Posts Tagged ‘TV’

Top Chef in Singapore

Sunday, September 12th, 2010 by virginia

I haven’t been so thrilled with this current season of Top Chef, as there was really no one that I wanted to root for. Tiffany made a good run towards the end but she fell a bit short, and the remaining cheftestants just don’t excite me very much. Kenny and Angelo were the clear frontrunners, and while it was easy to dislike Angelo’s cockiness, Kenny didn’t do much to ingratiate himself to me either. Even though I think Kenny did go home too early, his arrogance before he was eliminated annoyed me as well.

The bright spot of the season, for me, was finding out that the finale would be held in Singapore. It was exciting because this was the first time Top Chef was going somewhere out of the country, but also because Singapore holds a special place in my heart. In October 2007, Josh’s job sent him to Singapore for five weeks, and I took a leave of absence from my own job to go with him. It was an experience of a lifetime, being able to live in a unique city halfway around the world, and I wasn’t about to miss out.

We had a lovely corporate apartment that was bigger than our apartment in NYC, with a fully equipped kitchen, but we never even used it. You see, the food in Singapore is some of the best in the world, and it was cheaper to eat out every day for every meal than it was for me to buy groceries in the supermarket. So while Josh toiled away at the office for 12 hours a day, I was living the life of a lady at leisure. I slept in until noon every day and only got up to meet Josh and his coworkers for lunch. After lunch, when they headed back to the office, I explored the city. I would take a different route home each day, wandering through Chinatown, Little India, and Arab Street. I familiarized myself with Clarke Quay and Boat Quay, and hiked the hills of Fort Canning Park. On some days, when I was feeling more active, I’d take the bus or the train to the western part of the country, to see the Singapore Zoo or the Chinese/Japanese gardens.

After my afternoon jaunts, I’d head back to our apartment and take a dip in the pool to cool down (it was over 100 degrees every day). Then I’d watch TV or nap until Josh called me for dinner, and I’d go back out to meet up with him and his coworkers. They were eager to show us everything Singapore had to offer, and loved the fact that we were adventurous eaters. They took us to different hawker centers and would tell us to sit down while everyone else ran around to pick up various items from all the different stalls.

Basically hawker centers are similar to food courts we have at malls in the U.S. There are central tables, where people would reserve seats by placing packets of tissues on the table (imagine trying to do that here!), and then each stall sells just a few items. Usually a stall specialized in a certain dish, so you would pick up one dish from one stall, and then order another specialty dish from a different stall. Beverages were sold at a completely separate stall, etc. etc., and everything was outrageously cheap. For someone who likes variety, this was the best way to eat.

One of our favorite places was Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, a giant food court near Josh’s office.We had lunch there several times, and at night the outer rim of the market turned into a giant barbecue. There were stalls after stalls of people selling satays, the most tender and juicy satays we’ve ever had. The smells emanating from the market were absolutely intoxicating, and the atmosphere was lively and festive.

The exterior of Lau Pa Sat Festival Market

Beef, mutton, and chicken satays

BBQ stingray

So going back to part one of the Top Chef finale, Josh and I were beside ourselves when we saw that the Quickfire Challenge was held at Lau Pa Sat. It was fun to see the cheftestants sweating it out (literally) as they tried to recreate some of the street food they ate earlier in the episode. Ed’s noodle dish did look pretty tasty, though I have to give props to Angelo for trying to make chili frog legs, a take on the popular chili crab dish. Contrary to the name, chili crab isn’t very spicy, and is more tomato-y in flavor. If you’re looking for some heat and burn, try black pepper crab instead.

The Elimination Challenge was held at the Tanjong Beach Club, which is actually on the island of Sentosa, just south of the mainland. The only time that Josh didn’t work was on weekends, so we took that time to explore places away from the mainland. One weekend we took a five hour bus ride to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and during another weekend we took a short flight to Bangkok, Thailand. Our first weekend in Singapore, however, we took the cable car out to Sentosa to visit the southernmost point of continental Asia.

Sentosa is a resort island, with a beautiful stretch of beach that is actually man-made. There’s lots to do on the island besides sitting on the beach or people watching from the various clubs that line the water. There’s a rainforest jungle you can hike through, animal parks with animal shows to watch, adventure parks, rides, a fort, and the famous Songs of the Sea water show, among other things. We spent a full day there walking around both in the jungle and on the beach, and had some of the best chicken curry I’ve ever tasted at an outdoor restaurant called Coastes.

