better late than never

January 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

It took me a while to realize this, but like they say “better late than never”.

There’s always been a grandeur in chasing dreams, a somewhat deep seated sense of fulfillment to be part of the kitchen. It has always been about making simple food with great ingredients to make a lovely meal for everyone to gather around the table and enjoy each others’ company.
I have experienced real connection with people in this trade. Real connection without technology. Real sincerity without an agenda. People who put their heart into this and stick to it; people who thought it was for them and get stuck in between.

I got stuck in between. The world may seem like black and white but most of the time it is grey. The two colours are extreme, and by extreme I meant it is almost impossible to put a label. A few years ago, I wanted a pastry degree. I love baking, writing, photographing and getting to know people’s perspectives/experiences with food. Many wanted to be chefs, well most of them. They wanted to run a kitchen, a food business or be the next celebrity chef. Wanting to be noticed, wanting to be heard and wanted people to enjoy the food we make. No matter how big or small prerogatives were we had one thing in common, we love food.

Over the years, I keep stumbling onto pebbles and rocks. Walking into crossroads, taking off in directions based on what is felt right, perhaps not the most sensible decision at that time but paid off with time and effort. While writing on the side and helping out in the kitchen, I’d applied to journalism school. I wanted to write more than I wanted to be in the kitchen. I was so scared I couldn’t get in, I stayed up many nights re-writing the essays, asking for testimonials and recommendation letters. When the offer came, I rejected it. Not once, but twice.

Priorities changed, I placed the relationship ahead. It took a while to adjust as anything goes. Good things take time, great things take more time and effort.

The cookbook we have been writing for months will be out soon. It took a while, as anything goes. I feel a sense of relief but also nervous for what will entail next. Others have chapter two, mine just begun. I wanted a clean slate two years ago, leave town, get a recognized degree, come back and be more permanently desired. But I pushed that option, put more things on my plate then i could digest and got overweight with responsibilities.

Was it a wrong choice? Was it all worth it? I started to question and question. I needed answers and assurance. The confidence faded and turned into insecurity. So the thoughts of standing up for anything were forgotten. But as this cookbook comes to a close, I slowly understood what everything is about and how they are coming together.

I never wanted anything more than just be a cook or baker who writes. The daily essentials of being present to life, looking into each others eyes have real conversations, and taste food we ought to.

I fear for the day we forget how respect one another and worse still take each other for granted. That day will come, but for now, I can only do my best to be present and hope others can do their part too.

this will never be officially published

January 8, 2015 § 2 Comments

so here it is, a short passage for the faint hearted

Tonight’s heart has a vague overcast. It bears worries and tiredness from a day’s routine, of trying to just be a normal human being and to get by what is normal. In this lonely evening, there lies a peculiar sentiment of lost. Floating like an empty boat on a quiet river with a deep current moving swiftly down the slippery slopes. Even though it flows with the course of nature, of what seems to be one of the most beautiful rhythm in life, it yearns a purpose. A meaning for its every movement and gesture, a subjective cause to a significant effect, a genteel pleasure to a given pain, along with a sweet misery for a dramaturgical end.

Tonight’s moon is bright. It beams with hope and light that cannot be foreseen but hope to achieve. It’s full and trustworthy beyond measures but gradually fades back and forth with the misty clouds. Like the heart, it wants to shine but with the overcast it can only wait for a slight wind to blow the clouds away. Until then, it sits discreetly, long to be noticed while watching the world get by. People of all sorts gather and separate between empty spaces; taking flight to flee fear or fighting for the heart’s longing; swoon over delicate memories; to finally whispering to each other romantic words in the fading hours of reviving twilight. Would they know that there will not be anymore?

Tonight, whilst holding on dearly to the moments: seemingly sincere and quite pure, light laughters and sad happiness, it is too dark for faith. So the earth looks up and soaks in luna’s sheer essences. It finds redemption in fine melodies and sense in imperfections, an appetite to satisfy till satiate. There it shares the last glimpse of brightness, the last dance in the fleeting instant of overwhelming truth, yearning for a tender appreciation not given until the sun rises upon the horizon.

london 2014

December 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

I have been struggling with this post for a couple of days. I thought about penning 2014 while flying to London, which seems to be too long ago but in actual fact it has only been a week.

