Describe as daring and bold, Chef Gary Anwar draws inspiration from his multi-racial upbringing for his unpretentious, flavour-packed menu
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In this interview, local Chef Gary Anwar talks about adopting sustainable practices and the challenges faced surrounding it.
Tell us about yourself. How did your culinary career start and why did you want to become a chef?
After completing my SPM, I didn’t know what to do and like many Asian parents, my parents suggested for me to either be a lawyer, doctor, engineer or accountant—basically anything prestigious.
So, I did my A-Levels and I guess the goal at that time was to be a lawyer. Funnily enough, I failed the course because I would often skip classes.
After the whole fiasco, I thought studying culinary arts would be the best way to ensure survival since you can literally get a job anywhere—whether it’s washing the dishes or helping the chef prepare his ingredients.
However, it wasn’t until I started getting into the real-life work experience when I became truly passionate about cooking, and 15 years later, here I am.
I started Ember Modern Bistro four years ago, and I’ve never once looked back on the life I had before.
Looking at your menu, you have a number of dishes surrounding duck. Is there a particular reason behind it?
Rather than designing a menu surrounding one particular ingredient because I feel inspired to create a dish, which is the duck in this sense, we actually do it because it’s sustainable.
When we order ducks from our vendors, we don’t just get parts of it, we’re given the whole thing.
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Let’s use the Dry-Aged Duck Breast as an example. The breast meat will be served as one dish while we use its legs to make Duck Confit and its skin and fat will be rendered into our Duck Fat Chilli—though they used to go in the bin right when we first started out.
End of the day, it’s really more about being sustainable, that has always been the approach, for me.
Now, when we get hold of an ingredient, we try to think of ways to fully utilise it.
I do have to confess we’re currently still trying our best to make use of the entire duck, it’s an on-going process really.
We’re constantly trying to come up with ways to ‘recycle’ as much as we can.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
I think one of the hardest things to do for us, was how to make our dishes as simple as possible, even more so than when we first started out.
If you take a look at some of the pictures of our dishes, we’ve definitely simplified some of the dishes. We used to have five to six components max in a dish.
Now, we ask ourselves whether we can do it with three instead or less. With so little to work with, we needed to make sure that the dish will still be as good and flavourful.
So, we have to improve either executive-wise or the ingredients we use—it needs to be of quality and it has to be fresh. And to do that, it’s crucial for us to source from the best suppliers, people we trust.
In the beginning we struggled to find a vendor that met all our requirements, and I had to purchase some of our seafood from the market myself, because then I will be able to tell whether this particular fish or seafood is up to par.
As time went on, we found a local seafood supplier that we trusted and they have been our sole supplier for the past three years.
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PHOTOGRAPHY BY XERXES LEE / AWESOME IMAGE STUDIO