Foodie Confidential: Thrill of the grill

Foodie Confidential: Thrill of the grill
Chef Polo Seah likes simple yet creative presentations that allow the natural flavours of the produce to come through.

Sugarhall, a four-month-old, 65-seat rum bar and grill in Amoy Street, offers a menu full of tempting grilled meats and vegetables.

The kitchen is headed by chef Polo Seah.

He is named after Polo Street in his hometown of Penang. The street is well known for its restaurants and live music entertainment and was a place where his father liked to hang out with friends.

Chef Seah says he is proudest of the grilled vegetables on the menu.

"A lot of people think that vegetables are just accompaniments to the main dishes. However, I've put effort and creativity into the vegetables and I've made them into dishes that stand out," the 31-year-old says.

One example would be Sweet Onion, which is done in four different ways; caramelised, pickled, deep-fried and grilled.

He says: "The idea came up when the owners, Mr Indra Kantono and Ms Gan Guoyi, and I were in the United States.

"We went to Roberta's, a pizzeria in Brooklyn, and they sold many creative vegetable side dishes and that's where I got inspiration from.

"It's a lot of textures and flavours going on with one main ingredient."

Although he is an expert on the grill now, he was more interested in becoming a pastry chef when he was younger.

"When I was in Secondary 3, my friends and I went to a cake shop to get a birthday cake for a friend.

"I was mesmerised by the displays and wanted to learn how to make pastry."

He enrolled in the Culinary Arts Centre in Penang at age 20 and graduated with a diploma in cooking and baking 11/2 years later.

During the course, he was sent on a year-long attachment at Gurney Hotel and City Bayview Hotel, both in his hometown.

"I was interested in pastry at first, but when I got into my internship, I was assigned to the hot kitchen.

"I was a bit sad, but once I started work, I realised that it was interesting. Whenever I finish my tasks, I would go and learn from the pastry chefs," he says.

Chef Seah, who is the oldest of three children of a retired lorry driver and a part-time waitress, came to Singapore at age 21 to work.

He says: "Singapore pays better and there is better access to produce, compared to Malaysia."

His first job here was at barbecue house Seoul Garden as a food runner.

He was trained in the Ngee Ann City outlet before working at the now-defunct American restaurant Breeks at Marina Square as a commis cook.

Chef Seah, who is dating a Taiwanese air stewardess, also honed his skills and developed his palate during stints at Royal Plaza on Scotts as well as Skirt at W Singapore - Sentosa Cove.

At Royal Plaza on Scotts, he worked in the Mediterranean and banquet kitchens for 41/2 years, picking up different cooking techniques and learning how to complement ingredients.

During his two-year stint at Skirt, he picked up grilling techniques.

Why does Sugarhall specialise in grilled food?

Sugarhall was inspired by the owners' love for backyard grills and they wanted to share with their customers that same simple grilled goodness.

This resonates well with my culinary philosophy; simple yet creative presentations that allow the natural flavours of the produce to shine through.

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