This perhaps will be the last entry for the year. And what a year it has been. Sounds like I had said this before but looking back, it feels creating series of multi layer facades. The changes in the shop, the cookbook, my perspectives with life and people around me.

The year did not start very nicely. I was still recovering from an NSAID allergies reaction which was an unforgettable experience not to be visit again. The late sleepless nights, endless amounts of aloe vera, calamine lotions and anti-histamine pills. I still managed to bake in the kitchen, wrote a few food articles and cooked a dinner for the cookbook.

Of course, all these only came about with the help of my other half, co-writer, the crew at work and family members. Everyone gave a hand in the kitchen, helped out at the Jovial Event and walked away with a happy belly.

We continued shooting photographs and testing recipes for the rest of the year. While getting caught up in the kitchen and trying to get more helping hands, we were still figuring out the book title, introductions and so on. The days continued to unfold and just in a blink of an eye we are going to be in 2015.

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Things that happened in 2014:
Dad got a puppy, found a yoga and running buddy, went to Hong Kong, still writing a cookbook, almost lost a finger while slicing potatoes, went to Sydney, lost a friend from liver cancer, we worked 72 hours one crazy week, had a gastroenterology scope, had the best birthday surprise, went to UK, visited Old Trafford, ate at Amber, Andre & Dinner by Heston, found the best chee chong fun (rice noodles) in Singapore (well for now), and moved in together.

There are a few lessons learnt, few things that matter really closely to the heart that needed letting go of and moving on.

“stop trying to look for happiness in the same place you lost it”

There is reminiscing and there is dwelling. And I dwell in places, time, moments that should or should not. It has taken more than I thought to let these be where they ought to be. In notebooks, pictures, at dinner tables, quiet rainy days, yoga mats, morning runs or even on the trains/buses.

I just hope that the next year would be less of these and more of creating better memories, sharing love and caring for one another.

looking beyond

November 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I last wrote here. It’s also been a really long while since I felt happy about myself. We’ve been working many hours in the kitchen. While we try to create a balanced life, there seems to be less of a balance and more of a struggle.

Recently, we launched Sunday Feast. A communal way of eating whereby a vegetarian soup is accompanied by either a meat or vegetarian dish, finished with a dessert. Everything is made from scratch. Handmade tortilla, vegetable stock for the soups/risottos, puff pastries and maple butter. Thus we start prep on Wednesday and take every opportunity we have between services to chop, slice, proof, stew and so on for the weekend feast.

The idea this started from an experience G had in a very small cafe in Belgium. There was the basic simplicity of it, sincerity of produce and effort put into the meals. There was also the trust that customers would embrace the family meal.

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The responses have been amazing. Regulars are taking the approach with an open heart and most importantly a good appetite. After every Sunday, they look forward to the next. And after every Sunday, we get more inspired to do more and explore our culinary ideas. And after every Sunday shift, we get really tipsy at our favourite bar and sleep in until the sun shines brightly through the curtains.

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There have been days when our differences meet and they just don’t want to get along. No matter how hard you try and no matter how hard to put yourselves into other’s shoes, to look at their perspectives and give the benefit of the doubt. They disappoint. Is it the lack of understanding or expectations we put on each other? Is it the irrational thoughts or simply just stubbornness of everyone to get their own way?

No matter how close parallel lines travel together or how much they share in common, they will never meet, have any intersections and commonplace. But when lines meet, that is where the complications begin. There are bigger things to look forward to. There is a common goal. The little things may seem niggling and unpleasant. But can we all look beyond that?

2341, 17 hours shift, 5 hours sleep

October 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Great restaurants should not define things, they should be the catalyst for things to happen – Jeremy King

It’s quite late now. I have to be up in a couple of hours to bake for the cafe later. But there like the inkling of a bad cake that came out of the oven, I am eager to share this. The last two weeks have been a struggle. Heck, the last year has been. It’s been a turmoil of bad representations, perspectives, lack of passion and interest on a whole.

I remember having a goal to work towards to. To create a space for people to feel comfortable, to be part of the community, to embrace our presences like we take theirs. These days, I question the respect, the craft we hold so dearly to ourselves and how are we going to share that understanding without creating any hostility.

