Monday, August 3, 2015

Just what the Doc ordered

A couple of weeks ago, I received an unexpected email. Chan Tat Hon, the chef of the Snack Culture Company, invited me to his restaurant for dinner. In case you're not aware, the Snack Culture Company serves by reservation-only omakase degustation dinners.

I was pleasantly surprised but also a little perplexed. I'm not a food blogger and I don't have thousands of followers. I don't, as a general rule, get dining invitations, let alone one from a chef. And for a fancy meal some more. The cynical me replied that I would love to accept his invitation but quickly qualified that I can't tell one spice from another and won't be able to write a brilliant review. Must set expectations up front mah.

Tat Hon explained that he liked my blog and he wanted to meet me, and not to worry, he wasn't looking for a food review (though he did want me to try his food). Phew! Ok then. But a 9-course degustation meal is not exactly conducive for chatting with the chef, so he invited me to lunch as well.

Background: The Snack Culture Company operates only for dinner Thurs-Sat nights. For lunch, the restaurant operates as The Bento People. It serves healthy food in a novel way, bento style. You pick three dishes out of a list that you like, ideally one protein, one veg and one grain.


The price depends on what dishes you pick.


Turns out, Tat Hon used to be a medical doctor and made several career switches before becoming a chef. He wants The Bento People to inspire people to eat healthier and show them that healthy food can taste good.

So here's the thing - healthy eating and I don't exactly have the best relationship. Steamed food in large doses is bland. I like chicken thighs, not chunky chicken breasts. And green is my least favourite colour on a plate. If a vegetarian restaurant had to depend on my patronage, it would have a slimmer chance of survival than someone coming face to face with a grizzly bear armed only with a can opener.

The restaurant looked interesting but...but...it's a healthy eating place leh. What if I don't like the food? I know! I decided I would stick to the safest items. I studied the menu online and decided I would go with 1) Salmon - I quite like salmon. 2) Potato - I like carbs! 3) Ok lah, must choose one veg or he will surely scold me. I was curious about quinoa and the quinoa salad comes with grapes, beans and nuts, all of which I don't mind. Set!

So last Wednesday, I made my way to The Bento People at CT Hub in Kallang. The restaurant is bright and airy with a fresh ambience. I had told Tat Hon that I wouldn't disturb him if he was busy working, so when I arrived, I parked myself at a corner table as inconspicuously as possible and surreptitiously ticked my orders on the form. Salmon, potato and quinoa salad. Check, check and check.


But plans foiled. The Doc (as he's commonly called) was at the dining area (apparently he mingles with guests when he isn't too busy) and spotted me immediately. He came over, commandeered my pre-meditated order list and said authoritatively, "no, no, I order for you."

"B-but..."

"Don't take the potato lah. You try this instead..." Tick.

Splutters..."But carb..."

"Do you eat spicy food?"

"No, not really..."

"You didn't order whole grain? I let you try two types." Tick.

Slight panic. "Don't order too much! I'm a small eater! Cannot finish!"

"Tasting portions only! Don't worry."

At this point, I blurted out, "Are you going to watch me eat?" See ah, sometimes I get confused between what's in my head and what comes out of my mouth.

He was very gracious. "No, no! I let you eat in peace." But I didn't go there to eat by myself so I invited him to join me if he hadn't had lunch. He hadn't.

So this was my bento:


Left to right: Quinoa salad, Tunisian shakshuka and salmon with Greek tzatziki. And he also brought me an extra bowl to try two types of rice - red rice and brown rice.

So pretty, right? What a riot of colours! And completely different from what I would normally order.

And here's the Doc. Sorry, can't remember what's in his bento. One of them was a tom yum minestrone, I think.

So I ate. To be honest, I was afraid I wouldn't like the food. Then I'd be faced with that awful dilemma of having to tell this nice man that healthy food and I really buay ngam, doctor's orders or not.

But...I LOVED the food. Really. I'm not just saying it. I quickly realised that it's not just the flavours of each individual dish - it's also the combination you choose and how the dishes complement each other. The salad is light and tangy, the shakshuka spicy and hearty, the salmon refreshing against the creaminess of the yoghurt. Together, they're a wonderful blend. I ate the dishes in turn to taste the flavours together, like some OCD nut. I was very surprised by the red and brown rice. The red rice is cooked Chinese olive style and the brown rice with butter. Both are extremely tasty - I could eat them on their own.

Of the three dishes, the one I would probably not order again is the shakshuka, not because I didn't like it but because it's very rich (there's a poached egg in the middle of the veggie stew) and one portion is too much to finish. The quinoa salad is very, very, very good. The complexity of textures - crunchy nuts and beans against fluffy quinoa and sweet grapes...really very nice lor (told you I'm not a food blogger).


But the star of the show for me was the salmon.

I prefer my salmon raw, ie sashimi style. I don't mind cooked salmon but it's usually not my first choice of protein. This salmon was seriously out of this world. It was flaky, sweet and delicate and the inside was almost like eating sashimi. HEAVEN. Later, the Doc told me he only buys sashimi-grade salmon. Wow. My only complaint? Too small, haha. 

Having passed the test, we chatted after lunch over coffee (yes, he serves coffee too and yes, he has sugar! I asked!) We talked for quite a long time about all kinds of stuff, from food to blogging to career moves. We also chatted about our faith (we're both Christians) and how we have a phobia of OTT declarations. The Doc has recently started a blog sharing his journey and here's a particularly inspiring post I like. If you've ever felt discouraged and wondered if God is still working in your life, go read it.

Anyway, I had an enjoyable afternoon and it was only after I left that I realised we'd forgotten to take a wefie. Doh!

I'll probably bring Lesley-Anne back to The Bento People at some point. She's the lone advocate of healthy eating in our family (sometimes I wonder if the stork dropped her off at the wrong address) and am sure she'll love the food.

If I ever do make it to the degustation dinner at the Snack Culture, will blog about it. Meanwhile, if you're in the mood for some tasty, wholesome lunch, drop by The Bento People and say hi to the Doc for me!

The Bento People
#02-17, CT Hub, 2 Kallang Avenue (339407)

Tel: 6443 2006

Opening Hours:
Make Your Own Healthy Bento
Lunch : Monday - Saturday: 11.30am - 3pm 
Dinner : Monday - Friday: 5.45pm - 8.45pm

4 comments:

Lil Bookworm said...

Wow! Seems interesting & it is so near my place. I'll definitely pop by, sponsored or not!

monlim said...

Lil Bookworm: It's really good!

Chris said...

You are so funny, Monica! I enjoyed reading it. The food sounds great, I will definitely bring my children one of these days.

monlim said...

Thanks, Chris!

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