New food festival aims to serve up local produce

New food festival aims to serve up local produce
Mr Malcolm Ong, who owns five fish farms in Lim Chu Kang and Changi, says Singapore Restaurant Month will give restaurateurs a taste of local produce and allow local farmers to understand what restaurants want.

The Singapore Restaurant Month will run from July 1 to Aug 10, and feature a newly created dish from each of the 50 participating restaurants.

Participants will be given free rein to decide what dish to put out, but are encouraged to create local multi-ethnic fare or bring back historical favourites, such as Hainanese chicken rice balls and sugar cane bak kut teh (pork rib soup with sugar cane added for natural sweetness).

There is only one rule: Local fresh produce must be used as a key ingredient for each dish.

A collaboration between the Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS) and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), the event aims to "garner support from the food and beverage outlets to use local produce... and ultimately gain support from consumers and diners to buy and eat local produce", said an AVA spokesman.

The RAS has drafted the contracts for the event - which include clauses such as those preventing last-minute pullouts - and is in the midst of selecting participants.

There is a joining fee for participants that has not been decided.

The plan is for the festival to be an annual affair.

"We have been planning it for some time," said RAS president Andrew Tjioe. "I think that, as a nation, we have to support local farmers," the keen gourmand added.

Some restaurants here use local produce, said the executive chairman of TungLok Group, but this makes up just a small proportion of what is used.

There are about 200 food farms here producing mostly eggs, leafy vegetables and fish.

Figures from 2013, the latest available, show that Singapore produced 437,813,100 eggs, 4,200 tonnes of fish and 10,300 tonnes of leafy vegetables, which translate to 26 per cent, 8 per cent and 12 per cent of total local consumption, respectively.

The AVA works with the farmers to raise production, but said consumers need to play a part and buy local produce "as this will spur our farms to increase production to meet demand".

Mr Ronnie Chia, the owner of Japanese restaurant Tatsuya, is thinking of joining the Singapore Restaurant Month. It has already come up with a new dish - crispy fish rice and tamago (egg).

On supporting local produce, he said: "If you are a successful chef, it doesn't mean you should forget your local industry. If it needs my help, I will come in."

Food guru K.F. Seetoh, founder of food guide Makansutra, said the new festival could "create some traction", but he does not think the use of local ingredients will be a strong enough pull factor in itself.

"Sad to say, I think Singaporeans will be attracted to the food only if it's a bargain, or if it's something new they haven't tried before," he said. "They don't care what the intention is."

He also pointed out that the festival's message might be drowned out by the Singapore Food Festival also held in July.

Local fish farmer Malcolm Ong, who owns five farms in Lim Chu Kang and Changi, said the festival will give him "a foot in the door".

"It will give restaurateurs a taste (of our produce)... hopefully they will then continue to (buy) from us," he said. "It will also give us a chance to understand what restaurants here want."

Diner Petrina Hui, 27, who works at a bank, said she is drawn to the event.

"I didn't even know Singapore has farms," she said. "It will be interesting to see if I can taste the difference."

This article was first published on Mar 26, 2015.
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