The jungle side of Sentosa

The beach side

More scenery

Small bridge that leads up to the southernmost point of continental Asia

Mickey the monkey who sat on our shoulders with his big red butt

Giant merlion statue - the merlion is the mascot of Singapore. It has the head of a lion ("Singa" means lion) and the body of a fish.

The best curry chicken ever

It’s too bad that Top Chef didn’t show any scenery from Sentosa because it’s a really beautiful island. The Elimination Challenge I thought was a bit contrived, but I’m glad that everyone turned out really good food. It was hard to predict who was going to be eliminated, and I was sad to see Kelly, the last woman in the competition, end up packing her knives. I’m looking forward to the final episode, not to see who wins Top Chef, but to see what clips they’ll show of Singapore. Josh and I spent most of the episode yelping whenever we recognized a location in one of the shots.

In conclusion, I know this post really has nothing to do with Top Chef, but it gave me the perfect opportunity to wax nostalgic about our time in Singapore. It’s a place with an amazing blend of cultures, and that is reflected in the food. We had fantastic Chinese and Malaysian food while we were there, and the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten anywhere. The people are so friendly and hospitable, and yes, the city is incredibly clean. Josh thinks he might have to go again for work in December, and I’m already seething with jealousy because I don’t have enough vacation time to tag along this time. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Singapore, don’t pass it up! It’s an amazing country, full of amazing people and amazing food. I sincerely hope that having Top Chef exposure will encourage more people to visit this wonderful place.


Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 by josh

I realize I’ve been a bit silent on the blog-posting front – 274 posts and only 9 by me. I’ve still been struggling about what to write. Virginia does great reviews of all our meals and there’s not much I can add on that front. I do travel a lot and, as a result, have plenty of meals on my own, but Virginia gets seriously jealous if I eat too well when I’m on the road. Occasionally I have musings, like how restaurants do a miserable job on website design, but I lack the confidence to put them into writing. I spoke with a few friends and came up with a few different ways I can get more involved as the features writer on TFB. For starters, I’m taking a page from Claire‘s book and I’m committing to post at least once a week going forward (much easier than promising to run 26 miles and then having to follow through). I can’t promise that any of it will be good, but I’ll have more features, book reviews, cooking tips etc. Also, while this might get me in trouble, I’m going to start writing about the good meals I have when I travel.

I wanted to start off my new posting-spree by introducing a theme, kind of like Virginia’s quest for the best pizza delivery. It would be a nice go-to topic for the weeks when I won’t have something prepared. Initially, I thought a grand search for the perfect post-coital snack would be fun but Virginia wasn’t willing to do the necessary research. No worries, I will come up with something. Since that idea went to bed (for now), I’m going to start my blog resurgence with something different.

Although I have been lacking in my posts, my role at TFB has not been non-existent. Besides being the webmaster I am also the press secretary. Virginia reads a lot of other foodie blogs and points me to contests we should enter, events to attend, and places to cross-post her musings. Believe it or not, Virginia is quite shy and when someone emails us at TFB for an interview, for example (yes, it’s happened), Virginia always asks me to follow up, and I do. This is the story of my first television audition.

Virginia sent me the casting call for a show called “Vacation Food Dude” that was (or is?) to be on the Spike network. The request was simple enough, fill out a form which asked questions about who you are and your food passion. I got called in for an audition the following day, right around lunchtime. My instructions were to bring my resume along with something to eat and talk about in front of the camera. I admit, I put more thought into what food I was going to bring than on preparing myself for the awkwardness of eating in that manner. I wanted something different that no one else would bring, with a complex flavor I can talk about at length. Also, my general sloth factored in and I wanted a place close to the casting office, so I picked up some Go Go Curry.

There were two people ahead of me when I arrived. One had a bag from Bar Americain and the other was in the room doing his audition. It sounded like he was screaming at the camera in there, and I got nervous for the first time. I picked up a form and started to fill out the necessary information, most of which I had already filled out on the form I emailed in. Isn’t there a more efficient way to do that? My nerves subsided (thinking sarcastically about the world helps).
After Bar Americain was done, I got up to begin and handed in my “acting resume” (my actual resume coupled with several printed posts from this blog) and my headshot (one from Kuala Lumpur on the street drinking from a coconut). There were two people in the room, one who I assume was the casting director and an assistant who operated the camera and gave me prompts and instructions.

