Dodging creme brulee in the kitchen

Dodging creme brulee in the kitchen

Chef Kyle Henderson once had a tray of 15 creme brulees and hot water thrown at him.

It was 2005 and the then-apprentice at Italian restaurant Michelangelo's in Chip Bee Gardens had overcooked them.

The 29-year-old, who is now head chef at small plates restaurant Lolla in Ann Siang Road, says: "Fortunately, I dodged them. I was then chased out the back door but I returned an hour later. In the culinary industry, you've got to persevere, turn up for work with a smile and hope you can do better."

The Singaporean is born to a Eurasian mother and Scottish father, who are divorced. His younger brother is 19 and a national serviceman.

He attended St Anthony's Primary School, Tanglin Trust School and St Patrick's School here.

When he was a teenager, he used to cook brunches of eggs, sausages and toast for his friends after their football game on Saturday mornings.

"It was just a fun thing to do. Cooking scrambled eggs and sunny-side-up at the same time was challenging," he says with a laugh.

His mother works as an administrative assistant in a law firm, while his father is a consultant in an oil and gas company.

Chef Henderson, who has a girlfriend, did not go to polytechnic or junior college, saying that he was too young to decide on a career path then.

Instead, he bartended at Mox Bar & Cafe in Tanjong Pagar Road in the last six months of national service.

He also picked up butchering skills at The Butcher in Jalan Merah Saga, which he put to use when he worked at The Prime Society Restaurant and Bar in Dempsey Road, which serves steaks.

He started work at Lolla early last year as a sous chef. He became head chef when his predecessor, Tan Huang Ming, left in November to set up a New York-style sandwich deli, which is due to open later this year.

How did you get into cooking?

My mother baked almost every day when I was a kid, so I weighed the flour for her and ate her cookie batter. Later, as a teenager, I was her assistant when she worked as a home economics teacher in Tanglin Trust School.

What was the first dish you cooked?

Fried eggs. I cooked it when I was 11. I think that is my mother's favourite memory of me, as I was doing it all the time.

What is the most challenging dish to cook?

Lolla's scrambled eggs with Bottarga di Muggine ($22), which is scrambled eggs with salted and dried grey mullet roe. Precisely because scrambled eggs is such a simple dish, you've got to nail it every time.

As British chef Gordon Ramsay says: "On the heat, off the heat."

You've got to monitor the eggs closely while cooking them.

What dishes did you introduce at Lolla?

The first one I introduced, about eight months back, was roasted lamb rack with herb crust, served with cavolo nero, a loose-leafed cabbage from Tuscany, which I toss with oil and garlic.

It has a hard, leafy texture, like kailan. I pair that with a vanilla parsnip puree. Vanilla gives the dish sweetness and parsnip lends it an edge.

What is your signature dish?

I don't have one. I am always experimenting with ingredients.

My newest dish, one that I really love, is a traditional gazpacho with shallots and tomatoes blended together.

It is served with watermelons compressed with balsamic vinegar and fresh avocado. The dish is topped with some basil oil, dehydrated olives, salt and pepper. It has a very refreshing taste.

What are your favourite ingredients?

I have a newfound love for vegetables - they add colour to a dish and have interesting flavours and textures.

I like incorporating vegetables such as kohlrabi or German turnip; as well as kumara, a type of sweet potato, into Lolla's dishes.

What ingredients can you not do without?

Sea salt is definitely a mainstay.

Extra-virgin olive oil adds a fruity bitterness to any dish and moistens it.

Finally, a nice, aged balsamic vinegar. I like to finish some salad dishes with it.

What is something memorable that a chef has said to you?

I met Australian chef Paul Wilson while I was working in The Prime Society Restaurant and Bar. He was putting some lime chablis dressing on a plate of Japanese yellowtail fish, or hamachi, when he turned to me and said: "It's got a look and feel like the ocean."

It sounded really cheesy, but I understood what he meant. It's about aiming for perfection in the little things in your dish.

Just as he gave the plate of hamachi a wet, glazed look, I ensure that my vanilla and parsnip puree, for example, has a plump, saturated look and glows - the point just before the water splits out of it and leaks onto the plate.

What do you cook at home?

I cook pasta about once a month.

It allows me to try different ingredients. I shop for them or use whatever's in the fridge.

The most interesting combination of ingredients I had, which turned out to be truly amazing - was pasta with leftover duck rillette, capers, tomatoes, onions and white wine.

I also like to cook fish curry and rice. I head to the market to buy the ingredients when the craving hits or cook the unused fish heads in Lolla's kitchen.

What local foods do you like to eat?

I like the mee goreng with egg at Adam Road Food Centre - that has nostalgic value for me as I used to always eat that with teh bing (iced tea) when hanging out with my friends, up to four times a week.

I also like a bak chor mee place in Geylang for its vinegary, slightly sharp taste and the pieces of fried lard. I always order the mee kia. I think the stall is in Lorong 29.

What restaurants do you like here?

I like Artichoke Cafe & Bar in Middle Road for its unpretentious food and great service. I wish they would put the lamb shakshuka back on the brunch menu.

I also like the Italian food at Ristorante Da Valentino in Turf Club Road. I also like Osteria Mozza at Marina Bay Sands for its burrata menu.

What is always in your fridge?

Chocolate, as well as Barolo wine from Italy. I like the wine for its deep and full-bodied flavours.

What do you like to eat after work?

I love eating my grandmother's homecooked food, including omelette with chopped green beans.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like going to music festivals. I attended the recent Laneway Festival. I'm also planning to climb Mount Kinabalu and I have been training by hiking up Bukit Timah Hill.

If you could pick someone to have a meal with, who would you choose?

English actor Matt Smith, who played the 11th Doctor in the British science fiction television programme, Doctor Who. He is absolutely brilliant.


This article was first published on February 8, 2015.
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