The Incredible Epicurean Market 2014, Part One

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The past weekend was a gastronomic feast! I hit up the three-day Epicurean Market 2014 festival where I plonked down tons of money on creative, inspiring food plus drank more than my weight’s worth of alcohol. What an adventure for my tummy and I! The jam-packed weekend will see me write two posts. I am certain you will kill me if I made you scroll through in one post the crazy amount of pictures.

You might remember, after Creatory, I was up for another food festival. And EM2014 was the next big one. But I only decided to purchase the festival pass on the day itself. Even though tickets were released early, I was still apprehensive. My weight gain from the Creatory-weekend and recent gain left me adverse to such gastronomic events. But on Friday morning, I showed my Mum an upcoming epic food festival in London, #Ribstock 2014, that we will miss by the time we get there (thank god!), and she wondered out loud if Singapore had such similar events. I’m sorry whatttt??? Why yes, I replied. EM 2014 and we could go tomorrow!!! Mummy was all game for it. The fat stars aligned; I knew then and there my next food adventure was calling out to me. So on the very same morning, armed with my Citibank credit card, I purchased two tickets at 10% off. The planning commenced!

Organized by Marina Bay Sands, EM2014 was set in the 12,500 square metres Convention Centre. The uniqueness and highlight of the event is that only MBS’ celebrity chef-driven restaurants were featured. Like last year at their individual booths, fine-dining dishes in tasting portions were served up. At wallet-friendly prices, one could comfortably get a taste of the restaurants that would normally be deemed unaffordable. More excitingly this year, future MBS celebrity-chefs were present in anticipation of their new restaurants too! Chef David Thompson, from Nahm, and Chef David Myers, joined MBS stalwarts, Chefs Tetsuya Wakuda, Justin Quek, and Nancy Silverton.

On the first day, Mum and I had two hours to take in all 12,500 square metres of the event before Mummy had to scoot off for Choir practice. This meant we had to be uber efficient! A game plan was essential. In its second year, I was sure to read up on last year’s event. I may not have attended but fortunately many food bloggers did. Thanks to Chubby Hubby, KeropokMan, Gourmet Estorie, and Ate Too Much, there was only one take home lesson: hit the Celebrity Chef Arena first. So that’s what we did. On arrival at the arena, we divided and conquered. First we despatched ourselves to different booths and ordered a couple of dishes. Then I ran back to her booth to make payment as there was only one Citibank card between us. 10% off every single dish. In one hour flat, we managed to place our orders and finish 14 dishes from five out of seven celebrity-chef booths! You bet we patted ourselves on the back for being two of the most efficient human beings EVER. -fist pump-

Then on the same afternoon, my friend, SY, commented on my pictures on Instagram. Turns out she was spending her afternoon there too. More importantly, she was keen to return the next day. Would I be keen to join her? Why ever would I waste my ticket that also served as a weekend pass?! Yes, I was so up for it. With her and my two new friends, E and K, we killed it on Sunday. A total of five hours was spent eating, drinking and attending Masterclasses – definitely got our money’s worth this weekend.

Partners-in-crime this afternoon. Crazy adventurous people – five hours later, we are still here…

A post shared by Yiyang Chen (@yyangchen) on

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So on my first day, thanks to my eager beaverness, Mum and I arrived shortly before the opening time of 11am. We collected our tickets, wristbands, and complimentary pair of wine glasses before making a beeline for the Celebrity Chef Arena on the far right side of the hall.

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There was obviously NO QUEUES. In fact some of the stalls had not finished prepping yet. This was great because I really lack the ability to deal gracefully with lines of people and waiting.

The booths were ultra luxe AND huge – definitely not your usual festival “stalls”! The menus were uniformly printed and the prices listed seemed affordable. That’s because portions were dainty i.e. do not expect to get filled up with just a few dishes. But this was fine for Mum and luckily my friends the next day too. We were more keen on trying as many dishes from as many chefs as possible.

Another benefit of going ultra early was the lack of crowd. I simply walked right up to the Chefs and asked for Selfies!!! There was no one to “fight” with me for camera time and I managed to take two shots per chef.

