Chef Malcolm Lee grew up in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother, cooking authentic Straights Chinese food from scratch. His earliest childhood memories “are filled with nostalgic family meals and family gatherings,” he says, even as the accomplished chef has gone on to head up the world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant—Candlenut. Ahead of his participation at Michelin Guide Street Food Festival at Studio City, we talked with him about heritage cooking, his work, and the Macau culinary scene.
How would you describe your cooking style in three words?
Filled with love.
What’s the most important part of your cooking routine?
Always having fresh ingredients because without these, I wouldn’t have a routine.
For those who don’t know, can you tell our readers what exactly is Peranakan gastronomy/cuisine? What should they be on the lookout to try?
Peranakan cuisine is a fine example of local heritage cuisine. The authentic Straits Chinese fare brings together the best of the Chinese and Malay culinary worlds—the unabashed rich, spicy flavours of Malay curries with simple, delicate Chinese dishes such as pong tauhu soup and chap chye.
Tell us one dish that you’ll never get tired of cooking?
Ayam buah keluak. This is a chicken dish cooked using the nuts from the Kepayang tree.
What about a cooking experiment that failed spectacularly?
We made a beef buah keluak dish for an event in NYC that failed. We made the rempah without realising the dried chili we used was actually bird’s eye chili. No wonder we were choking when we were frying the rempah. When we finished the dish and tasted it, it was spicy to the point it was not servable and we had to throw the whole batch away.
What was it like to be awarded a Michelin star? How does it change you?
It has not changed me as a person and a chef as I have always strived to cook the best that I can for my family and my customers.
What is your most memorable cooking experience? Why?
I recently went on a trip to Australia to visit Aaco’s cattle stations with two other chefs. There was no internet or modern amenities at one of the stations in central Australia. We were secluded from the rest of the world. We cooked up different dishes for all the people working at the cattle stations. I cooked fried rice with the buah keluak I had brought along, and topped it off with some beef. It was a special moment.
Who is your dream dinner guest?
My mother, for everything she taught and inspired me.
What are your thoughts on Macau’s culinary scene?
I’m in love with the diversity of the culinary scene from the heritage Portuguese dishes to old school dim sum in the city and the swanky Michelin-starred restaurants within the casino hotels.
What are you most excited to try when you visit Macau?
What’s the one street food dish we should watch out for from your presentation in Macau?
Grilled Wagyu beef buah keluak, it’s simply delicious.
What makes it special?
Often synonymous with Straits Chinese cuisine, this modern Peranakan buak keluak dish is a complex, labor-intensive and time-consuming staple that truly represents the essence of Peranakan cuisine—born of tradition, made with love.
Do you have any advice for those out there planning a career as a chef?
Always be true to yourself.
Where will we see Malcolm Lee in five years time? What does your future hold?
There are some exciting projects in the pipeline which I can’t disclose for now. At the end of the day, I hope that I can play a part in getting more people to embrace and appreciate Singapore heritage cuisine, so that it’ll flourish beyond Singapore’s shores and place us on the global culinary map.
When: 12:00pm–8:00pm, Thursday–Sunday, October 5–8, 2017
Where: Macau Gourmet Walk, Studio City, Macau
How much: Free admission