Bon Vivant sat down with Victoria Cheng to talk about blogging, the local F&B scene and her upcoming video series.
You are a well-known food blogger in Singapore. How did you get started?
After a couple of years in Hong Kong, I was in New York for a year to do a culinary program and started a food blog. It was just a casual thing, as I generally love writing. Then I moved to Singapore joining Appetite Magazine and continued running my blog. It wasn’t really for reviews and I guess it still isn’t. It is more about my journey.
Gastronommy.com has been running successfully for about 5,5 years. How do you feel you fit in with the masses of food bloggers in Singapore?
I feel my blog doesn’t fit into that scene at all. Up until now my blog has been what a blog should be – it’s there to capture my thoughts and whatever I want to write about. I wasn’t monetizing it, while in Singapore many people start a blog for exactly that. I don’t write to get freebies or sell adspace… and it’s not my job, so I write as and when I feel like it.
New York has a very vibrant scene filled with food from all over the world – why did you move out here to Singapore? What was it that interested you in the little Red Dot (besides Appetite)?
As I was working in Hong Kong for a while, I wanted to go somewhere different and initially considered Shanghai or Singapore. Appetite was in the end the deciding factor. Now it’s five years later and I am still here. New York is awesome and is still my favourite city in the world, but a lot of exciting changes are happening in Singapore. What Singapore has achieved in half a lifetime, other countries take a century to accomplish, it is amazing to be able to witness this transformation of an entire nation in my lifetime. I don’t want to miss it.
Can the lifestyle component in Singapore keep up with New York and other major cities?
Sometimes it is almost unfair to compare it to New York. Nowadays, there is always something going on in Singapore. However, plenty is operating on a repetitive formula, meaning you know exactly what to expect. In New York, walking every ten blocks is already an adventure. In New York, people are really trying to get out of the box and be original, while in Singapore I feel the majority still go by a certain formula that simply works instead of taking creative risks.
You get to go to many events and parties, be restaurant openings, bartending competitions and more. What would your ideal party look like?
I am actually working on a project with Cointreau, in which I design my own party. As I’m an American and love Halloween, I obviously choose America’s favourite fake holiday. Singapore is just like America – still somewhat conservative on a day to day basis, but on Halloween you can just really go nuts.
I also love the entire mood of whiskey and cigars. I could imagine a gentlemen’s themed party, men and ladies alike in sharp suits. There would be dark leather couches, scotch and single malt whiskeys. Lagavulin is probably one of my favourites, but I also like Chichibu and Ardbeg.
Singapore’s F&B scene has changed a lot in the last years – restaurants are getting more sophisticated, concept dining and bars are turning bespoke. How do you see this development?
What’s great is that while the F&B scene has changed a lot, local food culture is still king – it’s what Singaporeans still crave most, and why tourists come to Singapore. As for the changes in the international cuisine, just 10 years ago, the only ‘trendy’ and well established restaurants were fine-dining French restaurants. But globally there has been a shift away from white-table cloth service, and it can be seen in Singapore as well. People are interested in something more personal and bespoke, people are curious about other cuisines, and they want to know where their ingredients are from. Chefs started becoming stars. In Singapore, Marina Bay Sands did help kick start the ‘celebrity restaurant’ scene a few years ago, but now we’re seeing countless independent restaurant start ups that are bringing in concepts from Australia, Europe, and Americas.
And where do you see the scene heading next?
It might not need more cocktail bars. It was really great when all these Western concept places like specialty coffee cafes, taquerias, tapas bars, cajun cuisine, and such started to open up, but I think the peak of this trend was a 1,5 years ago – I believe Singapore was even surpassing Hong Kong in terms of international cuisine offerings and quality. But where is it heading next?
In New York, for example it’s very cool to be able to know how to cook at home at the moment. But I also see the scene heading back to street food, but reinvented in some way. Yes, food trucks are big in the States, but you won’t see that happening here for a variety of reasons. It would be nice to see Asian food become cool again. I guess that hasn’t really been done here in a big way; it is usually all about Western cuisines being trendy. Funny though, that what is actually big in New York right now are Asian cuisines – grass is always greener on the other side, right.
New restaurants and bars are opening up every week. However, not all survive. Observing the scene for a while, what do you think is key to make it in Singapore’s F&B scene?
It’s like in any big city, an owner can’t solely rely on his friends coming to his bar or restaurant. You need to cater to a wider audience. If it’s going to be niche, then you have to be aware of the challenge. Most people don’t understand the amount of capital that is required to sustain your bar over the first three years. A dose of luck is good, but you need to understand how much work you will have to put into it. If you have the right capital, but you aren’t there or don’t have the right people on the ground, then it’s just going to fall apart. Location, consistency and service are key too. If you don’t have good service, you better have damn good quality in whatever it is you are serving.
When it comes to food in Singapore, you are pretty active – tasting, writing, consulting, presenting and hosting. What is on your plate, if you are cooking yourself?
It also depends on my mood and whom I’m cooking for. The way I cook for people is the same way I recommend food. As everyone has a different palate, I would cook to cater to my guests’ taste. The other night I actually made one of my friend’s recipes, a braised pork belly on mantou. When I cook at home, it is usually Thai, Italian or Chinese. I love roasting too, but big ovens are hard to come by here!
Both Singapore and New York offer food from around the world. If you were to choose, where in the world would you want to explore the local cuisine?
I wouldn’t pick New York because ‘I have been there and done that.’ But I think that New York does everything well, except for Singaporean food. You can get everything else, but that. If I could get stuck somewhere for a while, it would probably be either China or Japan. The reason is that the different cuisines across the country vary so distinctly and even if I spent an entire year there, I couldn’t taste it all.
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Bon Vivant was launched by Clubvivre
What is next for you?
I just found a producer and we are partnering up to create a whole food-related video series at Gastronommy and for various editorial partners who want to incorporate video into their lineup. This will encompass much more than a simple restaurant review – we want to share real stories, real information in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. As much as I love writing and will continue to do so on the side, we need to keep up with the times and move beyond print and television. The average person consumes information in a very different way today, so we are pushing more into the digital front. The series will roll out before the end of July.