During a special virtual workshop held in line with Brunei Gastronomy Week 2022, culinary students and budding young chefs had the opportunity to learn from Chef Mark Tai, a 2021 Michelin-Guide Young Chef Award-winner chef from Cloudstreet Restaurant, Singapore.
Organised by the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism (MPRT) through the Tourism Development Department in collaboration with the Institute of Brunei Technical Education (IBTE) and Cloudstreet Restaurant, the Brunei Gastronomy Workshop was a new initiative that aimed to offer participants a chance to enhance their culinary skills by learning from an internationally celebrated chef.
The workshop attracted 17 participants, comprising IBTE students and budding young chefs, held virtually through the Zoom application, and facilitated by the IBTE.
Chef Mark was keen to be part of the collaboration to inspire Bruneian chefs to find the inner spark for creativity.
Among the dishes Chef Tai chose for the workshop was French poulet with spiced turnip (a twist on buttermilk chicken) in fine-dining standard.
In an interview with the Weekend Bulletin, the coveted chef said, “It was my first virtual cook along with these participants. For Brunei Gastronomy Week, I reimagined and elevated a traditional Bruneian dish and made it my own. I wanted to showcase what we do at Cloudstreet by showing them techniques that are commonly used in restaurants.”
Chef Mark shared with participants fundamental cooking techniques and culinary skills, such as the inspiration behind the creation of a dish, kitchen tips and tricks for the aspiring chefs and, most importantly, how to plate a dish.
Elaborating on fundamental techniques and skills, he said, “The first is using the thermal circulator to cook the chicken, allowing the chicken to be cooked evenly while staying tender and juicy. “Next is the use of xanthan gum. It is a thickening agent and emulsifier to bind moisture to prevent products from separating. It is commonly used at restaurants as it provides us with consistent results.
“Vegetables are often under-utilised and mostly used as a side. I wanted to highlight the use of vegetables, showcasing the robust and bold flavours that could be extracted from them when cooked the right way. The vegetable sauce that we made during the workshop is one that we have used at Cloudstreet since the beginning. It is made by roasting the vegetables and then simmering and reducing it to a flavourful sauce.”
Asked of his impression of the students and young budding chefs at the workshop, he said, “Everyone was enthusiastic and excited about the new skills and techniques.”
Chef Tai also shared his culinary journey. “My love for food started when I was a kid,” he said. “Influenced by my mother’s cooking, I decided to pursue a hospitality and tourism course at Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore.
“During my internship at Saint Pierre, I fell in love with the adrenaline rush and fun in the kitchen and decided to further my education at the Culinary Institute of America, Singapore (CIA). It was there where I was given the opportunity to train at one of New York’s best fine dining establishments – Eleven Madison Park.”
After his stint at Eleven Madison Park, Chef Tai staged at Restaurant Quince in San Francisco, and returned to Singapore to head the kitchen at 28 Hongkong Street.
“Prior to my appointment as the head chef of Cloudstreet, I was the head chef at Cheek by Jowl for two years. Retaining the Michelin Star at Cheek by Jowl from 2017 to 2018 was one of my most fulfilling experiences,” he said.
With regards to the 2021 Michelin-Guide Young Chef Award, he said, “I am really grateful and honoured to receive this award. It is a great motivation as the time and effort which I have put into my work has been recognised by the industry.”
In terms of experience, he said, “The biggest challenge I have faced was being a head chef for the first time at 28 Hongkong Street and managing the kitchen. With the help of my then boss who was very supportive; as well as the team, I was able to adjust to my new role quickly and win many awards during my time there.”
Sharing some key values and practices that have helped him achieve success, he said, “Be disciplined and actively practise your craft; have attention to detail; keep an open mind about everything and don’t stop learning.”
Back when Chef Tai won the 2021 Michelin-Guide Young Chef Award, he advised young chefs to “persevere, work hard, and see the world now, if you can”. Elaborating on this with the Weekend Bulletin, he said, “I believe that perseverance is important as working in the kitchen can be tough due to the hours involved. It can be very demanding both physically and mentally.
“As a chef, it’s great to be able to travel the world and possibly work in overseas kitchens while one is young and just entering the industry. It is very important to expand one’s horizons and explore, try and see what the world has to offer with regards to ingredients, food from different cultures and work opportunities.”
Imparting some further advice for aspiring chefs in Brunei Darussalam, he said, “Never stop learning. I am also still learning from everyone at this stage.”