Singapore Lolla: Asian Flavors Blended with French Cuisine by Chef Johanne

At the end of March, I was delighted to attend the “Asia’s Best Food Power Women Lunch” at Lolla, a restaurant in Singapore, on the eve of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony. I received an invitation from André Chiang and enjoyed the lunch. Chef Johanne Siy, who was recently honored with the “2023 Asia’s Best Female Chef Award,” was present at the event. Lolla restaurant was undoubtedly on my must-visit list.

André came to Singapore this time to support Chef Zor at Born & Johanne at Lolla and to see their performance. I asked about his thoughts on their performance.

André expressed his deep appreciation. He felt joy in witnessing young chefs showcasing their true selves and realized that when young chefs work in one place for a long time, their ideas can become rigid, believing that only one approach is correct and all other methods are wrong. In the restaurant industry in Singapore, he believes that training should focus on helping young chefs find their own identity and discover their unique style in the process. Johanne’s personality is just like her cuisine—genuine and transparent. She is happy and radiant, and her cooking is straightforward. That was how she was during her time at Restaurant André. Her mastery of flavors is exceptionally precise. Therefore, when André sees that everyone who has come out of Restaurant André is more true to themselves, he feels immense happiness. He believes this heritage is not limited to Singapore alone but can be seen throughout Asia as the next generation of chefs gradually develops their styles.

Filipino chef Johanne Siy of Lolla in Singapore wins Asia’s Best Female Chef Award for 2023. Born in Dagupan, Philippines, Siy left a corporate career to pursue a passion for the culinary arts. She trained at The Culinary Institute of America in New York and has apprenticed under chefs Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin) and Daniel Boulud (Café Boulud). Her experiences in the kitchens of the world’s leading restaurants also include a four-year stint at Restaurant André (Singapore). Afterward, Chef Johanne embarked on a journey to explore various Nordic countries and refine her culinary skills at several high-end restaurants, including the eye-opening experiences at Noma and Relae in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Fäviken in Sweden. This period became a significant turning point in her career.

I asked her why she chose to go to the Nordic countries to learn instead of other regions. “I decided to go to the Nordic countries because they had a unique approach to high-level cuisine. For the most part, Nordic cuisine embraced the ingredients’ natural qualities. Their system had a sense of organicity that resonated with me. It focused more on embracing ingredients’ natural forms and flavors rather than meticulously cutting them into perfect dice and masking their flavors with numerous components.

Additionally, seasonality played a significant role due to the extreme weather conditions. Learning to cook with the seasons is at the core of what we do because there’s nothing quite like capturing the fleeting nature of ingredients. A strawberry, for example, is at its sweetest and juiciest only during a specific period. Serving that strawberry at its peak is genuinely transformative,” she explained.

Another interest of hers lies in bread-making. Driven by an intense thirst for knowledge, she took up an apprenticeship at Andersen & Maillard in Copenhagen to learn the art of sourdough bread-making. Upon returning to Singapore, she worked at a local sourdough bakery called Starter Lab, leading a team in product development efforts. A meal at Lolla is a testament to her gathered experiences and cooking ethos.

One of Lolla’s signature dishes is the stuffed crab, known as “relleno.” It features crab meat accompanied by aligue sauce (crab fat sauce) and Kaffir lime. This dish is an ode to home – featuring ‘aligue’, a paste of river crab tomalley cooked with aromatics. This is the main component in the sauce that ties the dish together. It is served ‘relleno’ style (meaning stuffed), after local dishes that Johanne grew up eating. At the bottom of the shell burnt cabbage and pearl couscous. There are three kinds of crabs at heart – blue crabs, zuwaigani, and river crabs. Topped with a smoked paprika foam, kaffir lime oil, kaffir lime leaves, and mustard flowers. No need for explanation; this dish is simply delicious. It embodies the abundant umami of her hometown flavors.

Crab ‘Relleno’, Aligue Sauce, Kaffir Lime

Another popular appetizer is “Caviar, Sturgeon, and Egg Yolk Sauce.” It features sturgeon paired with sturgeon caviar and egg yolk sauce. Lolla’s tasting menu reflects the restaurant’s commitment to reducing kitchen waste and promoting sustainable practices. For example, the herb sauce is made from handcrafted extracts of natural herbs, and it is complemented with Parmesan cheese crisps, a variety of spices, herbal plants, flower petals, and other ingredients to enhance the flavor profile.

