Asia’s Best Female Chef 2023 works with every part of the ingredient.
“I lived so close to the beach, and I remember a bridge I crossed daily that was packed with vendors selling oysters. I smell the brininess from oysters, and that’s a powerful olfactory memory. Every time I think of oysters or see oysters, it brings me back to my hometown,” chef Johanne Siy said in an interview in Vogue Philippines’ May 2023 issue. Siy was talking about Dagupan, Pangasinan, the place where her most vivid food memories come from.
It was fitting, then, that a special six-course dinner she prepared for a homecoming visit would be all about seafood. Held at the showroom of Eluria, Arthaland’s newest prestige green development, the dinner unfolded like an intimate dinner party held in one’s state-of-the-art apartment.
Guests, mingling in the foyer, began with canapes of bite-sized chutoro tartare tarts painted with squid ink and layered with sugar snap peas. “Instead of throwing out the pea shells, we juice them and serve them alongside the tart as a refreshing shot,” Siy says, introducing us to her sustainability-driven approach to cooking that has garnered accolades for Lolla, the restaurant in Singapore where she has been working as head chef since 2020.
Using every part of the ingredient in harmony is a theme carried throughout the rest of the meal, enjoyed as we circulated around the Eluria model unit. A caviar dish is paired with a sturgeon croquette, because, Siy explains, “I love serving ingredients with either things they grow with, things they eat, or their source. To me, this is important to give a bit more context to the food that we serve, so we never forget where ingredients come from and what beings give up their lives for our sustenance. We’ve been over-exposed to caviar. But have we ever eaten it with the fish it’s harvested from?”
A skewer of king oyster mushroom and abalone is served with a sauce made from the abalone’s liver—something normally discarded—and kombu, the kelp that the abalone eats. The foamy, kaffir lime-spiked crab relleno, a popular dish from Lolla, is stuffed with three kinds of crab and aligue, a paste made of river crab tomalley, which I just found out is actually the pancreas of the crab.
The dinner’s pièce de résistance is the grilled Carabinero, a giant prawn from Spain served with a sauce made from its head, with a side of spicy sambal paste created from other kitchen by-products. A warm slab of potato bread was used to mop up all the juices.
Last, but definitely not least on the menu, was the refreshing milk parfait with three kinds of wild strawberries, drizzled with hazelnut oil. “This dessert brings me back. I used to forage for these small wild strawberries when I was working in Sweden,” Siy says, referring to the now-closed restaurant Fäviken of chef Magnus Nilsson.
As a restaurant in a natural resource-challenged place like Singapore, Lolla sources its high-quality ingredients from producers in several different countries. Perhaps there’s something innately Filipino about letting nothing go to waste, but Siy’s time spent in kitchens and farms around the world has also instilled in her a deeply rooted respect for ingredients. At Noma in Denmark, for instance, where the weather can be extreme, scarcity forces resourcefulness and encourages creativity.
“I’ve worked in farms before, and I know how back-breaking it can be,” she says. “This perspective has taught me to value the ingredients I work with—every part of them.”