Chefs are my rockstars and I am a Chef groupie, fan and foodie. Join me as I talk to these talented individuals.
Salted & Hung is one of the 12 featured restaurants in the 2017 EATSingapore book, a keepsake that gives you one-for-one mains or discounts at their selected restaurants. Read our interview with the founder of EATSingapore, Karin van Vliet, here.
I suppose when you hear the name, Salted & Hung, you immediately know what this restaurant might be about. What you don’t know, however, is that as simple as it sounds, Salted & Hung is anything but. The overall philosophy of “less is more” may be apparent on the plate, but it is actually the “more is more” effort that occurs behind the scenes that makes the food what it is.
I dined here last year (with my EATSingapore book, of course) and was surprised and delighted by the fantastic service, great ambience and of course, the amazing flavours and textures brought to me on a plate. Expect to find out-of-the-ordinary ingredients like tongue, tripe and hearts on the menu. Also be prepared to enjoy them because they are delicious.
Chef Drew has more passion for his craft than almost anyone I’ve ever met. He grew up on his family’s farm in Queensland, Australia. The family business actually grew mostly fruit and vegetables but they had their own livestock for butchery. Even at the age of five, Chef Drew was already helping his family make charcuterie and learning how to use every bit of an animal so nothing was wasted.
I got the opportunity to talk to Chef Drew Nocente about his restaurant and what he’d like you to know about it.
Why did you become a chef?
I became a chef basically because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Like many young kids in Australia, I got dumped in a restaurant because our school made us do work experience. My cousin who owned a restaurant said I could work for him for a couple weeks. I was 15 at the time and I loved it so I stuck with it. It was fun, like the rock star lifestyle. I fell in love with it.
Tell us about Salted & Hung and why you opened it,
Me and Peng (renowned hotelier and restaurateur Loh Lik Peng from Unlisted Collection) worked together in China and opened Table No. 1 there. When I left China and came here, we couldn’t start another restaurant right away, so we just waited and worked on coming up with the right concept and space. We then opened Fifth Quarter which didn’t actually suit the style we were after so we changed it a bit and turned it into Salted & Hung. The concept pretty must stayed the same. Contemporary Australian but with a base in charcuterie. Peng and I always had the same vision for the place and what we wanted to do. Salted & Hung as it is now suits our personalities a lot more.
Why did you name it Salted & Hung?
It used to be one of our hashtags for Fifth Quarter so we wanted to take a little bit from there. It’s also alot of what we do. We hang meat, we salt alot of our food. It just came together.
What is the concept behind Salted & Hung?
Charcuterie will always be there, it was one of the first things I started doing when I was a little fella. Some days I feel like it’s the main factor, sometimes I feel it’s the one little thing holding it all together. I guess there isn’t one key factor. It’s all the little things than come together to make a whole.
Our overall concept is Contemporary Australian (if you have to pigeonhole it). But we draw from our charcuterie, we draw from all the little things. Coming from the farm, I started in an environment where nothing was wasted. I was just five when I started making charcuterie. Every winter we would butcher one pig, one cow and not waste any of it. All parts of the animals were used, everything – offal, different cuts – nothing was wasted and we stick to that approach here.
What kind of food do you create?
I create food that I like to eat. We look at different ingredients and play with them. I get inspiration from different areas around town, from talking to other chefs. This year, I’m looking forward to working with other chefs on collaborative dinners. That inspires me. I draw inspiration from going out and doing different things. What we put on a plate is very hard to tie down to one little thing but mostly, I think it’s just us wanting to play with our food.
How would you describe the menu and what inspires you when creating the menu.
The menu itself changes as produce comes in and out of season. Or as it comes in and out of favour with me and my team (laughs). Usually we rotate menu items every three months. It keeps things new and fun but it is challenging sometimes to come up with ideas to keep things new and fresh.
Can you let us know what produce or techniques you are really passionate about at the moment?
At the moment, I’m really passionate about XO sauce. I’m making my own XO sauce. It’s one of my favourite things so we started making it. We just substitute the Chinese ingredients with our other house-cured products. It still has the basics like the prawns and scallops but we add in items we make in house like chorizo and we use togarashi instead of the normal chilli. It just came on the menu, the rib eye with pickled cabbage and XO sauce and it’s probably my favourite dish right now.
