Every time the subject of this story came up, we rubbed our hands together with evil glee knowing that a mission into bachelor Andrew Ing’s kitchen would be like sending François into the local equivalent of Ethiopia. Come to think of it, he’d probably have an easier time in Ethiopia—at least they’d have a couple of cans of Spam or corned beef lying around, leftovers from some UN helicopter drop-offs.
“That’s such a cool idea,” said Andrew when approached. “Crystal Jade is my hang-out,” he quips, and since he “always eats out”, his fridge is filled mostly with condiments like Marmite and Thousand Island, some of which have long passed their sell-by dates. It’s amazing how this man lovingly stores over 50 issues of Face and Wallpaper neatly in his apartment on Holland Avenue, but there is not an ounce of fresh meat in sight.
When the appointed day rolls around, our intrepid chef opens Andrew’s barren fridge and furrows his brow, perplexed. Having honed his craft as executive chef at Sanders in Sydney and Salut in Singapore, as well as chef de cuisine at Duo on Club Street, he is used to crafting meals with a complex mix of ingredients, as seen in his “black sesame and coconut king prawns tempura served in a kaffir lime leaf reduction”. However, since he has picked up the gauntlet that we have thrown down, he has to work with whatever surprise ingredients he finds in Andrew’s fridge.
François uncovers a sweet potato lurking in one corner, some almost wilted Chinese cabbage in the vegetable chiller, a pack of bratwurst sausages and beer. “We’ll make a stew with cabbage, pottoes and the bratwurst,” he declares, looking more confident than he sounds.
After the sweet potatoes are scalloped and the cabbage chopped, he puts a tablespoonful of olive oil in the frying pan and fries the sweet potatoes, throwing in a dash of garlic salt (there is no plain salt in this kitchen) and pepper.
Since Andrew doesn’t own a spatula, François diligently flips everything over with a fork. He then splashes some beer over the potatoes, lets them cook for three seconds and then places the potatoes on a plate and into the microwave for two minutes.
Another tablespoon of olive oil goes into the pan and the bratwurst gets fried. “You fry it a little while, until you see it change colour,” he says. That done, the sausages are removed from the pan and in goes the cabbage, again with a touch of garlic salt and half a can of beer. The final touch: a dash of Sin Sin garlic chilli sauce. After some artful arrangements, the dish actually looks like something out of a five-star kitchen.
By this time, François is warmed up and dessert (disappointingly) is a cinch for him. If there is one thing Andrew has in abundance, it is vodka. There is a drawer-full in his fridge. There are also some apples and mangoes which François chops and flambés in the clear liquor.
He then melts some butter in a pan, adds one tablespoon of honey and we watch as it turns into a brown goo. The fruit goes into the mixture and then, “Do you have any fruit juice?” he asks Andrew. When Andrew shakes his head, François decides to make do with some green tea soda instead. “We just need something sweet to glaze the fruit” he laughs and throws in a swig of the soft drink. He puts in a tablespoon of blueberry jam and then a swig of vodka. He lights the vodka using a cigarette lighter and the pan explodes, orange flames flashing up to the ceiling. Very cool.
Post-flambé, François puts the fruit in a dish and takes out some Haagen Daz ice cream from the freezer. Due to its extensive residence in Andrew’s fridge, the Swiss Almond Chocolate ice cream has grown a head of ice and is as hard-frozen as Michael Jackson’s reengineered face. It is only after much manly hacking from François that the ice cream finally surrenders and plops on top of the fruit.
We approach the Bratwurst and Cabbage Stew and the Fruit Flambé tentatively for a taste and they were both worthy of the “Bon Appetit” stamp. François obviously can work wonders with very little. Perhaps next time Kofi Annan sends a helicopter to Ethiopia, they should drop François along with a corkscrew and a can of sardines.
This article originally appeared in Twenty4Seven Magazine. Photos by Albert Ho.