Chef Damian D’Silva on making real food and cooking with passion

Chef Damian D’Silva talking to guests during the dinner he cooked at China House recently. — Picture by Steven Ooi K.E
Chef Damian D’Silva talking to guests during the dinner he cooked at China House recently. — Picture by Steven Ooi K.E

GEORGE TOWN, Sept 4 — The best food is a result not just of great recipes but more the heart and feelings of the cook who can turn something common into something spectacular.

This is how Eurasian and Peranakan chef Damian D’Silva prepares each dish at Folklore in Singapore, where everything is seasoned with a pinch of his soul.

The Singaporean chef believes that he can give a recipe to nine different people and even if each person follows the recipe exactly, the resulting dishes will all taste different.

“This is because each cook will add their own feelings and heart into it so it will come out different. Even for me, how I feel greatly affects how my cooking tastes on any given day,” he said in a recent interview with Malay Mail.

D’Silva said the only way to learn to cook something is to watch how it is done, to feel it and to add soul to it.

The 62-year-old learned the art of preparing Peranakan food from his grandmother and mother, who were both Peranakan, while he learned how to cook Eurasian food from watching his Eurasian grandfather.

This does not mean he uses the exact recipes that his grandfather taught him as he believes that recipes evolve and change over the years.

“I don’t take my grandfather’s words that a certain way is the right way to prepare something, I delve deeper into it, I find out about its origins and look at the herbs and spices used,” he said.

He said many Eurasian and Peranakan recipes that were handed down for generations may have evolved over the years due to scarcity of certain ingredients and even cultural changes.

“So, before I try a recipe, I do my homework, I find out why some ingredients are there and the significance of it... there is in fact, no such thing as “authentic” cuisine... it just doesn’t mean anything because food and recipes change over time,” he said.

The affable chef, who was previously an aircraft engineer, prefers to use the words “real food” rather than “authentic”.

“When we talk about real food, it comes form the heart. It is not perfect but it comes from the soul and I believe that food should be imperfect,” he said.

Cooking any cuisine is also all about balance, in terms of flavours and textures, for it to be delicious to any discerning diner, he said.

D’Silva said he doesn’t just cook traditional food following traditions but he strives to recreate tastes and flavours from the past while striking a balance.

“I don’t change the recipes, I make adjustments, because we must know the balance of flavours for each dish... we can’t have too much of one ingredient or too little and it will end up tasting bad,” he said.

He used Penang char koay teow as an example of a dish with a good balance of flavours and textures.

“If you ask me, I will have to say the best char koay teow is the Penang char koay teow, it has just the right balance of sauces, the fragrance of the prawns, the texture of the beansprouts and the bak eu phok that is a must that brings the whole dish together. Char koay teow must have the bak eu phok to complete it... otherwise it is not Penang char koay teow,” he said.

Bak eu phok are tiny morsels of deep fried lard that is added to most char koay teow in Penang for an extra crunch.

When it comes to traditions and heritage food, D’Silva strongly believes that the food in both Singapore and Malaysia are closely linked as they have similar origins.

“As much as we want to quarrel over who introduced which dish, we must remember we have the same heart, the same multiracial make-up... only the dishes prepared in both countries have different nuances to it,” he said.

“We must remember that Singapore and Malaysia share a lot culturally, so why don’t we share our food heritage as well?” he pointed out.

D’Silva is currently executive chef at Folklore Restaurant at Destination Singapore Beach Road in Singapore.

The talented chef was here briefly to put together a family-style dinner at China House that represented Malaysia and Singapore’s common heritage in conjunction with ConneXions: Passions Made Possible during the recently-concluded George Town Festival 2018.

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