Cooking in Singapore a learning journey for Catalunya's new head chef

Cooking in Singapore a learning journey for Catalunya's new head chef
Chef Gerard Prat Escola learnt to like tofu only after arriving in Singapore because tofu dishes he ate in other countries had no flavour.

Cooking in Singapore has been quite the learning journey for Catalunya's new head chef Gerard Prat Escola.

The 38-year-old chef, who has been in Singapore for three months, is used to heavily salted food back home in Barcelona, but has found that diners here are not like him.

He says in Spanish via a translator: "I've learnt how to cook without salt. I used a lot more salt when cooking in Spain and Mexico. It doesn't affect the taste of my food, and I've learnt to adapt for diners."

He takes over the previous Catalunya chef Alain Devahive, who left the Spanish restaurant to pursue his own projects.

After five years of working in various Spanish restaurants, Escola worked with food and beverage group Grupo Tragaluz for 12 years before coming to Singapore. Under the group, he has worked with the likes of the acclaimed Roca brothers - Joan, Josep and Jordi of El Celler de Can Roca which is No. 2 on the World's 50 Best Restaurans list - and spent three years in Mexico opening restaurants such as Mediterranean restaurant Bar Tomate.

Escola, whose wife is a restaurant manager in Barcelona, hopes that the standard of seafood in Singapore improves.

He says: "Compared to Spain, the seafood is not as fresh.

"In restaurants, there's too much dressing and sauces on the seafood. Just salt and olive oil is good enough."

What do you eat when you return to Spain?

I try to go back twice a year. I must eat seafood from La Boqueria Market in Barcelona, the carabinero prawns in particular. It is best eaten pan-fried with olive oil and salt.

Can you recommend some must-try restaurants in Spain?

My favourites are L'Agulla del Paller and Els Casals, both located in the Pyrenees mountain range between Spain and France.

They are far from the big cities and have enough space to have their own gardens.

Does your family have any traditions for Christmas?

About 15 to 18 of us gather for Christmas and cook together. A must-have dish is a Christmas ham.

In your time here, what local dishes have you tried?

Chilli crab and hotplate tofu. I never liked eating tofu before coming to Singapore because those tofu dishes I've tried in other countries have no flavour.

What was the first dish you cooked?

Cheese and ham crepes when I was 11 years old. My mother taught me to make them.

What's your worst kitchen disaster?

Back in 2001 in a restaurant in Barcelona, when some water dripped into hot oil and the kitchen caught fire because of that. The restaurant had to close for two weeks.

What is your all-time favourite food?

Scrambled eggs with morcilla, which is a type of blood sausage stuffed with rice. I can eat eggs every day, and at any time. I love working with eggs as you can put it in anything.

What's the most elaborate egg dish you've made?

I slice off the top of the egg and set the shell aside. I make scrambled eggs with mushrooms. I put half of the scrambled eggs back in the shell, cover with potato foam, put the remaining half and top it with caviar.

Do you have a sweet tooth?

I love anything with chocolate, especially the kind with 80 to 90 per cent cacao. The combination of chocolate with olive oil and salt is perfect.

Are you an adventurous diner?

Yes, I love to try weird things and I can eat everything. I ate dog meat in China. It was a weird feeling, like I was eating a pet. There was nothing special about the taste. I also ate monkey brains in China and insects in Mexico.

When I go out with the fishermen in Barcelona, we eat live sea urchin and live scampi (a type of large shrimp) on the boat. I would like to try fugu one day.


This article was first published on Dec 7, 2014.
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