Caviar, Sturgeon, Egg Yolk Sauce

Another dish, “Razor Clams with Oyster Custard,” despite their tedious preparation process, is beloved by Johanne for capturing the sweet, delicate saltiness of the ocean. Their incredible texture never fails to impress! This dish features lightly poached razor clams served with an elegant oyster custard. The sauce is a simple concoction made by combining the juices released from the clams during cooking with a touch of cream and finished with a delicate drizzle of dill oil. Each bite offers a delightful combination of the ocean’s wonderful sweetness and subtle briny freshness, leaving diners in awe. Finally, a gentle garnish of dill oil adds a slight aromatic note to the dish.

This dish, “Avocado, Smoked Eel, Eel Consommé, Yuzu,” makes a solid visual impression. It originated from Johanne’s challenge to elevate a common brunch ingredient – avocado. Finding the perfect avocado is a difficult task as they tend to oxidize rapidly. As a result, the entire team at Lolla now includes avocados in their daily diet. The avocado is prepared unconventionally, cut in the opposite direction of the usual method. It is filled with a jellified consommé created from Spanish smoked eel’s skin, bones, and trimmings. Served alongside are slices of cucumber, house-made black garlic, seasonal flowers, and herb stems. The sauce accompanying the dish is a house-made ponzu sauce enriched with coconut milk. Finally, the dish is finished table-side with a jalapeno-cucumber granita, achieving a balance of richness and freshness. Though it appears substantial, it quickly disappears from the plate.

Razor Clams with Oyster Custard/Avocado, Smoked Eel, Eel Consommé, Yuzu

“Abalone, King Oyster Mushroom, Mushroom Consommé” is another popular dish. It was inspired by Chef Johanne’s observation that certain mushrooms resemble the cross-section of an abalone. The dish combines the earthy flavors and textures of mushrooms with the delicate abalone. Skewered abalone and king oyster mushrooms are served with a sauce made from truffle, kombu, and abalone liver, garnished with kalamansi zest and cremini mushroom slices. The consommé is prepared from a broth of vegetables and eight mushroom varieties, clarified twice. The combination of flavors, textures, and artistic presentation make this dish truly amazing.

The last main course – CARABINERO are very lightly grilled and served with a small salad (greens mostly comprising of perfectly beautiful and delicious by-products of other items we use like baby carrot tops), a sauce made from prawn heads and finished with spring onion oil. The dish is served with house-made potato bread to mop up all the sauce and juices.

CARABINERO

A house-made sambal made from the juice pulp from the jalapeño granita that goes with our avocado serving. These giant carabineros from Spain are very carefully sourced from the very best suppliers.

Having a conversation with Chef Johanne, one can feel her vibrant energy, clear and bright gaze, and directness, which are all reflected in her dishes.

Regarding Johanne Siy’s idea of managing her own restaurant, she mentioned that the business is not just about making profits but also about caring for the staff. She aspires to give back to society and help others succeed in their careers, just as André did for her. Whether it’s through training or preparing them for future success, it holds great importance to her.

In terms of dish creation, Johanne always starts with the primary ingredients, considering how to elevate them to their best state rather than masking their characteristics. Her foundation is rooted in modern European style, but she also incorporates influences from her own cultural traditions and Asian background. She aims to showcase some Filipino flavors in her cuisine and incorporates unique ingredients from her homeland and other Southeast Asian regions.

The entire meal unfolds in a relaxed rhythm, resembling a seafood feast, but the attention to detail is incredibly gentle and delicate, delivering a robust taste without being heavy. Chef Johanne seamlessly blends Asian flavors into the foundation of French cuisine, and dishes reflect her authentic and delicious style. Her experiences showcase her worldview and the energy she radiates, making her future worth paying attention to.

文字: Jocelyn 华姐
图片: Katherine Gu
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Jocelyn Chen
Jocelyn Chen
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