My mum, my inspiration

Stephane Istel
Bar-roque Grill 165 Tanjong Pagar Road #01-00
Tel 6444 9672

Like mother like son - growing up in his mother's kitchen was definitely a huge influence in Stephane Istel's life as he grew older. "My mum is especially accomplished in making pastries and desserts," says the executive chef and co-owner of Bar-roque Grill, as he recounts fond memories of watching his mother cook and the delicious dishes she served.

The restaurant's signature Mom's Recipe Apple Pie ($12 per slice) was one of his favourite things his mother cooked, and is one of the many Alsatian dishes on the menu inspired by her.

"Whenever she made it, my siblings and I would wait impatiently for the pies to cool before eating them!" he says. "My mother expresses her love for our family through her amazing cooking of classical Alsatian dishes."

His mother encouraged him to cook, and he made his first yoghurt cake at the age of seven. He also hopes to introduce more of his mother's desserts like her black forest cake to the menu.

Mr Istel believes that the most important thing he's learnt from his mother is to always cook with passion and love, and derive pleasure from the happiness of people he cooks for.

Despite the fact that his mother lives in Alsace and Mr Istel in Singapore, he maintains that they stay very close and keep in touch. "I often still call on her for advice on recipes," he says. "We continue to inspire each other to cook better."

Mom's Recipe Apple Pie
6 Pink Lady apples (or other varieties)
30 cl (300 ml) cooking cream
20 cl (200 ml) milk
4 eggs
20 gm sugar
3 gm cinnamon powder
Tart dough:
250 gm flour
100 gm icing sugar
30 gm almond powder
150 gm butter
1 egg
2 gm salt 

Tart dough:
1. Using a Kitchen Aid dough hook, mix the flour and butter slowly, then add in icing sugar, almond powder, salt, and finish by adding in the egg.
2. Slightly knead the dough to even it out. Wrap the dough in a plastic cling film and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

1. Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk.

1. Mix all the ingredients together into a paste, then place into the refrigerator.
2. Peel the apples, de-core and cut them into quarters. (Score the apples)
3. Flatten the sweet dough to 1/2 cm thick, (sprinkle almond powder on base of dough) and place it into the tart mould of 18-20 cm. Place the apples within.
4. Place it in a pre-heated oven at 180°C and cook for 20-25 min. Remove and fill the tart with the custard. Place it into the oven again and cook at 160°C for another 25-30 min until the custard starts to set.
5. Remove from oven. Cool tart down for at least 30 min to 1 hour before serving.

Alexandre Lozachmeur
Fleur de Sel Le Restaurant
64 Tras Street #01-01
Tel 6222 6861 Open 12pm to 2pm and 6.30pm to 10pm. Closed on Sun

Whenever Alexandre Lozachmeur - owner of French restaurant Fleur De Sel - cooks his popular le boeuf ($135) for customers, he is reminded of his mother.

"My mother and my grandmother would cook it for all 15 to 20 of us. The dish was a Sunday tradition in my family so it reminds me of my mum, who is very far away from me, and those Sundays with my family," says Mr Lozachmeur.

Although the chef has other dishes on his menu inherited from his mother and grandmother, Le Boeuf is one that he prepares exactly the same way as it was done on the Sunday afternoons of his childhood. And why?

The answer for Mr Lozachmeur is simple. "The way my mother did it was the best; I want to keep the flavours and tradition that my mother put into the dish," he says.

He reveals some of his childhood memories of his mother - following her to the market to pick out fresh produce and always seeing her cooking up a storm in the kitchen on weekends.

"One thing I learnt from my mother when it comes to cooking is: always choose the right produce. Her cooking was very ingredient-based and that influences me today. When I was a kid, she would decide what to cook based on what fresh ingredients she could get that day," the chef shares.

And like most mothers, Mrs Lozachmeur would always make an effort to cook her children's favourite dishes. "When she cooked, my mother always put my sister and my happiness before her own," he says.

Shen Tan
328 North Bridge Road, #01-10 Raffles Hotel Arcade
Tel 9107 3028

Ujong's Shen Tan has both fond and funny memories of her mother's cooking. "I was a horribly picky eater, and for the longest time, my mother's cooking was geared towards making me fatter," she says.

However, her mother had unwittingly cooked only low carb foods, making her even skinnier. "Her frustration in her inability to fatten me up was funny," Ms Tan recalls.

While her mother's cooking did not do much to fatten Ms Tan up, it certainly affected her in many ways.

"My mother loves to cook, and was the one who taught me how to cook curries and noodle and all the things I love to eat. She still reads and researches new recipes for dishes I love to eat," says Ms Tan.

