When we talk of innovative cuisine, does it always have to be about using the most expensive, unsustainable ingredients and presenting them —à la Ralph Fiennes in The Menu—with a challenging sneer to one’s media-ravenous guests?
Not so for Singapore Tourism Board, which hosted an eight-hander chef experience at Toyo Eatery that was precisely the opposite: a bringing together of four chefs who practice sustainability in their kitchens, both in Singapore and the Philippines.
With STB’s “Serve It, Singapore!” campaign, award-winning sustainability champions from Singapore, chefs LG Han of Labyrinth and Vijay Mudaliar of Native, worked together with chefs Jordy Navarra of Toyo Eatery and Stephan Duhesme of Metiz for a one-night-only “Sustainable Singapore Collaboration.”
As STB’s new area director Fang Xun Ong pointed out, “Sustainability is a very big topic right now, and we are excited to work with top industry players to develop an experience that also has an environmental impact.” Angelo Comsti, the book author, food consultant and travel writer who organized the event, also hit that point: “Sustainability is here to stay; it’s not just a buzzword, it’s something we should start normalizing,” noting that Toyo chef Navarra’s ongoing reinvention of Filipino cuisine was voted one of the Best Sustainable Restaurants of 2023.
Navarra hosted the three chefs in his kitchen, saying, “All of us here take that mindset when it comes to finding better ways to do things. For us, the goal is to spread the word, get people to try and find better ways to consume on Planet Earth, finding the best of what we have around us, and learning more about how we can do it properly and apply the processes we do.”
Chef Han of Labyrinth spoke of the challenges in a city-state like Singapore that imports most of its produce: “We are an urban city, a concrete jungle, we don’t have much space. But despite all that, we want to be sustainable despite the environment we’re in. We need to start doing this for future generations to come.”
Chef Duhesme of Metiz almost quit the food industry over the waste situation: “I was disillusioned about the lack of thought of what existing processes were in the industry,” he says. “Instead of saying I should stop working in the industry, I said, why not just create a restaurant where I want to be working? That’s really what you can do to change things for future generations.”
For chef Mudaliar, “There's a lot of things that can be changed in the industry that are almost 100 percent in our control. We saw that we could either look for convenience, look for something quick and fast, sellable, or take the time to go out to talk to farmers to get the produce — if it's not in season, not force it into the menu, things like that.”
So that was the manifesto. And it wasn’t just talk. The Toyo crowd then sat down for a blizzard of dishes that were part collaboration, part shining examples of each restaurant’s strengths.
Toyo welcomed us with a drink called “Sa Malamig”—pandan essence with brown sugar and nata de coco—which underlined that the first rule of a sustainable restaurant is to use local ingredients.
Then Native—a bar in Singapore that’s become a full-fledged restaurant—gave us a light and refreshing Roku gin cocktail made with calamansi, white peony and ginger flower to accompany snacks like Toyo’s spicy Siomai Rice, for which Navarra ferments organic black rice. Pancit Habhab was Lucban-style noodles on a banana leaf that we eagerly slid into our mouths. Native’s Miang Kham was a flavor and texture bomb wrapped in a leaf, while Labyrinth’s Otah, Tinapayang Tanigue, Kabayawa was a rustic take on fish. Metiz’s ensaymada was an excellent melange of savory and sweet flavors with mustasa leaf and egg yolk.
Native’s next cocktail had diners raving about its whisky base with mango, basil, ginger and clarified lime. Our tablemate, photographer Paco Guerrero, called it “dangerously good.”
It went well with Native’s vegan cold somen noodles with white kimchi, which was inspired by Korean ramyeon.
Metiz’s Inihaw na Puso ng Saging—grilled banana heart with caramelized cashews on top, monggo emulsion and egg topped with ensalada— was equally good.
Toyo’s bourbon whisky cocktail with suha syrup topped with bignay wine accompanied Kamias, Kamatis, Kabute, which focused on Central Visayan sour fruits like tomato, green mango and kamias to make a sauce for milky mushrooms. Such a creative, interesting dish.
For his chili crab dish, chef Han used different parts of the crab, from the claw to the fat, and combined local lemongrass, ginger and tomatoes for the sauce, which we loved dipping his malunggay powder-sprinkled mantou into.
Native’s cocktail of Ceylon Arrack and Sri Lankan spices was a demonstration of no-waste, since it included old coconut and pineapple skin covered with cinnamon.
For the mains, Toyo served a tortang talong with house-made banana ketchup, while Metiz contributed a Cabbage, Potato, Shrimp dish. Native’s Massa-mole Curry with Belimbing Salsa was robust and flavorful, and our server doled out Labyrinth’s Hainanese chicken rice—its chili sauce made from a recipe by Han’s grandmother—in bowls over Dorado rice. This was so comforting and soul-satisfying that it sated any hunger left in us.Dessert was Amazake ice cream, Mangga, Dikay. With the ice cream made from fermented Japanese rice, it was grassy, refreshing and unique.
The accompanying red cocktail was also novel—green mango juice and gin with Tublay lemon and Taugtug syrup.
Halo-halo is always welcome at the end of a feast, and Toyo Eatery’s version with finely shaved ice, toasted black rice ice cream, raspberry and hibiscus tea—a perfect encapsulation of mix-mixing ingredients and food styles to sustain enjoyment as long as possible.