Visiting Singapore was on the bucket list of chef Nicholas Trosien, 28, the chef at Manhattan, an American cocktail bar opening at The Regent Singapore on April 24.
He says he has always been fascinated with Asia and the diverse food scene here.
"Singapore is a less intimidating entry to Asia," he says. "It is a little more Westernised here and there is no language barrier."
Before coming here, he had worked at Four Seasons Resort Palm Beach, where he was sous chef of its Graze Restaurant, which serves French and Italian fare. He was part of its pre-opening management team in 2012, was involved in menu development and took part in special events such as the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival during his stint. He also helped to open Jove, a modern Italian restaurant in the same hotel, at the end of last year.
Last September, while preparing for the opening of Jove, he sought a transfer within the hotel group to Singapore.
He says: "I think getting different cultural experiences is the best way to grow, especially for food. I have always wanted to travel to Asia, especially Singapore, because of its intriguing food culture. And when the opportunity came around, I jumped at it."
While trawling the Four Seasons website for transfer opportunities, he found an opening for the position of an Indian cuisine chef in Singapore.
He asked his bosses jokingly if he would make a convincing Indian cuisine chef as he really wanted to come here. They thought it was a joke.
"I believed an opportunity would come to me," chef Trosien says.
Just two weeks later, an opening for a chef for an American bar at The Regent Singapore, a Four Seasons hotel, came up and he was determined to take it.
"I immediately called my wife and told her we were moving to Singapore," he says.
After Jove opened, he and his wife Carmen, 26, moved here. She also works at the hotel as a guest relations officer.
He tells a funny story about how they met in 2006.
He says: "During the day, I was in the same culinary class at Le Cordon Bleu in Miami as her mother. I was working part time at a place called L&L Market Bistro and that was my job after school. My wife-to-be worked in the front of the house of the restaurant. So in the day, I was going to school with my mother-in-law-to-be, and after school, I was spending time with her daughter."
He has many plans for the bar food at Manhattan. Food and drinks are grouped under specific locations in Manhattan, New York: Wall Street, Upper East Side, Spanish Harlem and the Theatre District.
Diners can expect myriad dishes and beverages such as the lobster "Roll", Maine lobster wrapped in a crab salad from the Wall Street menu, to The Papaya King, a drink served with a miniature hotdog on the side, from the Spanish Harlem menu.
How did you get into cooking?
I had my first job when I was 15 at Malarkey's in Westland, Michigan. It was an extremely popular Irish pub. I was still in high school and would work part-time on weekdays and full time on weekends.
I didn't know cooking was what I'd be doing because I really loved art.
I graduated from high school at 17 because I started early, went on to attend Schoolcraft College and was an art major for almost two years, then switched to computer-aided drafting for almost half a year.
All this time, I was cooking in a new Malarkey's outlet and held the post of kitchen manager. I loved being in the kitchen; the adrenaline it gives you, and it kind of reminded me of sports, the kind of team camaraderie it gives. It was self-rewarding, which I found really amazing.
I decided to move from Michigan to Florida to go to a good culinary school. I enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu when I was 19 and graduated when I was 21.
Why did you choose to specialise in bar food?
I really want to elevate what people know as American comfort bar staples, such as burgers, hot dogs and chips, using great ingredients and putting a creative spin on them to take them to the next level.
What can guests expect at Manhattan?
Guests can expect an amazing, grand hotel bar experience . We pay attention to every component of the bar, from the layout of the menu to the team of employees we have.
At Manhattan, food is as much a part of the experience as the tipples. To complement the drinks, we have come up with fun, exciting and sophisticated gourmet American bar bites which reflect New York's melting pot of cultures and are easily shared among guests.
You've said that visiting Singapore was on your bucket list. What did you think when you finally made it here?
I did a lot of research on Singapore. To see it in person and compare it with what I was reading, there is no way to put it in words. It met and exceeded my expectations. The food scene here is a lot of fun.
What local food do you like and where do you go for it?
Chilli crab at Jumbo Seafood.
What do you always have stocked in your fridge?
Whisky and unsalted butter.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Milkshakes. I can have milkshakes every night. My milkshake is made up of vanilla ice cream, milk, malt mix, chocolate sauce and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
If you could invite someone to a meal, dead or alive, who would you choose and what would you eat with him or her?
Before I became a chef, the best food I ever tasted was made by my grandma. She used to make pastizzi, a savoury Maltese pastry with a filling of either ricotta or mushy peas and ground beef. If I could cook with her, and make pastizzi side by side with her, it would probably be one of the best experiences of my life.
Any advice for aspiring chefs?
Try to remain humble. You notice a lot of chefs at a young age, when they start to gain popularity, their ego grows and it affects their food. It's not a glamorous job, you really need to be passionate about it. The best thing about this industry is you can always learn, and the second you close your mind to that, you'll stop learning.
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