We stand our grounds of trying to make work personal. To not draw lines. To take pleasure in laughing at each other’s flaws, but get work done. To treat one another like brothers or sisters, share food over the table and build strong bonds. Not to say there aren’t any right this moment. In fact, if anything I’d learnt the last couple of days during my 17 hours shift was people loved the bonds we have. It is true that while we try to want to make others feel welcomed and comfortable, we want them to join us.

After being in the kitchen for a year, it was so refreshing to be a buzzer again. People took on the jokes, suggestions and little banters so well. They just feel so at home and I could feel the sense of belonging once again. The little ounce of hope took a leap of faith. The faith in knowing we are doing our best to keep it together.

I could barely stay awake today. But auntie came by again and made lunch. While we were all in our grumpy moods, she bared with us in the silent kitchen and made us her usual homemade dishes.

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Another great quote from René Redzepi

“…trusting our impulses and handling our failures well. what’s certainly made a big impact is how much better we’ve become at collaborating with each other. in our business you’re always taught that there’s one captain who makes the decisions, and that’s how I used to run this place. but now the cooks no longer act like little soldiers, uncritically ready to obey any command. this has made everybody stronger and more confident. I realized people can only be as good as they’re allowed to be.”

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New kitchen hours next week. New Sunday menu and desserts are up! It’s going to be a quite a ride from here on.

on the bus thoughts, 2331

September 23, 2014 § 1 Comment

It started off simple, in fact almost too simple. It was just a local beer on tap, a display siphon machine, a beast-like coffee machine, very few cakes and a couple of sandwiches. We were getting by merely on caffeine, the friendly pet store owners next door, the hair dresser down the road who sends her maids for iced-lattes and authentic carpet store which brought rugs from India that looked almost too pretty to put on the floor.

All these memories came back tonight while riding on the bus, en-route to the 24 hours grocery store. There were times when I hated the route, after the 12 hours shift, I didn’t want to wait for another 20 minutes for the bus to come by. But I waited anyways. I didn’t want to do much at that time except to wait for university acceptance, which I turned down twice. Was I silly? Were we all so naive? Perhaps we were… Looking back at this hour, on the brightly lited and chilly empty bus, I really did not want to stay or remain where I was, but I did so anyways.

Mainly because I found a great friend, who happens to give me a pay cheque every month. We never regarded each other with any hierarchy or social status, which was very clear from the beginning. There were things to learn from one another.. Cooking, baking, making coffee, brewing tea, meeting people, making more friends, cleaning the small space etc. We had our stubborn ways, each to our own but respected one another for actions and making everyone comfortable. Every one that came through the door were treated equally. Regardless of where or how they came from. The door mat was our neutralizer, it was like an airport body scanner that transmitted all of you and you enter a place where you are just like everyone else. Except that there was no technology, no x-ray and no metal detector that beeps annoyingly until you remove all belongings. If there was anything we told you to remove at our door step was any judgements, any worries and negativity.

We had little to offer, simple food and coffee/tea/beer. Each had their meaning to its own and gave someone something to bite on until they got drunk enough and leave.

The brains, or rather I would like to think, behind them all are two guys, both with no culinary or f&b experience but were willing to learn the trade.. The focus was quite clearly different but they always had a good laugh with some beers and when without, they still laugh at one another. There was also an accountant. Slowly, two more jumped on board. A creative director and a day time project manager/part-timer farmer. The rest of the crew, a retail & customer trainer, a hospitality graduate (finally some hope), another creative graduate, a kitchen nazi and a culinary school graduate who wants to write/photograph about food/lifestyle.

And like how it all started before, we learn from one another, laugh at each other and be so closely acquainted with our daily routines that we finish each other’s sentences. Some like to plan more than the others, some like structure, some like flexibility, some wants order, some wants discipline, some needs more sensitivity than the other and so on. Structure in any flexible form is flexibility in any structure form, if you get what I mean.

Some just wants to know about coffee, some just wants to make sure the dishes are washed, some wants to keep the knives sharp enough to slice your flesh without realizing, some wants to save money and environment, some wants to make themselves known and you get the gist of it.

