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An Afternoon With Singapore Culinary Icon Violet Oon

On a sweltering Sunday afternoon, Discovery Primea kicked off their The Hub Series at Flame by welcoming Singapore culinary celebrity, Violet Oon, for a truly wonderful three hours. In these three hours, we had a cooking class of three iconic Peranakan dishes, entertaining banter, and non-stop libations. If this is a glimpse of what these Hub Series will be like, sign me up for the long haul. While I confess to being all thumbs when it comes to the kitchen, I’ve always been fascinated by the Culinary Arts, with food preparation, and the personalities who have emerged as spokespersons for this ‘world’.

 



One of the acknowledged champions and ambassadors of Singapore cuisine, Violet Oon owns and runs a group of restaurants that bear her name; Violet Oon Singapore, National Kitchen by Violet Oon (at the National Gallery of Singapore), and Clarke Quay’s Violet Oon Satay Bar & Grill. A spry 69, she has had a colourful life, starting off as a theatre actress and opera singer, then embarking on a journalism career as music and food critic, before launching her own food magazine. As food ambassador for Nyonya (which she explained is interchangeable with Peranakan) cuisine, she has not looked back, being tapped constantly to head missions and initiatives that have been instrumental in making Singapore cooking go global over the decades.

Violet Oon is a natural raconteur, so that even as one who is utterly useless with an apron, I was thoroughly entertained throughout the afternoon. First, she confessed that she can’t stand the smell of cooking, and made sure that there are sets of double doors in all her eating establishments - so there went the notion of romanticising the fragrance that emanates from the kitchen. She then declared that while Healthy has its merits, it is often bland and tasteless!

Hands-on cooking classes? She derided them as more like participants showing off, and felt the more traditional teacher-class format was still far more effective. Shortcuts just don’t work when one is learning; and most telling, she said that the secret to learning to cook, is to forget everything you know. It’s only by being ready to absorb something new and what’s being taught that one can properly decide if it’s worth keeping or forming part of your ‘knowledge’.

 


Assisting Violet Oon during the Cooking Class was her right hand person, Shamaine. And it was wonderful when it was revealed that Shamaine comes from Iloilo. She’s been with Violet for some years now, and rather than being assigned to one restaurant, she’s is literally by Violet’s side, even in the course of Violet’s travels.

 

My favorite that afternoon, the Calamansi Lemongrass Steamed Fish



The first dish prepared was the Singapore Style Calamansi Lemongrass Steamed Fish; and it had a wonderful salty-sour tang, the seabass succulent and moist. The Pepper Prawns—don’t skimp on the butter, and insist on high quality Black Pepper; and her signature Singapore Chilli Crabs —she recommended Amoy Dark Soya Sauce, were the dishes presented that afternoon. 

 

Pepper Prawns in the wok.

 

Violet's signature Singapore Chili Crab


Thank you Chef Luis Chikiamco and Margaux Hontiveros! A Sunday afternoon well spent, and turned delicious!

 

 

Photos by Philip Cu-Unjieng

Lead photo from Discovery Primea