As the host of lifestyle cable channel TLC's popular infotainment programme World's Weirdest Restaurants, veteran food show presenter Bob Blumer has encountered his share of bizarre, off-the-wall dining settings around the world.
And the level of crazy, he stresses, is beyond one's imagination.
"We set the bar for weirdness really high," said the 53-year-old Los Angeles-based Canadian TV host, when he met M for Hokkien mee and craft cocktails at bespoke cocktail bar Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall at Boat Quay last week.
"I've been to Singapore five times and I don't recall any eateries that will make the cut for our show. Anyway, it's probably for the better."
Blumer, who's also the face of food challenge programme Glutton For Punishment, was in town for the inaugural TLC Festival at The Meadow, Gardens By The Bay last Saturday, alongside other TLC personalities Jock Zonfrillo, Denise Keller and Erwan Heussaf.
Ah Sam Cold Drink Stall, a retro gem with its display of old-school posters, biscuit tins and deliberate use of traditional teaware, earned huge praise from Blumer.
He gave a thumbs-up to several concoctions, including Tak Giu (Milo-infused bourbon) and Beaded Slippers (chendol-infused rum).
"This place transports me back to the romantic era of Singapore. I feel as if I'm walking through history and experiencing a slice of Singapore's past," he mused.
"I love seeking out bars like this. It has a totally different vibe from the 'financial centre' impression people have of Singapore."
Just don't bet on seeing it featured on World's Weirdest Restaurants.
"It's charming, sensual and visually stimulating, but not weird enough," he said.
What are some of your most memorable encounters?
We were filming in Ukraine before all the political trouble broke out and there were many war-themed and revolutionary-themed restaurants, (and even) restaurants in bunkers.
We also visited a nudist restaurant in New York City. I didn't have to take my clothes off, but in the end, I did. I felt I wasn't being a very good journalist if I didn't. That experience was definitely not in my comfort zone.
In an izakaya in Tokyo, I had monkeys bring me my beer. Those monkeys were trained to be waiters, they didn't simply hang off chandeliers.
Have you had any hosting encounters where you didn't feel comfortable to proceed?
You don't have that kind of luxury as a TV food show host. Because if you do, there will be a hundred people behind you who want your job. I've had to put up a brave front from time to time. (Smiles)
What are your favourite Singapore dishes? Any weird food you've tried here?
Popiah is at the top of my list. I fell in love with it after I visited popiah shop Kway Guan Huat at Joo Chiat. For me, the ingredients in popiah are unusual and its flavours are fresh and bright. I also love nasi lemak, chicken rice and laksa.
Some people find durian weird, I happen to like it a lot. Like French sticky cheese, it looks unattractive but tastes fantastic. Smells like hell and tastes like heaven. In fact, I bonded with my then-girlfriend and now-wife, a fellow Canadian, over durian. We dated for 10 years and got married last year.
It's 11am now - kind of early for cocktails. Can you drink your friends under the table?
Honestly, I'm more of a wine guy. I have a bad habit of taking the tab when I'm drunk though.
You've published six cookbooks. What is your best type of cuisine?
My nom de plume is The Surreal Gourmet. Surrealism is a kind of art form which basically means that things are not what they appear to be. I apply that concept to cooking. I make something with a set of ingredients and it looks like something else. For example, I've done a lamb and mashed potato dish that looks like a cupcake. I used to paint actively and this is an extension of painting, where I'm mixing ingredients instead of mixing colours.
For someone who takes things to the extreme with World's Weirdest Restaurants and Glutton For Punishment, what is your comfort food?
Scrambled eggs and egg salad sandwiches. Simple things like that.
This article was first published on September 16, 2015.
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