Foodie Confidential: Fried rice and everything nice

Foodie Confidential: Fried rice and everything nice

It was an offer that Canadian chef Christopher Christie could not refuse and it came via a telephone call in 2009.

He was then working in Hong Kong as group director of food & beverage for Langham Hotels International. Mr Tamir Shanel, vice-president of food and beverage at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, rang to ask him to be opening executive chef at the integrated resort, which opened in 2010.

Chef Christie, 50, says: "It was the chance of a lifetime. There can be only one opening executive chef and that was me. It was too fabulous and I couldn't turn it down."

The divorced father of one oversees 43 kitchens in the sprawling resort, all of which turn out an average of 20,000 meals a day.

When the hotel was at its pre-opening stage, he was in charge of strategic planning for the food and beverage division. This included hiring and training of staff, menu design and ordering, and quality checks of kitchen equipment and produce.

He says: "The difficulty was in identifying the large number of staff we needed. We were looking to hire and train 300 chefs before we opened, in six months. It was a huge undertaking given the amount of time we had, but it was also a lot of fun."

The second of three sons, his life in food began when he was 12, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He would always be in the kitchen watching his late grandmother cook.

"It was really curiosity more than anything else," he says. "That curiosity turned into a potential for a job and I realised it was really something that I loved."

He completed high school at 18 and did paid apprenticeships for a year before working for Westin Winnipeg, now called The Fairmont Winnipeg.

He was always interested in Asia, from hearing people talk about the diverse cultures and cuisines.

His stint with Westin Hotels & Resorts took him to Toronto, Ottawa and Edmonton, before he was posted to the Philippines in 1991. At the Westin Manila, now named Sofitel Philippine Plaza, he started as an executive sous chef and rose to the rank of executive chef.

After his three-year stint in Manila, he worked in other cities, including Seoul, Shanghai and the United States, before going to Hong Kong, where he worked for seven years. He was with the Kowloon Shangri-La for two years before moving to Langham Hotel International as executive chef, and was later promoted to group director of food and beverage.

Apart from being leader of the 400-strong culinary team at Marina Bay Sands, he has also written a culinary- themed novel, titled The Broken Path, which he self-published in 2012.

The novel draws inspiration from his yearning to portray the true lives of chefs, which he says is nothing like what is depicted on television.

"My novel gives a three-dimensional view of a chef's life, both in and out of the kitchen. It is about the passion of being a chef and what drives us to be the best we can be, which spills over into our personal lives too," he says.

What was the first dish that you made?

I was 12 then and it was a pineapple upside-down cake, using my grandmother's recipe.

What is the best meal you have ever had?

I was 35 and it was on a beach in the Philippines. I had barbecued tuna jaw and the fin of a blue marlin. It was really memorable because I had to gnaw on the jaw to get the meat out. Really an interesting meal.

What do you always have in your pantry?

A good extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, unsalted butter, cheese and lots of vegetables. I love the taste of vegetables.

What is your favourite cuisine?

I don't have a favourite and it really depends on what I feel like at that time. But I absolutely love Cantonese food. You give me a good chao fan (fried rice in Cantonese), I'll be happy.

What if the fried rice was from a street stall?

Yes, even from a street stall, as long as there is a good taste from the "wok hei". It's important to get chao fan with "chao" in it, and not just "fan".

Having worked in Hong Kong for seven years, what is one dish that you miss the most?

Roast goose. You can't get it here and I always crave it. There's a really good place in Kimberley Road, Hong Kong.

What is your favourite local dish?

A good chicken rice. It can be from anywhere, but the rice has to be really rich, with white steamed chicken, chilli sauce and ginger sauce.

What is your take on Singapore's food scene?

It is a love affair. Singapore's depth of culinary versatility is very good with the magnitude of restaurants here. What I really like is how Singapore is moving away from fusion food. Laksa is so good, why would you want to mess with it?

What is your cooking philosophy?

I want to stay disciplined and continue to absorb. I'm still learning on my job every day. The more you discipline yourself at a younger age, the easier it'll get.

Any plans for a second novel?

I've already written it. I'm trying to find an agent in New York to represent me. The story goes along the lines of a celebrity chef who inherits an inn by a lake, where he started cooking when he was a kid. Then some ugly stuff happens along the way.

What would your last meal be?

It wouldn't be what I eat, it would be more of who I eat with. I'll go for something really simple, from the sea, and maybe Asian cuisine. But I would have it with a great bottle of wine and with the right company.

This article was first published on June 1, 2014.
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