Foodie Confidential: Line of ire

After six years of living in Singapore and Italian chef Denis Lucchi has very much adapted to the dining culture here.

The 32-year-old chef de cuisine of Buona Terra in Scotts Road says: "I used to get cheated on my seafood. I was charged $80 for three prawns before. But now, I know how much my food is supposed to cost."

Born in Brescia, northern Italy, he enrolled in cooking school at the age of 14.

He says: "I thought, let's just try cooking school. I started working in the kitchen on weekends and that's when I started really breathing kitchen."

After school, he moved on to work at restaurants in London and Rome before coming to Singapore to work at Garibaldi in Purvis Street and Gattopardo at Hotel Fort Canning.

He says: "I wanted a change of scene. Back home during winter, it can be very quiet. The chef I was working with asked if I wanted to come to Singapore. I flipped through the map to find out where it was and said yes."

He has a two-week-old son Danilo with his Singaporean wife Debbie, 31, who works in sales.

His parents - a German housewife mum and an Italian father who ran a gate-making business - are back home in Italy.

While he may have adapted to Singapore and even uses the occasional Singlish word when he speaks, there is one Singaporean quirk that still baffles him.

He says: "I don't understand the queueing. I will not queue for food. Once, my wife and I wanted to try Jamie's Italian restaurant but since we had to queue for an hour, I told my wife to go to Brotzeit instead. She knows I get pi**** off when I queue.

"It amazes me. I think you could get 10 to 15 to make a queue and your restaurant would be packed."

What are your childhood memories of food?

My late paternal grandmother cooking on Sunday mornings from 8am. Most of the dishes would have polenta.

In my hometown, I have the lake in front of my home and the mountains behind. During summer, I go swimming and in the winter, I pick chestnuts with my father.

However, I can't eat chestnuts now. Our garage used to be full of chestnuts and I ate them every day as a snack. I saw them being roasted in Chinatown before and felt sick.

What are your favourite local foods?

I started my time in Singapore with the classics of stingray, chicken wings and fried carrot cake at Newton Food Centre.

When friends from overseas visit, I take them to eat these too. But now, I zero in on particular eateries, just like Singaporeans.

For example, I'd have bak kut teh at Ya Hua in Havelock Road and at Founder Bak Kut Teh in Balestier. I'll have stingray at Newton Food Centre and Longhouse Lim Kee Beef Noodles at Golden Mile Food Centre in Beach Road.

Is there anything you don't eat?

I can't eat durian even though I've tried it so many times. I also don't eat cockles as they are so bloody. If I have char kway teow or laksa, I ask the hawker to remove them.

I dare to try various foods, just to taste. But I'm not having a table full of cockroaches.

What's comfort food for you?

You can never go wrong with pasta.

What's the first dish you made?

As a child, I made a sunny side up. In school, the first sophisticated dish I made was ravioli with ricotta and spinach.

What ingredients do you like to work with?

Mushrooms, as I grew up loving every kind of mushroom. During winter, I'd go with my father to pick them.

What's your must-have kitchen tool?

My sous vide machine. It is a very helpful tool in the kitchen.

What's always in your fridge?

Parmesan cheese, eggs, butter and garlic. For dry ingredients, I have olive oil and pasta.

Have you had any kitchen disasters?

In school, we were supposed to deep-fry potatoes. My friend put a wet potato into very hot oil. The oil boiled over and sparked a fire - even the electric plugs were burnt.

My chef would say that the slicing machine eats the meat of stupid people. You'd get deep cuts before you realise it. I think my hand is full of cuts and burns, which is very common. I could only suffer in silence though. Now, young people need to apply creams and stand in a corner for two hours to cry.

If you could cook for someone (dead or alive), who would you pick?

My late grandmother, who died when I was 13. It would be nice to have a chat with her. I would cook the dish she ate every Sunday. It was soft cheese such as gorgonzola, coated with polenta - the size of a dessert plate. She would then grill it over a charcoal fire. No one else ever ate it.

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