14 May 2016
Chef Ryan Clift
Ryan Clift is looking rather worn out. He has just gotten off a plane from his favourite holiday spot. But we can’t tell you where, ’cos the notoriously reticent chef is adamant about not revealing his vacation hideout. He bristles ever so slightly when we ask him about his trip. “I spend most of my weekends vacationing there,” explains the tattooed British chef of English-Burmese descent over a beer. And that was that. He does not elaborate, instead fixing his piercing gaze on us like he was challenging us to probe more. It’s unsurprising that the man guards his privacy so fiercely, after news of his alleged extra-marital affair circulated in the industry last year. Ryan in person is business-like and stern. Maybe it’s because he’s really busy.
We’re at the Tippling Club, Ryan’s mod-European fine-diner and bar in Tanjong Pagar, which he set up in 2008 with the Spa Esprit Group. It sits on the 12th spot on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, and is No. 36 on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Ryan also supervises the menus of popular Spa Esprit F&B spots like farm-to-table restaurant Open Farm Community (OFC). When he’s not cooking, he tends to a rooftop garden at Wheelock Place and a farm at OFC, where he harvests herbs and vegetables for his kitchens. Naturally, vegetables are his ingredient of choice. He shares, “We just launched a dish called ‘Posh Baked Potatoes’ which has tiny baby potatoes from France with melted cheese and black truffle. It reminds me of my childhood growing up in Europe. I like creating veggie dishes that give [diners] as much satisfaction as a piece of $400 bloody steak.”
On top of all that, he’s also a judge on Eat List Star, Mediacorp’s reality competition to suss out the next big culinary star. “I’m going to be the most brutal judge when it comes to food,” says Ryan. “I think I’m the Simon Cowell [of the judging panel].” So how does one impress this hard-to-impress gourmand, other than cooking well? “I also look at the chef’s appearance and how they articulate themselves on camera. Some of them can’t even function when the camera is in their face!”
14 May 2016
Hawker stall: A prata stall at Adam Road Food Centre, ’cos I’m a sucker for prata. I can’t remember its name. I just know the guy there as Raj — he’s a crazy Manchester United fan. I’d wake up and go there to talk crap and share some murtabak. I love seeing all the egg shells on the [stall’s] floor.
Restaurant: Bar-Roque Grill by [chef] Stephane Istel at Amara Hotel. I like his traditional French cooking. You don’t find chefs who cook like that anymore. I usually eat anything recommended by him as we’re friends.
Bar: I don’t drink much. But when I do, I go to The Cufflink Club which is near my restaurant or 28 HongKong Street where I order a Negroni.
Meal: Steak frites (above) with a glass of good red wine. Medium rare! I’ll choose this if it was my last meal. I’d die a happy man. It’s simple, and I like eating a nice striploin with beautifully cut fries.
14 May 2016
Comfort food: My English mother is famous for her soups, so it has to be a good bowl of vichyssoise (leek and potato soup) with big pieces of crusty bread.
Breakfast: Poached eggs with mashed avocadoes, crushed tomatoes and a glass of lime juice. The first thing I consume when I wake up is [vitamin drink] Berocca. I often feel like I’m in a dehydrator ’cos chefs sweat so much in the kitchen.
Supper: Even though I get off work between midnight to 2am, I seldom eat past 6pm. If I do eat, I go for fried chicken wings (above) from [Korean joint] Kko Kko Na Ra and a beer, or chilli crab from Long Beach Seafood Restaurant at Dempsey. But I don’t eat it by myself. I share it with a couple of guys from the kitchen. When I can’t sleep, I make a cup of peppermint tea and sit on my terrace to drink it. I’m very English like that.
14 May 2016
Dessert: Lemon tarts are my favourite. But when it’s not done properly, it can be a sham. I’m also a sucker for the best soufflé. I like to test the restaurants I go to on their attention to details. I’m a very critical dessert person. I don’t employ a pastry chef ’cos I believe every chef should know how to make desserts.
Food trend: Fermentation. It’s been around for centuries but it has really interesting flavour profiles. Some [fermented dishes] are pretty bad, but when done properly, it’s good. At Tippling Club, we have a couple of dishes cooked using a traditional Japanese fermentation technique, like the Mangalica Pork Collar with vegetables pickled in nuka (Japanese rice bran).
14 May 2016
Hobby: Golfing. I’ve scared a lot of old people on the course with my tattoos! Nowadays, I cover them up with a long-sleeved shirt.
Cafe: I worked in Melbourne for nine years [as head chef at mod fine-diner Vue de Monde] and hands down the city has the best coffee and cafes. In Singapore, I like going to Common Man Coffee Roasters.
Catch Eat List Star on toggle.sg/eatliststar.