The District of Columbia has been a great host city for Top Chef this season. It’s been eye-opening to spend a block of time in the seat of our nation’s governance, to be surrounded by and have our brief intersections with makers of domestic and foreign policy. Even reading the Washington Post was a treat – they cover the goings-on on the Hill in far greater depth on a daily basis than other newspapers do. It’s also been very interesting to be in a stand-alone city that is not under the larger jurisdiction of a state. So it made good sense to me that the finale for such a season would “go international”…and that it would be held, of all places, in a City-State.
Singapore was the perfect choice for a Top Chef season finale. It is a well-known axiom that eating is Singapore’s national pastime. To the last of them, Singaporeans are passionate about food. And knowledgeable, though none more so than our guest judge K. F. Seetoh, author of Makansutra, the definitive guide to everything from street food to fine dining in Singapore. He explained that there was a time when people prepared food in their homes, brought a hibachi to the streets, and cooked and sold what they’d prepared, but that about twenty years ago, the government recognized that this could be a health hazard and organized the hawker market, assigning spaces, rigging running water, inspecting regularly…and the hawker market of today was born. Seetoh was a lot of fun to work with and very knowledgeable. On our second day there, he took us around to all of the markets, where I stumbled upon a very interesting preparation of pork: It had been compressed into sheets and grilled. I brought some back to the States with me. I have said before that a chef can’t help but be inspired by the foods s/he tastes while traveling. My time in Singapore – especially that day in the hawker markets with Seeto – made its way into a dish I made for a dinner party in my home shortly after I returned. I made a cuttlefish dish in which I grilled the cuttlefish, cut it into pieces, and mixed it with that pork, along with cilantro, chilies, sugar and vinegar (It was a hit!).