Maintaining The Heritage At Home
Cuisine & Wine Asia|November-December 2020
The Singapore food festival was held virtually this year, and showcased the local talented chefs and their ability to create food that innovated and yet included local flavours within the dishes in masterclasses. We speak to four of these restauranteurs and speak to them about their inspiration and their food.

Nyonya kueh can be easily taken for granted. But, as I am learning from Chef Jeremy Nguee and Chef Claire Ariela Shen, Nyonya kueh can be seen as an art form, and a symbol of a long, well-curated history. As they are prepping the entire set for the shoot, I ask casually about whether making kueh nowadays is harder when you don't have a machine helping to make things easier.

Chef Nguee points at the kueh salat, and he launches into a spiel, “The gelatinization of the starch happens at 65.1 °C, to be able to get it smooth without any bubbles and the correct texture, you have to pay attention to the rate and percentage of the gelatinization in the mixture. Sounds scientific, right?” he asks. I nod. “The problem is that the machines aren’t able to do so in large batches. The human, on the other hand, can. At the end of the day, you still have to do it manually and observe the batch by hand to get the best textures. The human can do it, because while it’s very technical, it also requires a level of precision that machines can never achieve.” What he means is this: good Nyonya kueh comes from the human touch. And Chef Nguee and Chef Shen are huge nerds on the topic. This is why they not only share the craft of making good kueh with everyone, they have also organised a symposium in order to share it with the masses, called the Kueh Kueh Symposium.

Kueh Kueh Symposium, a part of the Singapore Food Festival, is a way to “shine a light on kuehs as a craft, as a fun snack to eat and a body of heritage food that can be underrated,” as eloquently put by Chef Nguee. “Kuehs can be considered a microcosm of what Singapore is like. It’s very diverse, it absorbs a lot of different cultures and cuisines, and it’s always evolving.” “We want people to be proud of this part of our culture,” Chef Shen explains. “When we think Singapore food, we think chicken rice, laksa and chilli crab, which is great. However to me, the craftsmanship, the effort, the stories behind the families that make kuehs, these have great stories about what kuehs are about.” Chef Shen, who also happens to be the Managing Director of Cooking Art Industries, has a history in making kuehs that’s linked to her blood, along with Chef Nguee.

Her mother was the founder of the Cooking Art Industries Culinary School, and she had been surrounded by kueh her whole life. When they both met in the World Gourmet Summit years ago, they bonded over their love for the craft, and worked together to bring the Kueh Kueh Symposium together. They held the first edition of the symposium last year, and throughout the symposium, it became apparent that the event was more than just a simple gathering of friends who loves kueh kueh. It was an education.

“This the 4 th or 5 th year working with the Singapore Tourism Board, and it was only last year that we started holding the Kueh Kueh Symposium,” muses Chef Shen. “Singapore is a place where we can experience so much food. That’s the blessing of Singapore. When it comes to the variety of food that we make, Singapore is overflowing with talent. I really believe that the Singapore Food Festival, the World Gourmet Summit, and even the smaller events like the Kueh Kueh Symposium are important events to Singapore, food culture-wise.”

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