This September, the spotlight falls on Eugene See, head chef at Birds of a Feather, who updates Sichuan flavours with Western flair.
Head chef Eugene See rules the roost at Birds of a Feather (BOAF), a Sichuan-influenced modern European restaurant opened almost a year ago. Set in a two-unit shophouse on Amoy Street, the interiors of all-day diner BOAF is an eclectic mix of lush plants, wooden furniture and loud decorative pieces such as ceiling lamps shaped like billowy clouds and wall art made of bulbs and copper pipes. An expansive bar greets you upon arrival, serving up classic and original cocktails.
See grew up in Malaysia loving Asian flavours, but chose to study French cooking techniques at culinary school. It was the precision and finesse of the cuisine that appealed to him. He then cut his teeth at French restaurant Guy Savoy in Singapore for nearly three years from 2010, before moving on to other restaurants like modern European diner San Bistro, located at Eastwood Centre.
His profile was just what BOAF owners, Liu Bin and He Ning from Chengdu, were looking for. The couple, who also own a popular cafe chain in Chengdu called Good Wood Coffee, wanted to bring the authentic taste of Sichuan to Singapore. They had at the ready a team of chefs from Chengdu, but needed a head chef who could marry the strong flavours of Sichuan with the refinement of Western cuisine. With See installed in BOAF, their unique all day dining cafe and bar picked up one star and the Best New Concept special award in our Singapore’s Top Restaurants 2017/2018 dining guide.
Many people think Sichuan food is just about numbing, spicy ‘ma la’, but it is not. I’m slowly introducing other Sichuan flavours through our small plates menu. There is a classic Sichuan sauce that uses garlic as a base which I have used with octopus. Then there is what the Sichuan people call “guai wei” (怪味), literally meaning ‘weird taste’. It is complex and tasty, a combination of spiciness, sweetness and saltiness. I pair this seasoning with chicken which has more of a familiar, ‘neutral’ flavour profile.
We have a unique collaborative working style at BOAF. I work very closely with the chefs on my team, especially the Chengdu chefs. We work with an idea in mind, then together, we brainstorm and research the different culinary elements. I’ve learnt a lot in particular from my Chengdu chefs about Chinese cooking techniques and the use of spices.
We aim to create new dishes without forgetting the original flavours. For example, our ‘xiang su’ duck seamlessly blends culinary elements from both East and West. It looks like a Frenchstyle duck confit, but the sauce has strong Asian influences as it is made up of tian mian or sweet bean sauce, hoisin sauce, duck jus, Sichuan peppers and other spices. The duck jus is made by first braising a whole duck, baking it and then braising it again in the original liquid. That liquid is then simmered for three to four hours and strained. This jus is also used as the base for marinating the duck breast, to which we add cinnamon, star anise, old ginger and aged orange peel. The duck breast is marinated for about three to four days before cooked sous vide in the marinade.
Playing with Sichuan flavours can be tricky. An example is the R&D we did for our ‘hong shao’ short ribs. Something that is ‘hong shao’ or redbraised is actually very oily in part because of the large amounts of red chilli oil used. We wanted to reduce the oiliness and create a jus consistency for the coating of the ribs. But a lot of flavour actually comes from the red chilli oil, so we also needed to think of a way to maintain the spice level if we reduce the amount of chilli. That took a lot of experimentation to get the flavour right. It also took us a while to find a way to emulsify the red chilli oil to get a good jus consistency.
Since we are an all-day diner, we designed the menu with something for everyone. More adventurous diners can enjoy a meal of different dimensions and flavour profiles with dishes such as Fortune Skewer in Sichuan pepper broth, hot and sour chazuke, Kawa Ebi Swim in the Chillies or tofu burger with mapo meat sauce. Those who aren’t fond of spicy food can try dishes such as Oriental bolognese, an angel hair pasta with pork ragout, onsen egg, wilted kale and sakura ebi, or the charcoal-roasted wagyu striploin. Our cocktails feature lots of Asian ingredients such as ginger and lychee. We keep them light and refreshing to balance the strong flavours of our food.
I’m most proud of our pig ear mosaic dish and Monotone, a dessert. Our braised pig ear served cold with Sichuan red and sour dressing and arrowroot noodles is light and refreshing with a delightful, crunchy texture and a strong sour and spicy flavour. The Monotone is made up of black sesame coulis and coral sponge, white sesame parfait, sesame sable and a coconut mousse. I’ve used French pastry techniques to give the dessert different textures and a very Western style of presentation.
I want to do a twist on a famous Sichuan fish or pork belly next. And I’m dreaming up a menu for the festive season at the end of the year.
#01-01, 115 Amoy Street. Tel: 6221 7449
This was first published in Wine & Dine’s September 2017 issue – Singapore’s Top Restaurants, ‘Chef du Jour’