With the first day’s successful strategy, I insisted my three partners-in-crime arrive on time the next day too. Arriving punctually at 11am, we dashed to sign up for the Masterclasses. Then we hit the Celebrity Chef Arena with a vengeance! Our standing table began like this…

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When we realized my friend was going to take a while at Waku Ghin, we supplemented the table…

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Before.. BOOM! Take that!

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The picture did not even capture the desserts thereafter or the copious amount of wine and cocktails. -Burp-

Now on to the highlight of the event: Celebrity-chef restaurants. David Myers and Justin Quek’s Sky on 57 left the deepest impression on us. Their dishes delivered on all fronts: flavours, textures and creativity. For Mum, it was David Myers that led her to see EM2014 and fine-dining as an experience; a positive one.

Mozza
On the first day, Mum and I began at Mozza.

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Even before walking into the Convention Centre, I knew I HAD to get their Calamari Fritti and Orecchietta Pasta with Lamb Sausage. It was all over Instagram and I stared longingly at them.

For $9, the Calamari Fritti was a wise decision. The deep-fried batter was expertly executed with it’s herb-speckled-ness. It snug tightly around each large, plump squid melding into one coherent crunchy treat. A light caper-sauce was drizzled atop which cut the deep-fried heaviness one would normally expect. The sauce did its job for we saw no need to squirt the lemon wedge. Thank goodness I ran for this dish. The next morning, I saw they were completely sold out! To think I nearly lost the chance. -phew-

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On the other hand, the same could not be said about the pasta. The carbohydrates could have been boiled a minute longer and it’s comforting homely ground-up-sausage sauce just didn’t match up to the other theatrical dishes.

The next day, my friends and I ordered two of the Pizza on offer. A simple margarita and an even simpler Garlic and Olive oil. Baked-to-order it was their exact signature Pizzeria Mozza in a baby-sized portion. It did not fail to satisfy.

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Long Chim

Next my Mum and I moved on to David Thompson’s Long Chim. Chef David is the man behind the Best Restaurant in Asia, Nahm, in Bangkok. The purpose of Long Chim was to showcase his upcoming casual eatery due to open next month. Naturally I had high hopes. But after six out of seven dishes on the menu, I was feeling underwhelmed. 

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Featuring Thai street food, Mum and I arrived a little too early for them. They had not finished prepping. Only one dish, Kao Mok Gung: Prawns with Turmeric Rice, was available which turned out to be one of the best dishes of the morning.

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We lucked out on the the palm-sized fresh prawn which took center stage on a bed of loose short-grain rice imbued with tumeric and cardamon. The next day, we had to make do with smaller prawns. An addictive sweet onion relish with fried shallots and fresh herbs completed the dish. Actually I have no idea exactly what the sweet relish-jam-like thing was but it went very well with the savoury components. It was a triumphant dish that sang to us. The next day, I made sure to order this again and my friends adored it too!

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However the same could not be said for the next two dishes. So impressed was Mum with the prawn rice and award that she ordered me to get more. I happily complied. We figured it was now, or spend much more when the restaurant opens. The Sai Grok Isaan: Northeast Sausage, were wieners on sticks. Served with some raw cabbage and other accompaniments, we were unsure what to do with them.

I really hoped the substance made up for the sad appearance but was solely disappointed. It lacked additives and devoid of crunch. Filled with fresh minced pork, we would have been happier if it was entitled Minced Pork on Sticks – at least that would have given us a different set of expectations. I have had better sausages from a street stall in Phuket.

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The Nahm Yaa Gai: Kanoom Jin Noodles with Chicken and Wild Ginger Sauce, was another disappointment. The lack of distinct flavours provided no ‘wow’ factor. Honestly, it wasted space in our tummies.

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I refused to give up on Long Chim. The next day I went back and got their other offerings. Thankfully, I achieved more luck with the Larb Chiang Mai: Minced Duck with shallots, mint and spices.

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With a combination of punchy flavours; spiciness and aggressive seasoning. The stir fried minced duck with generous fragrant shallots and chilli was delicious!

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But I fared even better with the desserts, Banana Fritters with Caramelised Coconut and Durian Ice Cream with Sesame Waffle. They were more impressive than the mains. I even went back for seconds despite my stuffed self.

Never EVER have I tasted Durian ice cream as good as Long Chim’s. Despite the unusual lack of fibrous durian pulp, the frozen custard was still so duriany and a textural success: thick and impossibly-smooth. The crisp Sesame Waffle made the dessert even more heavenly.

