From blue pea flower beehoon to mushroom risotto, home cooks whip up special dishes at Singapore arts fest

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SINGAPORE: At an age when most of his peers won’t be found anywhere near a kitchen, 17-year-old Joshua Tang has been whipping up some pretty impressive dishes.

The second-year tourism and resort management student at Singapore Polytechnic has been honing his culinary chops working part-time in the kitchen at Rhubarb Le in Duxton Hill.

“I started cooking and helping out my dad when I was about seven or eight, but the stuff I did on my own was not very good. I would just stick bread together with Nutella and tell people that’s a cake,” joked Tang.

“It was probably when I was 13 or 14 that I became more independent, going on YouTube, looking at recipes, cooking for my own taste and developing ideas behind that.”

Next month, Tang will be showing off his cooking talent as one of 27 home cooks taking part in the Singapore International Festival of Arts’ (SIFA) OPEN Kitchens event.

The programme, which will run from Jul 8 to 30, will see these home cooks whip up special dishes for the public. Nine groups will be hosting sessions in their own homes, and the remaining cooks will be holding theirs at three shophouses along Geylang.

It’s time to makan, courtesy of these home cooks at next month’s OPEN Kitchens. (Photo: Jeannie Ho)

Tang, who is one of the youngest participants, has a pretty impressive menu on Jul 21: Crackling pork loin with truffle cabbage and apple sauce; mushroom risotto with a parmesan crisp; and a third surprise dish reflecting his own journey.

Inspired by Lebanese culinary activist Kamal Mouzawak’s Make Food Not War, director of OPEN Noorlinah Mohamed wanted to encourage people to come together in the spirit of creating and enjoying a meal at the same table.

“Everyone who comes must make something. They must create with their hands. Chopping the food, cooking it or even shaping the food that they are going to be eating next – that’s the participatory experience,” said Noorlinah.

Other participating cooks also include grandchild-grandparent duos, and mother-daughter teams.

Among them are Mrs Soh and her 14-year-old grandson Dylan Soh.

The 74-year-old retired teacher regularly conducts cooking classes and hosts private dining events in Telok Kurau. She hopes to spread the message of a 21st century kampong spirit, where neighbours are free to walk into one another’s homes for a meal.

SIFA’S OPEN Kitchen event won’t simply be about cooking and eating but about bonding over food and stories, too. (Photo: Ria Chen)

“In the old times, houses are open so we know our neighbours and we share our food. My son wants to bring back all this. He keeps asking why no one does this anymore,” said Mrs Soh, who will be revealing the secrets behind her special homemade kedondong pesto made with ingredients grown in her own backyard, as well as dishes such as blue pea flower beehoon and chicken curry.

Another participating home cook is veteran stage, TV and movie actor Lok Meng Chue. The 62-year-old likened her culinary exploits to her profession.

“Cooking is improvising. In acting, we also do a lot of improvising. You really create something out of nothing and it’s the magic of cooking as well. The wonderful thing is, like performing, you share with your audience. People partake of your creation,” said Lok, who started cooking at 17, the same age as Tang at the moment.

As for the teenage part-time chef, he said he’s looking forward to cooking for the public in a few weeks’ time.

But he also added there’s one special person he would’ve been proud to cook for – his late grandfather, who passed away before Tang had begun to grow as a cook.

“He had a stroke on his right side so he couldn’t speak – all my interactions with him were through actions and gestures. But he was a very selfless person and I would have liked to cook for him because I think some of the dishes I make are those that he liked.”

OPEN Kitchens is part of OPEN, a five-week-long exploration and ­public engagement, which leads into Sifa’s main arts event that runs from Aug 5 to Sep 9. For more details, visit their website.

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