Other than the Ribeye with XO you just mentioned, do you have a favourite item on your menu?
My favourite dish usually changes to the one I’ve just created. Even my veal heart that has just been added to the menu, is up there as one of my favourites right now. Normally when I create a dish, it stays as my favourite for a bit.
Is there anything interesting you’re currently working on?
We’re bringing in some slipper lobster to play with. I’m doing a dinner in Bangkok so I want to play with that. The veal heart just got put on the menu, it’s very simple, cured and nicely charred with some wasabi emulsion. The flavours and textures are very cool, quite different and not tough like you would expect.
What do you want people to know about your restaurant?
It’s a fun place to come, hang out, eat food and have a good time. That’s what we always wanted it to be. No matter who you are or what you do, you can always come in, have something to eat, have a drink, have a laugh, listen to some Aussie music. What I’ve always wanted was a restaurant that was fun.
Come in with an open mind. Some products like tripe, veal heart or tongue may not be what you normally eat all the time but they could turn into your favourite dish. One of my friends brought their mum in and she had never tried anchovy, tongue, tripe or anything like that, they said it was amazing. You should never look at food and say “you can’t eat that”. Come in and try it. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t. At least you know.
Every dish has gone through countless trials and stages. We don’t just copy someone else. Every dish has gone through liking, hating, being ready to trash it… then we crack the code and stick with it. That’s what Chef’s do. All their dishes are have that emotional connection. It’s not just churning out food. Every dish has layers and elements that it has to go through to make sure we’re happy with it. To make sure it represents my philosophy, the restaurant and my team as well. Every dish can represent alot and it’s not just a piece of meat on a plate.
You mentioned your philosophy. What is that?
I just like good food. I went through my stage of fine dining and I didn’t enjoy it as much as what I do now. I’m more about four to five elements on a plate – less is more. But it’s all the backup work that goes into it. You might only see three things on a plate but the protein itself might have gone through a smoke, a cure, maybe a brine. There’s three or four stages before we even cook it that no one ever sees. There’s a less is more philosophy on the plate, but behind the scenes, it’s more is more. People look at it and think it’s just a few things on a plate, but really what they don’t know, is that there may be three sauces that go with it. Elements may take 15 or 16 hours to make. There are alot of elements that go into a dish and it’s not just four things on a plate… it’s far from that.
Everything we make in house, just for the fact that we know what goes into it. We know what meat goes into the sausages, we know what spices are used. There are no hidden ingredients. We know what’s in there because we put it there.
What’s next for you?
This year’s all about collabs, like we’re going to Bangkok to do a dinner with Free Bird. Then we’re doing something with Park Bench Deli. All year we’re doing one or two events every month. There’s a craft beer dinner coming up with the guys from Stockade Brew Co. from Australia, we might do something with Monkey Shoulder later on. In February we’ve got two of the MasterChefs coming up, Wai Leong from MasterChef Asia and Reynold Poernomo from Australia.
How do we stay up to date on all your events?
What would you say to anyone interested in becoming a chef?
It’s hard. It’s not glamourous at all but if you have the passion for it, it’s the best life in the world. It’s a passion driven career. It’s not fame driven, it’s not money driven. It’s not work-life balance driven. You have to create your own work-life balance even if that’s at 2am in the morning… but it’s an awesome life.
You get to do what you love every day and you get to see people react when they love what you do. It’s a very cool thing to do but it’s also one of the hardest things to do as well.
Thank you so much, Chef Drew, we are equally inspired and starving!
For more information:
Phone: +65 6358 3130
Address: 12 Purvis Street, 188591 Singapore
Weekdays – 11.30 to 2.30pm (last order at 2pm), 5pm to 10.30pm (last order at 10pm)
Saturdays – 11.30 to 4pm (last order at 3.30pm), 6pm to 10.30pm (last order at 10pm)
Closed on Sundays
Don’t miss out on the EATSingapore Chefs Choice Dinner happening on the 7th of February 2017. Details can be found at eatsingapore.sg/chefs-choice-dinner
This article was originally published on vanillabeige.com and may have been edited for this platform. All images by Vanilla Beige unless otherwise noted. Please note that we were not paid for this article and we purchased our own EATSingapore book and meal.