Celebrity chow with American actor-radio DJ Bobby Tonelli

SINGAPORE - When Bobby Tonelli relocated to Singapore seven years ago, Asian cuisine was something of a culture shock.

Over lunch with M last Friday at health food eatery The Daily Cut at One Raffles Place, the 38-year-old Las Vegas native recalled: "There are major differences in Asian and US cooking styles.

"I noticed in Asia, you have to work for your food. You have to peel your own prawns and crack your own chilli crab. I have to work really hard for a small piece of crab meat!

"That was definitely new to me. Back in the US, crabs are pre-cracked before serving. As for chicken, bones would be removed. Prawns would be peeled. Eating's a much friendlier affair."

Nevertheless, the Fly Entertainment artiste has adapted well to Singapore and has become an advocate for maintaining a healthy diet.

"After living in Asia, I've learnt that I don't need to eat so much. I'm a lot healthier this way," he said, while tucking into a plate of chicken thigh and sirloin steak, complemented with sides of cherry tomatoes, sweet potato, lettuce and corn.

"Most Americans eat way too much. They don't just have one McDonald's burger, they'd have five in one sitting.

"Whenever I go home, people say: 'Wow, you're so thin. You should eat more.' I can't. I don't want to feel bogged down anymore."

Fans of the Class 95FM DJ can catch him playing a corporate honcho in local movie Wayang Boy, co-starring Kym Ng and Chen Tianwen, which opens here on Nov 13.

"For my role, I had to put on an Australian accent and speak in Mandarin. That was interesting," Tonelli said with a smile.

"The film also takes on the whole foreign talent debate in a comedic way."

Growing up in Las Vegas, what were your food staples?

My family's Italian, so we'd have a lot of pasta.

That said, Las Vegas is a tourist destination. We have the largest buffets ever, steaks you'd go crazy for. Imagine 32 ounces (900g) of steak and 16 ounces (450g) of sweet potato on your plate. The portions are insane.

There is also French, Vietnamese and Chinese food. Name it, we have it. But of course, the flavours are mostly Americanised.

What are some of your favourite Singapore dishes?

I have many. Katong laksa, popiah, oyster omelette, mee goreng, nasi lemak and kaya toast.

You have an Indonesian Muslim girlfriend. Do you like Indonesian food?

Yes, I like most Javanese dishes, they're not as spicy as food from other parts of Indonesia.

I'm a chicken fan, so definitely ayam penyet and chicken rendang are my favourites.

There are some very unique dishes I don't like as much. I tried cow nose (rujak cingur), which tasted like beef jelly. I didn't know what it was until someone told me. I was like, "Ooo...kay."

Where do you and your girlfriend like to go for dinner dates?

We like Mexican restaurant Lucha Loco at Duxton Hill, ME@OUE at Collyer Quay, Pizzeria Mozza at Marina Bay Sands and The Black Swan at Cecil Street. She's very down-to-earth and doesn't mind most places. For Indonesian food, we'd go to IndoChili, which is on Zion Road.

Do you cook for each other?

Both of us have. (Smiles) I've made tacos, burgers and chicken coriander cranberry. She cooks very good Spanish food like paella. And she's learning how to do risotto.

Any memorable overseas food encounters you've shared with your girlfriend?

We went back to her hometown Jakarta where we had this dish, selat solo. It's amazing. It's a Dutch-influenced healthy salad where the beef is marinated with sweet sauce and mustard.

In her family - she has 200 family members - there's an ongoing competition to see who can make the best selat solo. Apparently, her grandmother mastered it and that's why it has become famous in her household.


This article was first published on October 1, 2014.
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