Chef Andrew Walsh and Chef Bjorn Shen on the second edition of Ember Curates at the One&Only Desaru Coast
When two worlds collide
The Ember Beach Club at One&Only Desaru Coast is a vibrant, first-class beachfront dining destination set against the stunning blue sky and crystal clear waters. In the evening, the scene turns even more spectacular with majestic glowing sunsets and a cool night breeze, creating the perfect setting for diners. Last month, the restaurant hosted its second edition of ‘Ember Curates: Andrew & Friends’ experience—a collaborative showcase between Michelin Starred Chef Andrew Walsh and his selected guest of the occasion. This round, he joins forces with celebrity Chef Bjorn Shen, resident judge of MasterChef Singapore and owner of Artichoke Singapore. Combining his distinct Middle Eastern expertise and Chef Walsh’s Japanese finesse based on his newly rebranded Catfish Izakaya, the event was a gastronomic adventure for the books.
Ahead, we caught up with the two maestros to glean an inside look at how they worked together for the memorable night.
What do you look forward to most with these Andrew and Friends sessions?
Andrew: “Some sense of openness, collaboration and learning something new every time. Although my background is in fine dining, I love all kinds of food. A burger, a hotdog, pizza—you name it, I’m obsessed with all different types of food. I’m very big on diversity. I don’t feel chefs—like artists and singers—should be pigeonholed into one type of cuisine. It’s a big world out there. To sum it up, the ability to learn about new cuisines and explore different cultures and what they offer, that’s what I love about it.”
Catfish is modern Japanese while Artichoke is Middle Eastern cuisine—how do you combine these two culinary worlds into one single menu?
Bjorn: “I love mixing cuisines. I’m all about mashups. So, the more different-sounding the cuisines are, the more exciting the menu. Japanese and Middle Eastern? Bring it on! You always find parallels and ingredients you can riff on, even if your ideas don’t work the first time. Eventually, you’ll get something. There are no two cuisines that cannot work together.”
How did the collaboration happen?
Andrew: “Bjorn came to Catfish for lunch and tried our new menu. He was impressed, and we started chatting, and that’s how it came together!”
What was your highlight of the event?
Bjorn: “The whole thing went well to me, so I don’t think that there’s a particular highlight. However, this has been one of my favourite events, and that’s saying a lot, as I do a lot of overseas collaborations. I’ve had three of these in the last three months, and I have one more coming up in Manila.”
What’s one dish that you were most excited to prepare?
Bjorn: “I was extraordinarily excited with the rice donabe because we didn’t try it beforehand. I had lunch at Catfish and decided to see what I could add and complement to their new menu. I was given this superb bowl—a clay pot of unagi rice—and I thought, since we’re in Malaysia, I wanted to do a ‘tabouleh’ of local herbs. So yeah, that was my most anticipated one. It tastes kind of like a Nasi Ulam.”
As One&Only is big on sustainability, how did you incorporate that into your menu?
Andrew: “Nothing was wasted. I think using all cuts of the animal is important. My team was also our picking the herbs around here as well. Just a little touches here and there.”
Bjorn: “We took many Laksa leaves from O&O’s garden, Vietnamese coriander, and that tabouleh itself was made using local ingredients.”
From this experience, what have you learned from each other’s working styles?
Andrew: “The engagement was calm and collected, which I liked. It was a very smooth service, credited to not just Bjorn and myself, but also our teams behind it. And just seeing new things and taking up Bjorn’s cuisine and learning.”
Bjorn: “You know, there are so many facets to Chef Andrew here. He represents so many different cuisines. He has many different brands, so this is me interacting with his Japanese cuisine. It was nice to be able to take a part of Andrew to work with for this event.”
From your observations, are there any dining trends Malaysia needs to catch up with?
Andrew: “Wherever you go in the world, it just gets better and better—the food, the restaurants and the chefs. There will always be trends that come and go, but I think Malaysia has a strong foundation of young Malaysian chefs coming through and breaking the Top 50 of Michelin. I’m always weary of the word trend. Ultimately, it has got to taste good, be driven by a great concept, is sustainable and have longevity. I think if we stick to that, there’s a future. For Malaysia, as long as it sticks to its amazing local food and that foundation.”
Bjorn: “I think there are things you can do in Malaysia that I wish I could do in Singapore, like a true farm-to-table or market-to-table restaurant. In Singapore, when you try to push that trend, a level of engineering goes into it. Here, a lot of things are at arm’s length. And what we’ve learned from fine dining and global restaurant trends from the last 10 years is that you don’t always need to use imported, expensive products. You can make the best restaurants by using what’s around you, no matter how humble those ingredients are. It just takes creativity and skill.”
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