Housemade comfort food

What would your last meal be?

I think I would have a couple dozen of fresh Sydney rock oysters, followed by Peking duck and a fine chocolate tart.

When chef Darren Farr moved to Hong Kong in 2005, he became a house husband, taking care of his two daughters, who are 12 and 18 now.

At the same time, he opened his home for executive dinners, hosting groups of 10 to 40 at one go.

"Because of my wife's position as the chief executive officer in a media company, she had to travel a lot for work. She would occasionally have guests over and I would prepare meals for them."

He served his guests the sort of food he offers now as head chef and partner at The Lokal, a five-monthold cafe in Neil Road. It specialises in what he calls "Western cafe comfort food".

"Along with two other partners, we named the cafe The Lokal because in Australia, a hang-out spot is always referred to as 'the local'. Since we are situated below the Goethe-Institut, we used the German spelling of the word, which means the exact same thing."

"There's an emphasis on housemade stuff. We make our own butter and grill our own bacon. Soon, I'll want to make our own bread as well," he says.

The Sydney native's love for food started at a young age, and he made his first dish when he was 15.

"It was spaghetti bolognese. I had help from my mum, who was a housewife, while making the tomato sauce, and it tasted really good. Now I suppose I can cook better than her," the 50-year-old says with a chuckle.

He enrolled in Ryde Technical College in Sydney when he was 18 and graduated with a certificate in commercial cookery four years later.

He went on to work for famed celebrity chef Tetsuya Wakuda at his eponymous restaurant, then located in Rozelle, Sydney, when he was 27.

"It was just Mr Wakuda, a dishwasher and me at the restaurant. I was very lucky to have been given such an opportunity and we remain good friends."

On what it was like working for the chef, he says: "It was a huge learning experience. He had a brilliant palate. It was hard work, preparing everything fresh every day, but it was a lot of fun."

He managed to clinch the job after a friend, who knew that chef Wakuda was looking for chefs, recommended him.

He came to Singapore in 1992 as his wife was transferred here. He was hired to craft the menu for Harry's Bar in Boat Quay, before moving to London to continue his culinary adventure, with stints at international cuisine Mezzo Bar Restaurant.

He came back to Singapore in 2011 because his wife Michelle Guthrie, who is in her 40s, was posted here again. Their elder daughter is studying in Shanghai, while the younger one is at a boarding school in Sydney.

How do you make your own butter?

The butter we use here is a cultured butter. I ferment the cream and yogurt overnight before chilling and churning it. It's a simple process, but it's really fun and creates a very nice flavour.

Are there any Australian influences in the food at The Lokal?

There is no specific dish that has an Australian influence, but it's more of the way our kitchen puts the food together. I am influenced by every cuisine from around the world. There are no boundaries, other than not being fine dining.

What do you like to cook for your children?

They like very simple things, so I'll make fresh pasta, salads or roast chicken. I like to try new things on them and they are always happy to try.

Do you have an eating philosophy for your family?

Yes. Try everything. If you don't like it, you don't eat it. However, you must try it first.

Do your daughters want to become chefs when they grow up?

I hope they go on to tertiary education, but who knows? My elder daughter wants to become a baker after becoming a lawyer. She's studying Asian studies in Shanghai.

What is your comfort food?

Char siew. Actually, any Cantonese roast meat. I can eat them all day long. I love the taste and texture of the roast meats. I took a cooking class in Hong Kong to learn how to make roast meats.

Having lived in Hong Kong for 12 years, what is your favourite dim sum?

Feng zhao (braised chicken feet). I love the taste and gelatinous texture. Spitting the little bones out is also very fun.

Would you say it is the most adventurous dish you have eaten?

Not at all. I remember a long time ago, Mr Wakuda used to take me out for supper in Chinatown. We tried steamed bull's penis once. I found it very bland.

What is your favourite local dish?

I love bak kut teh. I don't mind having it from anywhere, but one in South Bridge Road is really good. I prefer the darker, more medicinal kind.

What do you like to do on your days off?

Come back to work. Haha. I'm joking. I like to do yoga or cycle. If I'm going out to eat, I'll go to Burnt Ends in Teck Lim Road. It's my favourite restaurant here.

Where do you get inspiration for cooking?

From years of experience, many cookbooks that I have gathered over the years, and trying new dishes. I like to look up the Internet or Instagram for inspiration as well.

Who are your favourite cookbook authors?

I don't have a favourite, but I am a huge fan of Jamie Oliver. I have a range of cookbooks from Heston Blumenthal of The Fat Duck Restaurant to simple cafe ones.

This article was first published on Oct 19, 2014.
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