March 29, 2009
Inspired by Enid Blyton
Reading about tomato sandwiches and blackberry pies in children's books inspired Bryan Koh to take up cooking
By Huang Lijie
Inspiration comes in many forms and for graduate student Bryan Koh, 25, it was stories of fairies and adventures by children's writer Enid Blyton that lured him into the kitchen.
He says: 'Reading about tomato sandwiches and blackberry pies in books by authors such as Enid Blyton got me interested in food as a child.'
And it was the idea of creating such 'charming' treats, he adds, that captivated him more than a chance to tuck into them.
So at the age of eight, he had his mother buy him a baking magazine from which he happily churned out cakes and cookies every few weeks with minimal adult supervision.
Of the first thing he baked, a chocolate cake, he says: 'It turned out well, although it did 'volcano' very slightly. It had a huge hump because I used too small a baking pan.'
His epicurean leaning at that early age, however, was very much shaped by his parents.
His father, a general practitioner, and mother, a businesswoman, would take him and his younger sister out to dine at restaurants regularly. This exposed him to various cuisines, including Japanese and Italian food, from young.
The National University of Singapore mathematics graduate is so open to exotic flavours and tastes that he did not flinch in horror when, as a 10-year-old, he ate whale sperm at a Japanese restaurant here.
He says: 'It was soft, voluptuous, very creamy.'
His mother, who enjoys whipping up items such as sushi in her free time, had him help out in the kitchen when he was younger too.
When he entered secondary school, his passion for cooking intensified, spurred by culinary TV shows and recipe books by celebrity chefs such as Madhur Jaffrey and Delia Smith.
He would spend several hours in the kitchen every week, trying his hand at French, Italian and Indian recipes from the almost 20 cookbooks his parents bought him.
He says: 'At that stage, I was just experimenting with recipes, exploring culinary ideas and having fun in the kitchen. I didn't worry about how the food would turn out in the end.'
Fortunately for his family members, who ate what he cooked, his culinary experiments never resulted in inedible fiascoes.
However, he did not have the guts to let his friends try his food then because he was still honing his cooking skills.
That changed one day when he and two other junior college schoolmates found themselves starving after an intensive study session at his home.
Driven by hunger, he whipped up a simple tomato sauce-based pasta for the trio.
The dish drew such enthusiastic response that it bolstered his confidence and since then, he has relished cooking everything from pasta to roast chicken for friends when they visit his home.
Indeed, word of his tasty home-cooking spread so quickly that he was approached in 2007 by the Singapore online lifestyle portal AsiaOne to contribute recipes.
Koh, who will be pursuing a post-graduate degree in hospitality at Cornell University in the United States in May, continues to post his recipes for dishes such as Turkish eggs and dark chocolate ice cream on the AsiaOne website every two to three weeks.
While he is adept at cooking most types of food, he admits to having avoided Asian curries briefly in the past.
He says: 'I always thought cooking curries involved a fair bit of sorcery.
'But once I understood the essential ingredients involved in cooking the dish, it was demystified.'
Now, curries are an integral part of his repertoire and he frequently cooks them for his family and friends.
One such dish is the prawn and squid moilee, a Kerala-style curry, for which he shares a recipe below.
He says he was impressed with the moilee, which he ate on a recent holiday to Kerala in south-western India, because it is not overpowered by fiery spices and the coconut milk used in the dish lends it a 'mellow and sweet' taste.
After he returned to Singapore, he recreated the dish by relying on his taste memory and referring to recipes for it in cookbooks.
He substituted the fish used in the Kerala version he tried with prawns and squid because of his taste preference.
He adds: 'The curry is easy to cook because the recipe is straightforward and most of the ingredients are store cupboard essentials.'
MAKE IT YOURSELF: PRAWN AND SQUID MOILEE
2-1/2 Tbs coconut oil
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 green chillies, finely sliced
2.5cm-long piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 sprigs curry leaves, remove leaves from stalks
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
500g medium prawns, shelled
4 squid tubes, about 15cm long each, cleaned and sliced into 0.5cm rings
550ml coconut milk
1 tsp lime juice
Salt to taste
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or a wok over low heat.
2. Add onion, chillies and ginger and stir for about 5 minutes until the onion turns translucent and faintly golden.
3. Add curry leaves and cook for a further 3 minutes.
4. Add chilli powder, turmeric powder and fennel seeds. Stir for 3 minutes.
5. Raise the heat to medium and add the prawns. Once the prawns begin to curl, add the squid.
6. Stir fry the mixture for a minute then pour in the coconut milk. Allow the curry to cook and when it reaches a gentle boil, let it simmer for 4 minutes.
7. Season with lime juice and salt.