What would you like people to think of when they hear the name Bryant Ng?
I hope that people think of me as somebody who is dedicated to the craft of cooking. I have no desire to be a celebrity chef. What I do hope is that I have an impact in the industry through food and keeping it honest. This is really how the industry started, and I want to make sure people understand that still exists, that it’s not all fluff anymore. There are people who work hard and really try and do their job with what they’re doing and understand the craft. I hope when somebody says Bryant Ng, they say, “Hey, I learned about Southeast Asian food because of him,” or that, “I know where Singapore is on a map now because of him.” Or, “I understand these flavors a little bit more. I didn’t know what shrimp paste was before. Now I do.” “Palm sugar, now I use that in my cooking now.” I hope, if anything, that’s the type of impact that I’ll have.
You’re involved in Chefs Club by FOOD & WINE?
The Chefs Club, they’ve been doing it for about a year now. It’s actually a restaurant within the St. Regis, in Aspen. What they do is ask four chefs who were previous winners of the Best New Chef Award, through Food & Wine, to help with the menu, basically, go out there with a few menu items, train the staff to do it, and develop a menu surrounding those four chefs. It’s actually changed since last year. Now they have somebody, they brought in a new chef named Didier Elena, and he’s worked with [Alain] Ducasse for like 25 years. Super cool guy. His crew is going to be executing the food. What I did was, a week ago, I went out there, took a few menu items from The Spice Table, got my ingredients over there, and went out there and trained them to do it. It’s going to debut during the Aspen Classic. It’s going to be a menu of myself and three other chefs.
How did you decide which dishes to feature?
First of all, I’m looking at who the demographics would be. Are they super adventurous, or are they not? Also, availability of ingredients. There are a lot of ingredients we have here, even in L.A., and we have very good access, that are difficult to get. Will they be able to get a specific fish sauce I need for a particular dish in Aspen? It’s a balance of that, and to a certain extent, execution. You don’t necessarily want to have a dish that’s so complicated that if I’m not there and if I don’t have the oversight to sit over the cook who’s cooking it and say, “No, you have to do it this particular way, and it really makes a huge difference.” There’s that consideration too, ease of execution.
What did make the cut?
What we’re doing is the fried cauliflower, the Kaffir lime custard, the spicy beef ribs, the bone marrow, and the cereal prawns.
A modern classic.
Exactly. What’s great is that the team there is very passionate and very dedicated. They can totally execute the food. I’m totally comfortable with that. It is very exciting that it is going to be in New York and San Francisco. You will then have a place you can go to, and have everybody’s food, well executed, appropriate.
Who gets to go to dinner at the Chefs Club?
Anybody. Make a reservation. It’s just a restaurant. You can fly to Aspen today and make a reservation for the Chefs Club. You will have the food. Last year, they asked four different chefs each season. This year, they’re doing it for the entire year. I’m going to be going back, probably in a few months, to do a guest chef thing where I can do an entire menu, and also, by the end of the year, revamp the menu, take different items and bring them over there.
So you got involved with World Streetfood Congress because you met Makansutra and WSC founder K.F. Seetoh and he reached out to you to get involved?
Correct. The last time Kim and I were in Singapore, we met with Seetoh through Dana Cowin at FOOD & WINE. That’s how we connected. Seetoh, we arranged for him to hang out with us, and he pulls up to the hotel, and immediately, he’s like, “Hey brother!” We’re best friends immediately. He’s like an older brother to me, in a way. I really get along with this guy, and his family. He brought out his wife, we went to all these different places to eat. We even thought we were done one day, he calls me the next day and was like, “Hey, what are you doing today?” I’m like, “I don’t know, what are we doing?”…We went to go eat and there was this camaraderie, immediately. During that process, we were talking a lot, and were talking about the food we do here, and Singapore, and he says, “You know, I’m going to be doing this thing called the World Streetfood Congress. This is going to be June of next year,” which is this year. He says, “Would you like to be involved?” Of course, are you kidding me? Are we going to be talking about all the stuff we’ve been talking about?
One thing we were talking about, in Singapore, in particular, a lot of the younger generations, they’re not going into cooking. Finance, medicine, which is great for society as a whole, but it’s kind of neglecting a piece of Singaporean society, a very strong piece, which is the culinary heritage. What happens when some of these hawkers retire? What’s going to happen to the food? People aren’t going to take up the reins and start cooking it. We were talking about this and I said, “Wow, this is really exciting, and something I want to commit myself to, as well.” After that trip, my focus changed a little bit. When we opened the restaurant, I wanted to expose people to the food of Southeast Asia. That’s still kind of my goal, but it’s even broader than that. It’s further than that now. Because of the position I’m in now, I have a little bit more reach. I wanted to help spread the gospel of Singaporean food, just trying to continue that…To me, getting back to when the hawkers retire, we’re not necessarily going to have a particular food disappear. It’s going to evolve, it’s going to change, but it may be more commercially driven. We’re going to schill it out. “I need to earn a living, so I’m going to put this food out and people are just going to eat it.” It’s not going to be about passion and doing it for generations. That’s going to change. That concerns me, and that’s why I’m happy to be involved.