I was calm and casual when being introduced. We exchanged pleasantries and talked briefly about how I got into food and what I do for a living (not related to TV at all). Then the camera started rolling and my first surprise came: “If you had a device that allowed you to travel anywhere in the world in seconds and I asked you to use it to take me for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner where would we go?” – @#$%, weren’t we going to talk about Go Go Curry? (I started to picture the travel machine invented by Mr. Garrison from South Park. Somewhere in the annals of the audition library of that casting company is a video of me with the smile of an immature 14 year old boy).

Well, ok, so I wasn’t prepared for that question, but I can think quickly on my feet. When my friends or clients come to New York I love taking them out to new places and introducing them to new things, I can do this. Breakfast, something unique, something the other candidates probably didn’t say… Dim Sum!!!! Virginia and I love Jing Fong in Chinatown, but that’s not really taking advantage of my teleporter… Dim Sum = Dumplings = Xi’An, China. Ok, we’re going to Xi’An for dim sum for breakfast. Although at the time I had not been to Xi’An (and now that I have I know I wouldn’t return just for the dim sum), I was able to go through the various dim sum and make it work.

Now I’m in my groove, hitting my stride, working my magic, some other cliché, and I decide that it’s afternoon, I bought this Go Go Curry and dammit I’m going to eat it. So lunch = back to NYC for some Go Go Curry. The casting lady tells me “nice segue”, @#$% that broke my concentration. I open the box and try to make a show of smelling, tasting and savoring the katsu. Damn, that was a big piece a put in my mouth. Chewing. 30 seconds of silence is a lot longer than it sounds. Still Chewing. Yum. “Describe the flavor” she tells me. Here’s where I really messed up. Describing flavors is not tough, I am usually very good at it, but under the gun is totally different. I deliberately chose the one food that is a complex mix of smoky barbecue, salty garlic mixed with sweet porky goodness. How do you describe that? The words are on the tip of my tongue. Damn, silence again. Oh yeah, “its a complex mix of smoky barbecue, salty garlic mixed with sweet porky goodness”. Boo-yah. That felt good.

Next up is the snack. Now, I figured I just had two Asian meals and I’m ready for a change of pace. There is no better snack than pizza and the best pizza is at Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn. So I take the opportunity to use a magic machine that can transport me anywhere in the world instantly to travel 40 blocks downtown and across the east river (I’ve named this magic machine, the “#3 train”). By this point, I’ve totally wasted the novelty of this exercise. My mind immediately jumped to what I would really want and where I would really take someone in the non-fantasy world. I have a bit of a New Yorker evangelist complex. I love to show off the best spots in the city to visiting friends and clients and I guess I drew on my standard operating procedure as food ambassador. In New York, getting 4 great meals a day doesn’t require suspending reality. Ok, so I suspend reality when it comes to my stomach capacity, but that’s it.

Last up is dinner. Here, I struggled with a dilemma. There are a few restaurants I really want to try and a few that I know are good. Trying to impress at a new place is a big risk and can end in big disappointment (see the upcoming Jean Georges post). Going to a reliable place is a lock. Well, the goal here is to take someone else around for 4 meals in a day. If there was one place I’d want to go back to it’d be Alinea. Again, a waste of the “machine novelty” but the honest choice, I went with it. BOOM, another roadblock. How do you describe Alinea? Man, talking about food is easy, writing about food is harder, but being in front of camera and trying to come up with details to talk about on the spot with no prior knowledge of the specific topic is really tough. As tough as trying to describe the meal at Alinea. I think the casting director has lost interest.

That wrapped it up. I didn’t feel great about my performance but I was proud of myself for having gone and tried out. I left thinking about all the things I didn’t do right: I looked at the interviewer instead of into the camera. I spent too much time thinking and probably wasn’t peppy enough. My sweater fit awkwardly. Oh well, it was a unique experience, certainly fun and educational. We had drinks with Alissa (an actual actress) the next day and she told me if I didn’t hear back right away it meant I didn’t get the part. I figured as much the moment I left the studio. I guess I am left with my current job that sends me on projects all over the world and offers me the opportunity to eat at all kinds of places. (I collect my frequent flier miles so Virginia can come with me sometimes too). In reality, I am already the “Vacation Food Dude” and I wouldn’t change it for anything.