These days, I look behind the glass window and think to myself how did we all come together and how can we keep ourselves going. We all jumped on the bandwagon, like the brady bunch family, dysfunctional and idiosyncratic. We tell one another, I want you to be better or you could do it this way or that way, without realizing perhaps, they are already at their best. At their best and comfortable enough to learn more at their pace. Surely enough, with wars, fights, unrest and tension happening everywhere else in the world, we need a place that signifies comfort, friendliness and basic human respect.

We sit back and talk, sometimes, like it was Henry days. About giving space, giving time or understanding where everyone comes from, sipping our coffee or beer, sharing a bit bowl of potato chips and serving customers. We set ourselves far from the rat race or society, observing how they get on each other nerves for selfish reasons and ignorance to each other’s needs. Belittling one another with name callings, berate each other with hand languages and so on. We sit back and laugh at them and tell ourselves we will not be one of them. What’s the point anyways?

Funny how we plan things, how we think we are doing the right things, and end up exactly where we don’t want to be. Caught in the rat race, giving in to the masses and creating tensions. How we planned to simplify things but to complicate them, and get back to the whole cycle of simplifying life again.

But here we are on the bus, with more people on board, trying to reach an unknown destination, trying to get along with one another with pure respect, understanding and accepting. And not kill one another on this already bumpy ride. I stayed on the ride, and found love eventually.

Everyday is new. Everyday we learn and teach. If anyone can do better at something, share the goodness of it; sometimes you will be surprised to even learn something with sharing. About yourself, or the other person, or just to keep the camaraderie going. Everyone has their ways of trusting each other, through keeping the knife board clean, the portafilter empty so the next barista will be ready of the next shot, through the orderly manner of a storage room for the benefit of everyone or simply by greeting a customer with a warm welcome.

Wherever anyone one of us wants to go from here it entirely up to them, but for now, we are here. With finite and infinite limits & personal and non-personal agendas, doing what we do at our best, to build a community that takes delight in our spirits.

Sometimes, contentment is a matter of will. You have to look at what you have right in front of you, at what it could be, and stop measuring it against what you’ve lost. I know this to be wise and true, just as I know that pretty much no one can do it.”
― Jonathan Tropper, This is Where I Leave You

on flaws

September 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

there is a deep connection when we make food, the way we like it and the way people like to eat, to tell them who we are and get to know their preferences.

We may not be good at many things in life, with small talks, with relationships, with our strong characters, bad tempers, stubborness, but we at least try to communicate through food

A place where we dont allow faults, or when we allow faults, because it can be forgiving and yet inspiring at the same time.

We see flaws and imperfection but that’s the charming bits. These days, I question myself with the people around me, trying to perfect their daily lives. To even out the very fine creases on their pants, the little drip of oil on the plate or one spelling error in a long paragraph. We are human, with human errors. I question whether they see the charm or take pleasure in the race. The demands, the pressure, and what really comes out from it. They take pride in things, I do too. But when more is more, and less is always more, where do we draw the line?

“I can get my head turned by a good-looking guy as much as the next girl. But sexy doesn’t impress me. Smart impresses me, strength of character impresses me. But most of all, I am impressed by kindness. Kindness, I think, comes from learning hard lessons well, from falling and picking yourself up. It comes from surviving failure and loss. It implies an understanding of the human condition, forgives its many flaws and quirks. When I see that in someone, it fills me with admiration.”

― Lisa Unger

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The book deadline is over, I am back in the kitchen at full throttle. The neglect has been overdue and I find myself picking up the slack all over again. The kitchen is taking a quiet change, we’ve been testing and testing recipes to refine our repertoire. To taste food, find good reliable suppliers and feed people genuinely.

Again, I question myself whether we are doing things wrongly, whether what people say should affect us and rock our boats, how do we protect ourselves from not straying away from our identity and staying true. Day by day, these things reassure us that we are doing something right. Not to feed the masses but by making a difference with little changes.

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farewell letter from a part timer

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our newest addition to the cafe family; they have been our customers since Henry, he has espressos, she does her piccolo, he has the chicken sandwich, she does the sardine melt, sometimes they get the pandan cake & blueberry pancakes; her mum said one day the little boy will grow up to have my baked goods

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really good article written by Corby Kummer on Puglisi way of cooking after Noma and now at Relae
“If Puglisi is carrying forward a revolution, he’s doing it deliberately taking two steps back to one forward”

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