Foodie confidential: Chef Adam Penney on cooking with hip-hop music

Cooking has been part of chef Adam Penney's life since he was five.

At that age, he started making biscuits and breads from scratch; and took over Sunday roast duties from his parents when he was 10.

"I learnt to bake from my sisters and from children's cookbooks," says the youngest of four children.

"I baked on my own, with supervision from my older sister, who is 12 years older than me. I would go into the kitchen, pull out a few ingredients and presto."

Now, he is the executive chef of Three Buns Restaurant, located in the Potato Head Folk building along Keong Saik Road.

The restaurant specialises in burgers using housemade ingredients.

"Everything here is handmade, and made fresh. We have a baker who makes our buns twice a day for us; for lunch and dinner service."

"Our ketchup, mayonnaise and hot sauce are all made in-house as well."

The 40-year-old took a 12-week certification course at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland when he was 20 and landed his first cooking stint at Aubergine Restaurant in London with chef Gordon Ramsay.

"It was a one day thing. I managed to get it because I called them up for an unpaid internship," he says.

"Chef Ramsay is much more tame on television."

After that one-off stint, he went on to work in Bibendum Restaurant in Chelsea.

Some of his other kitchen stints have included heading the kitchen at The Lonsdale, a cocktail bar in Notting Hill, which has a menu that changes daily.

The London-born chef says: "We used to go to the market in the morning and basically cooked what we wanted to eat, what we could get and what we could cook."

"It wasn't much of a challenge, and it's very interesting. We were always doing what was the best of the season."

Chef Penney was also the head chef of Patty & Bun, a burger restaurant at Liverpool Street in London, and started his own business, Pots & Co, which specialises in desserts such as sticky toffee pudding served in miniature pots.

He says: "Pots & Co was started four years ago. I used to work through the night. The business took off via word of mouth. Now, we've got a whole team and factory and they're making about 100,000 a week."

What do you like the most about living here?

The food is amazing in Singapore. The weather is also lovely, unlike the dreary grey and rain in London.

The friends I've made here are really great, and best of all, I met my fiance here.

You said you've liked burgers since you were young. What sparked that?

I think it was the treat of going to burger restaurants and just loving it.

Do you prefer fast food burgers or gourmet ones?

It was really just fast food burgers growing up. Gourmet burgers didn't blow up until about eight years ago.

What advice do you have for home cooks who want to make their own burger patties at home?

Use good quality off-cuts. I suggest something like chuck or brisket, with a good amount of fat in the meat.

If you're going to mince the patty yourself, make sure the beef is super cold, so that the fat does not melt too much.

If you're lucky enough to have a grill, use it. If not, use a pan. Don't add any fat to the pan.

Put a bit of salt on both sides of the patty, and slip it into the pan. Leave it for a minute and a half, turn it over for another minute and a half.

Remove from heat and allow the patty to rest for about a minute, and then back into the pan with some cheese.

What is an essential cooking tool in your kitchen?

My burger flipper. The one that I've got has been with me for two years.

I have had more than 10 of them, and they've all been lost or ruined except for this lucky one.

What is your favourite local dish?

At the moment, I'm torn between butter crab and salted egg crab. I tried them both at Dempsey Hill.

What is your comfort food?

It would have to be the sea urchin pudding at Lolla Restaurant in Ann Siang Road. It's basically sea urchin with a little squid ink and custard.

You always have hip-hop music playing in the background when you cook.

Your colleagues have dubbed you the hip-hop chef. What draws you to the music and who are your favourite acts?

I enjoy the music of American rapper Tupac Shakur and Public Enemy, to name a few.

I was brought up with a lot of soul music while growing up in Dublin.

I didn't really like indie and rock. I've always had music in the kitchen.

It really helps get my head into gear for cooking and the flow of service while flipping burgers and it is sort of relaxing as well.


It'll be a roast chicken. I've got a friend in London, who makes tandoori roast chicken and it is one of my favourite meals.

It's usually accompanied by spicy mashed potatoes, with a little gravy. I'll finish off the meal with sticky toffee pudding.

This article was first published on Sept 28, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.