“He’s amazed by how big the live frogs are. They’re almost double the size of those in France!” his interpreter said.
There was Joël Robuchon, the greatest chef on earth with 26 Michelin-stars (think Oscars) at the Kreta Ayer market in Singapore’s Chinatown at 6.30 in the morning. He’s humble, wide-eyed and interested.
No stranger to live frogs though, they make popular cooked dishes on his menu around the world. But to see such plump amphibians is apparently an eye-opener.
Visiting local markets wherever he goes has become part of his travelling routine, or some might call it an ‘occupational hazard.’ Mr. Robuchon has visited the farmers markets in California and the markets in Hong Kong, to which he opined, “Singapore’s wet market is very clean as compared to that in Hong Kong.” He was impressed with the hygiene level of Singapore’s stall vendors and how they kept their space tidy.
We had a big team touring the wet market. Mr. Robuchon was in town to put the finishing touches to his two restaurants—L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Joël Robuchon Restaurant—due to open soon at Resorts World Sentosa, and he had his travelling companions with him; notable chefs who had worked with the maestro for decades. Incorporating the use of local produce is what makes each of his individual restaurants unique around the world. So this is akin to a study trip.
They scrutinised every stall, from the chicken to the pork, and from live frog to seafood. They even whipped out their mobile phones for a quick capture. (Btw, did I mention Mr. Robuchon has a FaceBook page, which he updates regularly. Talk about tech-savvy French chefs!)
It never crossed my mind that slaughtering fish could be an art until this French chef pointed it out. Watching how the fishmonger gutted, scaled and filleted the fish with swift fell strokes, he expressed his admiration. “I haven’t seen fishmongers fillet their fish with such speed and dexterity. I must say they’re at the top of their game,” Mr. Robuchon said, smiling.
Not too far away, we arrived at the vegetables section where the master crushed pandan and curry leaves for a good sniff. He was quite taken with the curry leaves, which had an intense aroma.
The peanuts with roots still dangling were also quite a sight to behold. When we mentioned they are mainly imported from China, Mr. Robuchon shared he had never been to the Far East but is keen on a visit, after his friends have shared how Shanghai’s bustling atmosphere is perfect for opening restaurants. (You heard it here first!)
After a hard day’s work, finally, it’s time for kopi break! So we spread the love. It started with the famous glutinous rice, then chee kueh (steamed rice cake), chee cheong fun (steamed rice noodle roll), yam cake (which Mr. Robuchon liked!), fishball soup, rojak and of course the local kopi. Mr. Robuchon had his with milk and sugar, while mere mortals could only watch on. Ok, I’m kidding, I ate too, and not just the leftovers. With that, the day at the market came to a happy end. I wonder where the next ‘gallivanting’ will be.