It also went very well with the Banana Fritters with Caramelised Coconut. Although my friends had an issue with the heavy crust, that could not distract me from the delicious shredded coconut jam around the ripe banana. I was in heaven especially when I smeared the durian ice cream on it. Perfection. Some of my friends complained about this dish being served up cold and soggy. I lucked out. Ordering at the start when the booth first opened, the fritters were freshly deep-fried then kindly served straight to my table.

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Look at the stunning box of Sesame Waffles: 

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Waku Ghin

Last year, this booth saw the longest line and this year was no different. On my first day, by 12pm, the queue extended to the seating area. Thankfully, I did not have to go through so much pain. I was the second customer that morning. See! Take my word for it. Go when the festival opens and no disappointment ever ensues. Quite frankly, I was a little underwhelmed with the three dishes for $54; the priciest of them all. Sure, Chef Tetsuya was a charming and sweet man but the muted flavours and often, under seasoned, dishes just did not leave a deep impression on me.

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The desserts were extremely popular but by the time I found out, the queues were excruciatingly long.

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On my first day, I got three dishes that were featured repeatedly on Instagram: Marinated Botan Shrimp with Sea Urchin and Caviar, Grilled Ohmi Beef with fresh wasabi and Tasmanian Short Rib with Truffle Jus.

The Grilled Ohmi Beef with fresh wasabi did melt in our mouths but the light fresh wasbi failed to register.  

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Marinated Botan Shrimp with Sea Urchin and Caviar was a tiny decadent bowl stuffed with fresh buttery uni and caviar

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Tasmanian Short Rib with Truffle Jus featured four tender slices of juicy pink short ribs. But it lacked the charred smokiness of a grilled beef and made me crave for a steak. With the smooth truffle-less jus, I looked at the stall’s popularity with pure wonderment. The next day, my friend queued up for ages for the same plate and was unimpressed too. 

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David Myers

David Myer impressed us most with his new age (according to Mum) and progressive (me) dishes. His dishes offered paid true to the ever-popular Asian/Fusion cuisine and he delivered with aplomb! Surprising us with his refreshing and complex flavour combinations, he commanded our attention. It was nothing like I tasted before. If this is L.A. food, I will be so comfortable in the city.

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Recommended by the Chef himself, the Green Papaya w Coconut Shooter was mind-blowing! He was so insistent on me ordering this dish, I could not say no even though it sounded weird. This cold dish consisted of a coconut soup, another impossibly-smooth custard, a large chunk of ripe green papaya surrounded by chewy jelly-balls that reminded us of tapioca pearls in Asian Bubble Teas. At first it was tasted predominantly sweet with subtle savoury notes. The custard soup danced in our mouths and the smoothness seduced our tongues. We reluctantly swallowed it but when we did, a rising spiciness came through. Wait, what was that? We were stunned. Incredible. We kept drinking the soup to experience it.

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On my second day, I insisted my friends get this and was only too happy to finish this bowl again.

The Prawns, Passionfruit & Salted Plum Creme Fraiche was another joyful surprise. Crunchy passionfruit seeds matched the unbelievably plump prawns. Superb.

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For dessert, my Mum and I shared the Mandarin Yuzu Kosho Freeze Pops. Intense yuzu flavour, it left a refreshing citrus aftertaste; the perfect end for my Mum and I after all the heavy food.

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You know what else was amazing? The Caramel-sweet Soy Popcorn. I mean, what the hell, it’s popcorn. How stunning could it get?! Oh no, not according to David Myers. He wanted us to forget those crappy theater or Garrett ones, and never forget his. Ever. SOY in popcorn? Huh?! He didn’t even try a salted-caramel combo but threw in SOY-FREAKING-SAUCE! The game-changer. Your taste buds will first be hit by the savoury soy but slowly and surely the sweetness AND spiciness comes through… I almost lost it when I first popped a corn in my mouth. It was so hard to stop at one piece. You would want to keep experiencing the change in flavours.

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The next day, my friends raved about the Steak Tartare. It was another triumphant dish. Unlike the French version, the juicy minced steak was not left alone and jam-packed with herbs, sesame seed (and pickles?) set on a stellar toast. You know I have a thing for good bread and this single piece of toast delighted me to no end.

