The COVID-19 pandemic and circuit breaker measures have impacted numerous sectors and businesses. Since early this year, food & beverage (F&B) services were amongst the badly hit, with supplies of certain imported food items disrupted due to lockdowns overseas.
For Eric Neo, Executive Chef at InterContinental Singapore, ingredients required by the hotel’s three F&B outlets were mostly imported from Malaysia and Europe. While supplies from Malaysia remained intact, specific European produce on the menu, such as the corn-fed yellow spring chicken from France, French sea bass, baby cress, and edible flowers, became unavailable.
"We just have to stay positive, be flexible, re-look at and revise our menu, and switch to using alternatives that are easy to get. Locally sourced or farmed seafood is a good alternative,” Neo said.
For example, instead of the French sea bass, Neo was happy to fill orders instead with a local fish farmer Barramundi Asia, which offers Asian sea bass under the Kühlbarra brand.
He continued, “Kühlbarra was a good substitute. It also has great packaging, and its fishes are beautiful. I’m sure retail consumers will also appreciate that.”
Neo is no stranger to local produce. Even before COVID-19 broke out, menus at Intercontinental Singapore already featured homegrown strawberry, kale, and fishes. He believes that in recent trying times, many chefs would have also turned to local produce and “can see the superior quality of these produce”.
It is every chef’s dream to use local
In fact, Neo went on to share: “It is every chef’s dream to use local produce. When it comes to homegrown food, there is a great story behind it to be told. Local chefs using local produce — that’s something to feel proud of. I am happy to support local when the price is right”.
In addition to overseas supply limitations on ingredients, for the period of 7 Apr 2020 to 18 Jun 2020, restaurants had to halt dine-in operations to curb local transmission of COVID-19. In response to this, Neo immediately set up a team to offer takeaways and deliveries for the hotel’s restaurants. This included creating suitable menus, setting up the online ordering platform, and figuring how to ensure that items are packed and delivered in the fastest and most effective way.
Although safe distancing measures eased up to allow dining in for up to five people at restaurants from 19 Jun 2020, some may still prefer to eat their meals at home, especially with work-from-home arrangements being the new normal now. For those who often cook at home, here is a tip from Neo: “Try to cook dishes that do not require long cooking time. To minimise wastage, leftovers could, for example, be blended and used as paste. Other leftovers like rice can be chilled for frying the following day, and soup can be used as a flavouring stock to make congee.”
To illustrate how easy it is to use local produce in creative ways, watch Neo whip up the “Barramundi Satay with Tomato Salsa” in our video. This dish is one of the three recipes specially developed by three chefs from the Singapore Chefs’ Association (SCA), as part of a collaboration between SFA and SCA to raise public awareness of local produce.
• 350g fresh locally farmed barramundi fillet
• 4 stalks lemongrass
• 1 tsp coriander powder
• 1 stalk lemongrass, white parts only
• 2 shallots, peeled
• 2 garlic cloves, peeled
• 4 tbsp cooking oil
• 1 tsp chilli powder
• 1 tsp turmeric powder (kunyit)
• 1 tsp kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)
• 1 tsp oyster sauce
• 100g orange segments
• 1 red onion, diced
• 1 tomato, diced
• 1 stalk coriander, finely chopped
• 50g cucumber, diced
• 1 lemon, juiced
• Olive oil
• Salt & sugar, to taste
1. Cut the fresh barramundi into slices and set aside for marinade.
2. Grind spice paste ingredients in a food processor. Add in a little water if needed. Marinate the barramundi pieces with the spice paste for at least 1 hour.
3. Skewer the lemongrass into the marinated fillets and grill for 1-2 mins on each side.
4. Mix tomato salsa ingredients well in a bowl and place it in a chiller for 1 hour.
5. Plate skewered barramundi satay and spoon some salsa on the side.