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Meet the new(ish) kids on the block who are serving up exciting based meat alternatives and locally distilled spirits, and the rise of young chefs who are challenging the way we perceive fine dining.
CARPARK FARMS: Citiponics
“My generation is detached from our food source,” 27-year-old Danielle Chan tells me. “Most of my peers don’t care where their vegetables come from.” The NUS graduate counts herself fortunate to grow up in a traditional farming environment, as her mother started a vegetable farm in Malaysia that supplied the family with fresh produce year-round. It was only when she studied abroad that she had to buy her own veggies for the first time.
Chan’s immersion in traditional farming, and its limitations in land-scarce Singapore, led her to explore urban farming as her calling. Even before she graduated and took up her first job as a business transformation consultant at IBM, she was looking for ways to pioneer urban farming with a two- pronged approach: to bring fresh, pesticide-free produce closer to people, and to find a sustainable way to grow more with less. A chance observation that the open-air rooftop floor of HDB estate carparks are a plentiful resource led to a testbed farm project at a carpark in Taman Jurong.
Together with an experienced agriculture practitioner, Chan’s agritech company Citiponics began researching and developing its Aqua Organic System using a solid-based, soil-less culture grown in vertical towers. Their first commercial urban farm, a 1,800sqm project on the rooftop of an Ang Mo Kio carpark, now produces up to four tonnes of vegetables monthly, and the government is looking to tender out more of such spaces for commercial farming, under its goal of “30 by 30” – meeting 30 per cent of Singapore’s food security through local produce by 2030.
With less than 30 companies in the agritech sector in Singapore, there is still much room to grow and innovate. Citiponics is still a few years away from breaking even, as the economies of scale are not yet there.
“The goal is to grow the business, improve accessibility to fresh produce, and increase growing space,” says Chan.
BUY Fresh vegetables that are harvested upon order via Whatsapp at 9777-0520 or through Grabmart. Self- harvest on Wednesdays and weekends is also available via the same number. Citiponics branded vegetables are available at selected Fairprice outlets.
THE NEXT REVOLUTIONARY PROTEIN: ChickP
Here’s why you should be excited about Chickp, a new plant-based meat alternative by the local Growthwell Group.
“Not only do we believe that chickpea protein isolate is going to be a revolutionary protein, but we have also identified it as a complete plant protein,” summarises its executive director Justin Chou, 31. For something to be considered a complete plant protein, it needs to contain adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids.
“At the moment, only soy is recognised as a complete plant protein. Chickp has the potential to identify a range of novel proteins in the future. The IP tech that it has doesn’t focus solely on chickpea, but is also a platform to identify and process multiple alternative proteins down the road, like mung beans, fava beans, and cowpeas.”
A lifelong vegetarian, Chou notes that plant- based meat alternatives were previously not popular with people due to the stigma that mock meat carries: “Typical plant-based alternatives were made of uninteresting components – soy, gluten and starch. But the good thing is that with the rise in demand for plant-based food, there has been a lot of innovation going on.”
So if you’re thinking of adopting a plant-based lifestyle, perhaps there’s no better time to start than now.
BUY Chickp Squid, Chickp Crab Patty, and Chickp Shrimp (free of allergens, gluten, lactose, and hormones) are set to launch as early as 2021. Updates at growthwellfoods.com.
RETHINKING FINE DINING: Fleurette
Opened in August 2020, tucked away in an unassuming estate in Rangoon Road, a tiny restaurant has become a fine dining destination for in-the-know foodies. No table linen, no dress code, no menu, and manned by just three people (at press time), Fleurette currently charges $218 for its degustation menu – and is fully booked three months in advance.
This is hardly the usual scenario for first- time F&B operators, and childhood friends Tariq Helou and Aidan Wee are well aware of this. The pair, both 27, ran a pop-up called Division Supper Club from May to December 2019, before taking the plunge to open their own restaurant. Then Covid-19 struck.
“Due to the delay, we had a kind of ‘bonus’ time to refine our concept and start from the top again,” Chef Helou recalls. “We opened on Aug 26, with the original concept and same vibe, but with just more details in the finishing touches.”
Unlike restaurants that have signature dishes, here things are switched up every month by Chef Helou, a Singaporean with Lebanese, Japanese and Chinese parentage. This endeavour requires him to push harder for creativity and inspiration each time, resulting in original dishes like somen in a dashi broth, with Hokkaido fruit tomato and basil oil; and buckwheat chawanmushi with shiro ponzu and wasabi oil, a take on cha soba.
BOOK 204 Rangoon Road, tel: 8725-8218, www.fleuretterestaurant.com
MORE LOCAL SPIRITS: Singapore Distillery
Three years ago, there wasn’t a single gin distillery in Singapore. Now we have four home-grown distilleries, with the latest addition being Singapore Distillery, started by Ashwin Sekaran. Singapore Distillery launched in October 2020 with six flavours, the most variety so far from a local craft distillery.
The 26-year-old was on holiday in London when he happened across a craft distilling expo, which piqued his interest. Another eureka moment came during a gin tour, when the head distiller explained that expensive and hard-to-find spices and herbs were the key to quality gin.
“Spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves… these were everyday ingredients we had in Singapore! That’s when I realised I wanted to make gin that really showcased the flavours of Asia,” he says.
And he is undoubtedly inspired by local flavours, using local calamansi and kaffir limes in his Lime Garden Gin, and roses for a bandung-inspired Stolen Roses Gin.
As someone who didn’t come from the spirits industry, Sekaran tests the limits where others may be more restrained.
“I’ll experiment with the most insane ideas I have just to see if they’ll work. So far, it’s worked out since that’s how I came up with Coconut Pandan Gin,” he says of one of his trickier creations, which uses coconut flesh, coconut hearts and pandan leaves. He had to carefully extract these flavours as pandan can taste soapy or bitter when extracted at a high heat.
As a millennial, Sekaran is also very mindful of pricing – he wants people to enjoy his gin regularly, even if it’s at the expense of his own profit margins. If that’s not passion, we don’t know what is.
BUY Singa Gin, a London dry style, and five other flavours ($69.90 each, 700ml) from www.singaporedistillery.com
This story was originally published on Jan 19 , 2021 on HerWorld.