Foodie Confidential: Dash of brilliant pink

Foodie Confidential: Dash of brilliant pink

British chef Paul Longworth says he travelled to Singapore six years ago for love.

He came to see a woman he had met in London, when she was on holiday there.

Although their relationship did not work out, the 36-year-old, who is single, chose to remain in Singapore to build his culinary career.

He is the head chef of Rhubarb Le Restaurant at Duxton Hill and says he plans to stay here for the long term.

The 30-seat French restaurant, which opened in August last year, is doing well. It gets an average of 60 customers on weekdays and 100 on weekends.

He says: "The best promotion has been word-of-mouth, really. Business is good, and it would be difficult to uproot myself, go back to London and start over."

Before setting up Rhubarb, he worked for three years at French restaurant Au Petit Salut in Harding Road, where he learnt how to handle huge crowds of about 100.

However, he wanted to work in a more intimate restaurant and that was the idea behind Rhubarb.

He set it up with Jerome Desfonds, former manager of Au Petit Salut and its owner Alice Low-Ang.

Rhubarb features in the restaurant's dishes as well, including rhubarb chutney served with foie gras.

The chef says: "Rhubarb conjures images of the brilliant pink vegetable and helps inject some colour into the restaurant, which has a mostly beige interior."

He has also worked at other food and beverage establishments here, including Swiss wine bar Oenotheque at Millenia Walk when he arrived in 2009, and Nicolas Le Restaurant in Teck Lim Road for a month in 2011.

Longworth was born in London.

His love for cooking started when he was six, and he would bake scones and cakes with his paternal grandmother.

She was a big influence on him, he says, because of her natural ability to cook without following recipes to the letter.

His parents are divorced and his 67-year-old retiree father, who raised him and his 34-year-old sister, a housewife, lives in London.

Longworth has not kept in touch with his mother or 32-year-old brother since his parents divorced.

He received his training at the Butler's Wharf Chef School in London, and worked at the Blueprint Cafe in the Design Museum and French restaurant Club Gascon in the British capital before coming here.

Taking the step from chef to owner, he says, has been satisfying, and he says he finds fulfillment from seeing customers' happy faces.

What are your favourite ingredients to work with?

It would be rhubarb, and a stock which I make from pine needles.

I wash the pine needles for a good hour to clean them thoroughly, then soak them in water and slowly bring it to a boil.

I then simmer them for 20 minutes, cool and strain the needles off before freezing the stock.

I'm planning to serve pears poached with the stock, along with foie gras, in our new menu next month.

What are three ingredients you cannot do without?

Lemons, eggs, and pickled walnuts.

When something is missing from a dish, just squeezing some lemon will complete it 99 per cent of the time.

Eggs are the most humble yet versatile ingredient, and pickled walnuts are very unique.

What is your signature dish?

It would be the pigeon breast and confit leg with rhubarb and rose puree, served with grapes "a la Aussignac", which are seedless grapes covered in sesame seeds, nuts, and oats.

I named the dish after French chef Pascal Aussignac at Club Gascon in London, as I learnt it from him.

What do you like about French cuisine?

I like that there's so much you can take from it and apply to other cuisines.

For example, the technique of making a beef consomme, a classic clear French broth, can be applied to make a more Asian-style broth with ginger or a dashi base, for example.

What do you think is the hardest French dish to cook and why?

A French omelette, which must be pure white on the outside and creamy - not runny - on the inside.

Although it seems simple, many things can go wrong.

The temperature of the pan might not be right, or I might not have stirred the egg enough.

Do you cook at home?

I don't cook much at home, but I like to do barbecues.

Once, I barbecued a whole snapper stuffed with ginger, garlic, coriander and lemongrass.

Which chefs have influenced you the most and why?

Jeremy Lee, the head chef at Blueprint Cafe in London's Design Museum, has such a passion for cooking that was infectious.

He liked to use quality ingredients and would say to me, "The best chef is the best shopper."

Aussignac taught me that it's not enough to buy the best ingredients and put them on a plate.

Some creativity is needed.

Do you like local food?

I like the bak kut teh at Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh in Tanjong Katong Road because the soup is still strong when they top it up.

I also like the side dish of blanched lettuce.

I head to G7 Sinma Live Seafood Restaurant near Lorong 3 Geylang for frog leg porridge, cooked in a claypot with ginger and dried chilli.

Which restaurants do you like here?

I like Jaan at Swissotel The Stamford for its immaculate cooking and Nicolas Le Restaurant for the harmony of flavours in its food.

What do you think is the next big thing in food here and why? Food served at pop-up cafes, as rent is very expensive. Perhaps people will be setting up temporary kitchens which run for a month or so.

What do you do on your days off?

Sunday is my only day off, so it's mostly me-time, when I go shopping or do whatever I can to relax.

I'm also trying to keep doing judo at the Singapore Judo Federation in Guillemard Road, though it's really hard. I used to do it in my childhood, but it really took a backseat when I started to cook.

What's always in your fridge?

Beer. I'm British, it's like water to me.

If you could pick someone, dead or alive, to have a meal with, who would you choose and why?

Noel Gallagher from the rock band Oasis, whom I'm a really big fan of.

WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

It would be pie and mash with parsley liquor.

This is a minced beef or lamb pie with mashed potatoes.

Parsley liquor is a sauce made of potato water, which is the water you boil potatoes in, with parsley added and thickened with starch.

You pour it over the pie.


This article was first published on January 18, 2015.
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