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Sky on 57

In my social circle, this notorius restaurant on the top floor of MBS makes us laugh. It specializes in extremely pricey local food. To us it seemed absurb to imagine anyone trekking to MBS, riding the lifts up to the top floor, then plonk down money on food one could get from conveniently-located Hawker Centres for a fraction of the price. When I first saw the menu, the dishes seemed run-of-the-mill Chinese food. But after I tried three dishes from the booth, boy did I regret my earlier uninformed opinion! Every single dish was a flavour bomb. With bigger than dainty portions, we got our penny’s worth here.

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My Mum and I had the Foie Gras Xiao Long Bao with Superior Broth, Soft Shell Crab Salad with Ginger Flower Dressing, and Chiu Chow ‘Lu Shiu’ Duck Foie Gras on Toast. The last dish only because I overheard Chef Justin describe the components and I could not resist tasting it for myself. It was a good choice!

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I ordered two of Chef Justin’s Foie Gras Xiao Long Bao thinking it was $9 for one bao. It was a reasonable assumption as the restaurant serves up $25 Laksa and Chicken Rice; the same dishes one could get from a Hawker Centre for $3, $4 tops. But I was stunned to find it was $9 for a portion of three XLBs. That meant Mum and I,  after 11 dishes, had to eat three each(!) I was full up just looking at the bowls of bao floating in a thick broth. When I remarked to Chef Justin the generous portions and that I was fully expecting him to sell me $9 for one bao, he cheerfully replied: “no, here cheap and good, cheap and good!” Haha!! How charming. And guess what, despite our waistline bursting and fullness up to our throats, this superb bowl caused us to lap it all up.

The fillings were richly infused with silky-smooth goose liver matched by the silky XLB skin. An utter delight in every bite. The broth was indeed superior; smoothly-thick and chickeny. Anyone who has boiled Chinese chicken soup before knows just how difficult this is to achieve. My Mum insisted we finish it.

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By the way, the restaurant lists the same item on heir menu for $25 per portion. So thank you MBS for giving us the opportunity to have this at a more affordable price.

The seemingly simple Soft Shell Crab Salad with Ginger Flower Dressing was anything but. Large crunchy soft shell crab pieces dominated the small bowl with cubes of mango to provide a refreshing touch to it all. Impressive. 

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At $8, the Chiu Chow ‘Lu Shiu’ Duck Foie Gras on Toast was the best buy of the weekend! A huge piece of rich creamy Foie Gras was set on a crunchy-buttery toast with some pickled cucumber and tomato wedged in the middle. Balanced contrasting textures here.

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And just look how big the Foie Gras piece was:

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Cut

On my second day, I managed to get a taste of Wolfgang Puck’s, Cut. With ultra succinct items listed, we went for the Pulled Pork which was just average, and lucked out on the Crab and Shrimp Louis.

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A USA West Coast signature, the Crab and Shrimp Louis may have lacked any bold flavours but the fresh crab and shrimp with its refreshing flavours set atop a dish of mayo surrounded by a spicy Tomato-Horseradish, was perfectly executed. It immensely impressed us. 

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DB Bistro

At DB Bistro, my friends and I had the disappointing New York hotdog. But you know I have been spoilt silly by Potato Head Folk.

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The large Charcuterie Board was a stunner with the multi-coloured strips of assorted pates. The slices of toast with its crusty exterior and ever so tender interior accompanying them were perfect!

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The same could not be said about the disappointing densed mini Fresh Orange Madelines.

My friends went to get these two dishes from Ku De Ta which surprised us with the addictive heavy-handed Chillis and aburi-ed Tuna.

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The festival as not without its flaws. There was an annoying bit with the different ordering system for respective booths. There was an order and pay at the same counter system (Mozza, David Myer and Waku Ghin) or order with a Bouncer in front of the counter then pay to another person (Sky on 57), or pay then bring your receipt to a Bouncer in front of the counter (Lonh Ghim). It was a little irritating “figuring” out their system but I was too full of energy to grumble on my first day.

On my second day, I managed to walk around and spend more time in the rest of the areas. Much fun with my new friends and I will update on the other activities in a bit…

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