Curate at Resorts World Sentosa has appointed a new chef de cuisine: 31-year-old Benjamin Halat from Munich, by way of Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur, brings his inventive touch to the Michelin star showcase restaurant, taking charge of the dinner menus on regular days and cooking alongside visiting chefs during the Art at Curate dining series.
The first iteration of Halat’s five- and eight-course dinner menus fuses his experience of working in Southeast Asia with his recent travels — Boston lobster in a tomato, ginger and coconut broth is a perfect hybrid of laksa gravy and tom yum soup; foie gras gâteau with red port wine jelly and Szechuan pepper brioche is topped with discs of kueh lapis; and pan-seared Hokkaido scallop with gula Melaka is a nod to our neighbours up north (and much farther up north).
“You come around the world with this menu,” Halat says. The next edition of menus will focus on ingredients indigenous to Singapore and Malaysia, he adds, and the round after that will shine a spotlight on cuisine with Bavarian, Austrian and Swiss influences to recreate wintertime on a plate.
What convinced you to come to Singapore?
It’s the city itself, I often holidayed here when I lived in Malaysia, I have a lot of chef and photography friends here and I kept hearing a lot about Singapore. And when I heard about [the Art at Curate series], I saw the restaurant and kitchen, and I said I wanted to do that, because then I can showcase my cuisine.
How do you feel about cooking alongside the guest chefs who come here for the Art at Curate series?
I’d worked in Kuala Lumpur with quite a few guest chefs, it’s good because I can bring the experience from there too. It’s good to work with guest chefs to see the techniques and philosophies they possess, all around the world people have different philosophies and cultural backgrounds, so that’s quite interesting.
How would you describe your signature style?
I don’t want to have signature dishes because everyone will compare you with this dish. I want to leave space and freedom for me to work with everything I want. I get annoyed and bored pretty quickly if I cook the same dish for more than three or four months, so I have to do something new and develop it. That’s also one of the [reasons] I don’t want to have signature dishes, because then I have to cook it for 10 years.
What was the first dish you cooked?
I started working at a biergarten restaurant during school holidays and on weekends when I was 10. I was working in the dishwashing area in the beginning, and one day the cold kitchen chef was sick so I moved there, and later I moved to side dishes and then to roasted [meats]. The first dish I did was potato salad. The biergarten served pork roast, dumplings, potato salads, schnitzel, all this Bavarian cuisine.
What do you cook for yourself?
I don’t cook much for myself, especially here in Asia I dine out quite a lot because I want to see and eat local food and street food, and I visit other chef friends here. But if I really cook at home, maybe breakfast, scrambled eggs or something like that.
What’s comfort food to you?
If I go home, [Leberkäsesemmel] is one of my favourite comfort foods, it’s a warm meatloaf in a bun with mustard, it’s quite famous there and you get it on every corner. White sausages with pretzel and sweet mustard is our breakfast, on Sundays before you go to the football stadium it’s one of the best breakfasts you can have. The rest of the time comfort food is food that is done well by chefs who do it with passion. It doesn’t have to be Michelin-starred [restaurant] food: In a Chinatown stall you get one of the best congees I’ve ever had in my life, maybe it’s just rice soup but they do it so well, that’s comfort food for me. If someone puts his energy and passion into it and is really working on it, the simplest dish can be outstanding.
List three food items in your fridge.
Butter, eggs and beer. In Bavaria beer is listed as food and not a beverage, so I can say it’s a food item.
What tunes get you energised in the kitchen?
We have democracy [at Curate], so we each have one day a week to be the DJ. When it’s my turn we go with rock music, like Metallica. I’m a fan of old-school rock, and I see a little of my cuisine in it. With Led Zeppelin, My Morning Jacket, they never go with one kind of music, they have [elements of] classical, rock, electronica. They’re so open-minded and bring all kinds of music in one song, and this is what I want to do: We have a classic baseline but we’re very open-minded about modern cuisine and techniques.