Her mother's cooking inspires dishes on Ujong's menu as well. One such dish is the claypot rice with five-spice pork ($23.90), which is similar to Cantonese claypot rice, except Ms Tan and her mother replaced the chicken with Ms Tan's own creation, five-spice pork. Other dishes on the menu inspired by her mother include the har zi meen ($17.90), which her mother cooked in place of instant noodles when Ms Tan was younger.

More dishes from her childhood will be added to the menu - "As it is, most of the menu consists of dishes from my childhood, flavours I grew up with."

Edmund Kong
Momma Kong's
34 Mosque Street
Tel 6225 2722 Open 5pm to 11pm. Closed on Mon

We've all had that craving for Mum's home-cooked food. For Edmund Kong, said craving for his mother's black pepper crab drove him to get the recipe, recreate the dish himself and open up a restaurant; appropriately named Momma Kong's.

"The effort that was involved in preparing and cleaning the crabs made it a labour of love," Mr Kong shares. "I can still remember my whole family sitting around the table eating roughly 15 kg of crab!"

For the chef, hanging around the kitchen when he was a child was one of his favourite ways to bond with his mother.

"We'd talk about school, girls and food while slicing and dicing. I'd volunteer my services during Chinese New Year and observe how all my favourites were prepared," Mr Kong reminisces.

Till this day, the chef cooks by what he calls the "Holy Trinity of Chinese cooking" instilled in him by his mother.

He says: "Red onion, ginger and garlic. And never cheat by using MSG!"

And although he follows these rules religiously, practises extensively and earned Momma Kong's approval, the chef insists that his version of the black pepper crab ($38 for 650 grams) will never be as good as his mother's.

"Mom's version is still the best," he insists. "But she does love to pop by every once in a while for her crab fix."

Mr Kong reveals that he is still working on the restaurant's menu, but nothing gets launched till Mama Kong herself has tried it and given her stamp of approval.

Valentino Valtulina
Ristorante Da Valentino
200 Turf Club Road #01-19
Tel 6462 0555 Open 12pm-3pm and 6pm-10.30pm. Closed on Mon

Within the kitchen at Italian restaurant Ristorante Da Valentino, there is a wooden door with the sign "la cucina di mamma". In English it reads "Mama's Kitchen". This is the territory of Alma Valtulina, more affectionately known as "Mama" to family, staff and patrons of the restaurant.

"This is Mama's territory and over there is my territory, where she is not allowed," says her son, Valentino Valtulina, head chef and owner of the restaurant, with a laugh.

Despite their very different cooking styles, Mr Valentino shares that the osso buco ($42.90) - traditional braised veal shank - that he now cooks for customers is done exactly the same way that his mother used to do when he was a child.

"I don't think I would ever change it because these recipes from Mama are things that I want to bring forward and pass down," he says.

The chef says that he has many childhood memories of his mother cooking up a storm in the kitchen. "In my mind I can see her happily cooking and singing away. I would spend hours just watching how she did things and learning from her."

Although they now cook separately in carefully marked out territories at work, the mother-son duo still get together on special occasions to cook for the whole family. "It really pulls us together. We spend hours arguing about food eventually having to come to a compromise about it!" says Mr Valentino with a laugh.

But at the end of the day, the chef reveals that his top cooking secret was inherited from his mother. "I learnt from her to cook with happiness," he says. "Never rush and always be happy when you cook."

Benjamin Fong
Seasons Bistro 111 Somerset #01-11/12
Triple One Somerset
Opening fully mid-May

Every mother has her own way of getting her children to eat their greens. And while most children have to be nagged at repeatedly to finish all that broccoli on their plate, for Benjamin Fong, vegetables came in the particularly yummy form of mac and cheese.

So much so that he now plans to serve the childhood dish at his new restaurant, Seasons Bistro opening in mid-May. "When my sister and I were growing up, my mom would cook us her version of mac and cheese, sneaking in broccoli into the dish," shares the chef.

However, the version that he plans to serve at his restaurant - called spinach greens mac and cheese ($16) - has been slightly modified.

"I did a twist on the dish, removing the egg and incorporating a bechemel sauce," explains the chef. In addition, instead of using the supermarket slices of cheese that his mother put in the dish, he uses an aged cheddar and adds a variety of vegetables such as spinach and peas.

But the dish still brings back many memories for Chef Fong. "It's comfort food," he says. "My mom was working back when I was a kid so she didn't cook a lot. But whenever she did have the time, she would make dishes like this for us."

Chef Fong also recalls the encouragement that his mother gave when he decided to move to Toronto, Canada and begin training to become a chef.

Now, as he preps to open his first restaurant, the chef bears in mind the cooking wisdom that he inherited from his mother. "Making comfort food!" Chef Fong says. "She taught me to keep it simple with the ingredients and staples that can be found at home."

This article was published on May 10 in The Business Times.

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