A love for food over animals

Between his love for animals and food, chef David Thien of Shelter In The Woods restaurant chose the latter as his career path.

The Bordeaux-born bachelor, who is 32, says: "I wanted to be a veterinarian but I felt that high school was stupid and that it wouldn't help me plan for the future."

The French-Chinese chef ended up in catering school at the age of 15, and knew from then that it was his calling, saying that he was "very talented".

He is born to a French mother, who is a nurse, and his father is of French-Chinese and Creole descent, who has retired from his job at the family's wood factory.

A stint in Britain during his school days took him back to the country where he worked with Britain's most accomplished chefs, including Simon Hulstone at Cotswold House, before moving back to Burgundy, France, to work at Michelin-starred Domaine du Roncemay, and two-Michelin-starred Chateau Cordeillan Bages.

He was part of the opening culinary team of the St Regis Bora Bora, before coming to Singapore to open the St Regis here as chef de cuisine of LaBrezza.

In 2011, he moved to Resorts World Sentosa's Crockfords Grill and L'atelier de Joel Robuchon.

The chef opened Shelter In The Woods in January this year at Greenwood Avenue, and has another outlet focusing on Bordelaise food in the works.

His next food dream? "To go on leave for six months and spend time with my family. I haven't seen them in 17 years and never got the chance to learn Creole cuisine. I would like to open a small restaurant in Singapore selling Creole food," he says.

What are your childhood memories of food?

The style of Creole food I grew up eating is similar to Asian cuisine. We'd have steamed rice with beans, and my father makes carry, which is similar to curry. I also remember picking mushrooms to cook with my grandmother.

What are your favourite local foods?

Penang Food Restaurant at Geylang Lorong 25A for Penang char kway teow, salted egg squid and chicken, and sambal kang kong. I also like fried carrot cake, oyster omelette, kung pao frog leg porridge, and Hong Kong beef noodles.

What are your favourite restaurants?

Lebanese restaurant Al Qasr in Holland Village and Chinese restaurant chain Din Tai Fung for xiao long bao. I also like French restaurant Brasserie Gavroche by chef Frederic Colin, and Jaan at Swissotel The Stamford with chef Julien Royer.

Where's your supper haunt?

Korean restaurant Kko Kko Na Ra on Tras Street for crispy wings with spicy soy sauce.

Are you an adventurous diner?

Yes, I started since I was about 15 years old, when I was given pan-fried bees to eat. You can also eat the larvae in the bee's hive, as well as the hive itself. I've also had snake and crocodile.

Jaan's chef Royer also brought big fried grasshoppers for me to try. It tastes nice at first with a deep-fried flavour. Then there's a weird creamy taste at the end that needs two beers to clear.

What's comfort food for you?

Going to gourmet shop Culina at Dempsey Road to pick up five types of cheese, and eating them with wine or pizza.

What was the first dish you cooked?

Pancakes in primary school. I would cook it every weekend for my family and add toppings such as caramel and chocolate sauce. I progressed to frying French fries to munch on while I watched TV.

I was always greedy and was fat when I was young. I always overate and fell ill.

What would you bring back from France when you visit?

Three blocks of foie gras - each weighing about 350g. I give two away to friends and one is for SOS situations.

When chefs get home late, they tend to drink, eat or spend time with family. Since I'm single, I end up eating and will finish two-thirds of the foie gras block at 3am.

I also take back jars of porcini which are prepared by my father.

Shelter In The Woods has a wide variety of infused rums ($7.50 a shot). Tell us more about them.

It's part of my roots and I wanted to have this personal touch when I created this place, like a rock 'n' roll tavern. The signature rum, in a 40-litre jar, has lemon, ginger, orange, vanilla and tonka beans.

Other interesting rums include banana Nutella, passionfruit chilli and red bean. We use La Mauny rum as the base.

Some infusions that did not work out are those with very strong flavours. For example, the Indonesian mango was a disaster because the rum could not assimilate. We also had similar issues with Japanese musk melon.

What's your worst kitchen disaster?

Flooding in the kitchen, when the water came up to about 15cm. Someone poured acid on the water, which made things worse, and the new counter chillers we had had acid marks on them.

What's your favourite kitchen tool?

It's what I call my orgasmic gnocchi board that was made specially for us by a craftsman. I can make a lot of gnocchi in five minutes.

What's always in your fridge?

I do my grocery shopping on a monthly basis and I stock up on everything liquid.

I have lemon sparkling water from Perrier, chocolate soy milk, diet Coke, blueberry and cranberry juices, as well as Asahi and Budweiser beers.

I also have Japanese sesame dressing, Japanese mayonnaise, lettuce and fruit.

What's your best dining experience?

In a small French Polynesian island, where we drove through a jungle and ate anything that the guide gave us.

We stopped for lunch in a small house and had the best swordfish sashimi, as well as other dishes. It was a delicious day.

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

My paternal grandmother, who died before I could meet her. I'll make her all our home specials.

What would your last meal be?

Pate from Joel Robuchon, which is sold in good supermarkets; oysters, and my dad's carry (Creole version of curry) that he makes specially for me when I go home. It has free range chicken, vegetables from his garden such as potatoes and green peas, and sweetbreads.

For dessert, I'll have a pastry combo from pastry chef Alain Herber of Marina Bay Sands - with small eclair, praline cream and caramelised peanuts; and almond strawberry tart with white chocolate and almond cream.

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