocolatier and fruit. My favourite snack is banana with peanut butter and honey on top.
What dish would you like to be remembered for?
Grilled seabass with smoked eggplant, caviar and anchovy butter. It is a simple dish but is a favourite for everyone.
What is your best dining experience?
Two months ago in Lisbon, Portugal, where I got lost after arriving. I was looking for something to eat and I met a 90-year-old lady. I asked her to tell me where she normally goes to eat and I reached a small restaurant that has the best and fresh simple food. I remember cured beef, tomato salad and white wine. After the boom of molecular gastronomy, I believe that simple foods such as these are worth queuing for.
If you could invite someone for a meal, who would you pick?
My 72-year-old grandfather, as we can have meals together and talk for hours. We would barbecue a fish on the beach and have it with white wine from sunrise to sunset. I have been in charge of looking for wood to start the fire for our home barbecues probably since I was about seven years old.
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