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BOUNTIFUL BACKYARD

Media Type: Print
Outlet: The Straits Times
Author: Hsueh Yun Tan
Published Date: March 26, 2023
Law Jia-Jun ’18 and Eugene Chee ’18 celebrated for proudly utilizing local south-east asian ingredients in their Singapore restaurants. Inspired by their time abroad and work at Atelier Crenn, they founded The Fillmore Collective, a concept driven restaurant group.

Infamously globalized, Singapore has access to international ingredients extraordinaire. At the click of a mouse, a chef in Singapore can order a huge variety of ingredients from Europe, the United States, Japan, South Korea -- all over the world, really.

Much of the produce is harvested underripe so it can last the plane journey here.

Despite all the care and effort and astronomical freight charges, some of the produce does not survive. Wilted, bruised or rotten, it has to be chucked out.

The survivors are put to work on plates served to diners. They ooh. They aah. They also wonder why they are paying so much for the meal. The cycle repeats itself.

Some chefs here are rebelling against that idea.

In 2022, it was chefs Kevin Wong of Seroja and Malcolm Lee of Pangium. They opened fine-dining restaurants that showcase ingredients from this part of the world -- pungent buah keluak nuts from Indonesia, rice grown by tribal farmers in Borneo and cacao beans from Sabah.

The main proteins might still be from way over yonder -- Europe, the US and such. But other ingredients -- vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruit and spices -- are from much closer to home.

More chefs are taking advantage of the rich pickings in South-east Asia. They are using their training in French or Japanese cooking techniques, or both, to craft menus that celebrate ingredients people here take for granted, or those that diners have never had before because of the emphasis on ingredients from abroad.

These chefs include Law Jia-Jun and Eugene Chee, who make up The Fillmore Collective. The graduates from the Culinary Institute of America in Singapore run two new restaurants in Joo Chiat -- 808 Eating House and Province.

The group is named after Fillmore Street in San Francisco, where they lived and worked while at Dominique Crenn's three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn, and Bar Crenn, where they worked from 2018 to 2019.

Another is Lim K-Jin, chef-owner of Restaurant Chedi in Hamilton Road. He ran a restaurant in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for about seven years before returning home.

All three are inspired by their time abroad. Now, their mission is to win Singapore diners over by showcasing the rich bounty of produce from South-east Asia.

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