Remaking a Singaporean Treasure: Chef Jason Tan’s Interpretation of Kaya Toast
This national day, we spotlight a local chef celebrating his Singaporean heritage by bringing his favourite childhood food into the realm of fine dining.
03 August 2017
Some of the world’s best chefs have one trait in common: the ability to dig deep into their heritage and elevate a food item into the upper echelons of gastronomy. We’ve seen it in the likes of Seoul’s chef Jungsik Yim who plates up humble Korean traditional pastes into fine dining dishes and Virgilio Martinez of Central in Lima who takes indigenous ingredients and interprets them into some truly cutting edge creations.
In Singapore, there’s chef Jason Tan of one-Michelin-starred Corner House. The Singaporean chef has a string of awards to his name. His restaurant is a vision of class and elegance – one that’s set in a colonial black and white bungalow in verdant Botanic Gardens.
Even so, he has by no means forgotten his roots, having grown up in a humble HDB household in Choa Chu Kang. “I come from a very humble family so the breakfast spread is always very similar,” he reveals. “Every day we will see white bread, wholemeal bread, one type of jam, peanut butter, some margarine and kaya on the table. I’ll always choose kaya over everything else.”
Anatomy of a dish
Indeed, it is the kaya toast that he interpreted into signature dessert. “The inspiration behind why I interpret the kaya toast as a signature dessert is because of my love for kaya. I always felt that kaya toast is very different and very French,” he explains.
Here, the local classic of coconut and pandan jam spread on crispy toasted bread finds new life as a kaya parfait sandwiched between two pieces of sable (a delicate, crumbly biscuit) and accompanied with a pineapple sorbet to balance the richness. In short, puts common local ingredients into the path of exacting French pastry-making techniques.
“I’d ike to show the world that humble ingredients like pandan leaves, coconut milk, Gula Melaka, pineapple, something very simple, very humble and can turn into exquisite dessert in a fine dining restaurant,” he explains.
A tale of taste and texture
The result? A dish that cleverly recalls the flavours and textures of the classic. The sable for instance is made with muscovado sugar that gives a slight bitter note to hint at charred bits of toast. The kaya parfait is given an additional dimension of richness by adding cream as well as gula Melaka – a palm sugar that gives the cold element a caramel-like lusciousness.
“The concept of this dessert is already in my head even before Corner House was born,” says chef Jason. “It came naturally because it gave me a lot of joy when I was young eating kaya.”
Asked whether this route to interpreting Singaporean flavours is a philosophy embedded deep into his food, and he surprisingly says no. In fact, it’s subconscious. “Most of the creations in Corner House may seem to be a little bit Singaporean but that’s not something deliberate,” he admits. “I am very proud to be a Singaporean.”
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