2 countries, 4 culinary giants, 1 night of sustainable dining

The food world is turning green for the love of Mother Earth.

If there’s one word that has generated the most buzz over the past years, it’s sustainability. And we’re happy to see it transcend buzzword status to become a goal which most sectors of society aspire to achieve—from business to real estate, banking to retail, fashion, and yes, even food.

Chef LG Han of Restaurant Labyrinth (SG), chef Jordy Navarra of TOYO Eatery (PH), Vijay Mudaliar, head bartender and co-owner of Native (SG), and chef Stephan Duhesme of Metiz (PH). Photo from the Singapore Tourism Board

In the culinary world, more and more restaurants have made the pivot to sustainability, with chefs getting creative when it comes to sustainable practices. From using bokashi in the kitchen, a Japanese method of composting organic waste using fermentation to making use of locally sourced ingredients while helping farmers at the same time.

These various efforts to make the food industry more eco-friendly was on full display at the recent collaboration between Singapore’s Restaurant Labyrinth and Native with our very own Toyo Eatery and Metiz for a sustainable 10-course dinner.

This effort was put together by the Asian Culinary Exchange (ACE) in cooperation with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) as part of Serve It, Singapore!

Two nations, one goal

Toyo Eatery’s Kamias, Kamatis, Kabute. Photos by Peanut dela Cruz

The intimate dinner saw the coming together of two Southeast Asian neighbors bound with one goal: showcase sustainability in delicious and creative ways. Mind you, these sustainable efforts are not just for a night, but are part of the everyday operations of their respective establishments.

It all boils down to being mindful of two fundamental kitchen practices: 1) choosing the ingredients—with preference for local for lesser carbon footprint and to help farmers; 2) managing kitchen waste, trying to keep it to a minimum by using all parts of an ingredient—peels, trimmings, even seeds—to create another dish or as garnishes. Filipinos have a term for this: “walang tapon.”

The dinner was led by the eight hands of four of Asia’s leading culinary minds, known for their mastery of the kitchen and creative genius: Singaporeans chef LG Han of Restaurant Labyrinth and Vijay Mudaliar, head bartender and co-owner of Native Bar and Restaurant; and the Philippines’ chef Jordy Navarra of TOYO Eatery and chef Stephan Duhesme of Metiz.  

Labyrinth and Native

Restaurant Labyrinth’s Chili Crab with Local Tomatoes and Crab Fat Mantou

Founded in 2014, the one Michelin-starred Restaurant Labyrinth serves up creative and contemporary expressions of time-honored Singaporean fare or modern Singapore, Mod-Sin for short. Its unique Singaporean gastronomic creations have earned the restaurant inclusions in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2021, 2022, and notably at #11 in 2023, as well as a spot among the World’s 50 Best Restaurants of this year.

Much of the success Restaurant Labyrinth has enjoyed through the years can be attributed to chef Han’s passion for cooking, a love that runs so deep he gave up a thriving banking career to open a restaurant. The chef takes pride in how their advocacy is anchored on sustainability. “We are proud to say that anywhere from 60 to 90 percent of the ingredients used in our dishes come from within Singapore,” he said.

Chef Han’s menu offerings make use of flavors and profiles of locally sourced produce that draw from his memories of growing up in Singapore. He also engages with local farmers and fishermen to expand the conversation on sustainability. This novel approach towards advocating for local ingredients helped Restaurant Labyrinth win the Flor De Caña Sustainable Restaurant Award at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021.

Native’s Massa-mole Curry

Joining him from the Lion City is Vijay Mudaliar, an influential sustainability figure in Singapore’s vibrant bar scene. Vijay’s creativity has enabled him to pioneer and promote a form of urban foraging that singles out wild food resources and incorporates them into his cocktail creations.

This philosophy of honoring local and regional flavors informed the conceptualization of Native, a cocktail bar that focuses on ingredients sourced locally and regionally. It has since expanded to include a restaurant with mostly pescatarian and vegetarian options, and a fermentation lab.

Instead of classic cocktails, Native has built its name in the Singaporean bar and dining scene by its unique concoctions that balance familiar and lesser-known flavors. This approach has earned Native the honors of being the winner of the Ketel One Sustainable Bar Award at the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2019, Best International Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards in 2020, the 14th spot among the World’s 50 Best Bars in 2021, and the 42nd spot among Asia’s 50 Best Bars in 2023.

Welcoming chef LG Han and Vijay Mudaliar were some of the biggest names in the Philippine dining scene. Jordy Navarra is the chef and owner of TOYO Eatery. Opened in 2016 and operated alongside his wife May, chef Jordy developed TOYO Eatery’s menu and concept around his memories and Filipino heritage.

Toyo and Metiz

Metiz’s Inihaw na Puso ng Saging paired with cashew cream and crispy fermented black rice

This year, along the distinction of clinching the 42nd spot among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2023, TOYO Eatery won this year’s Flor De Caña Sustainable Restaurant Award due to its commitment to minimize its carbon footprint and to source local ingredients.

Chef Jordy shared when asked about the award: “Sustainability for us at TOYO Eatery is cultivating the relationships we have with the people that nurture our country. We are delighted to be recognized for our commitment to upholding our heritage and seeing how closing loops forms part of a larger conversation on sustainability. I’m excited to tell our sustainability story as I get in the kitchen with chef LG Han, Vijay Mudaliar, and chef Stephan.”

Completing the eight hands of the sustainability dinner was Stephan Duhesme, chef and owner of Metiz. Chef Stephan opened Metiz in 2019 to celebrate his love for Filipino flavors. Recently Metiz debuted at the 48th spot among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2023 thanks to its sustainable practices and creative use of local produce.

Toyo Eatery’s Siomai Rice using fermented black rice

“I think of Metiz as a creative space that serves food. We collectively share a unified vision on how to present food, and that vision involves promoting ingredients easily found in the country and sourcing them from farmers that adhere to sustainable agricultural practices,” said chef Stephan.

“With sustainability at the heart of what we do at Metiz, I’m delighted to share in this opportunity to work with chef Jordy, chef Han, and Vijay Mudaliar for this unprecedented collaboration.”

A sustainable, sumptuous feast

Metiz’s Cabbage, Potato, Shrimp

When people hear of healthy or sustainable food, they don’t usually associate it with rich, layered, and creative flavors. This 10-course dinner debunks that common misconception.

For starters we had a spread of appetizers that were lovely to look at and were also a joy to the palate. Toyo Eatery had its Siomai Rice using fermented black rice and Pancit Habhabwhich made use of vegetable trimmings. From Native came Miang Kham, betel leaf wraps and an assortment of veggies, drizzled with pineapple soy for that umami kick.

Accompanying the starters is a blooming—literally, yes—mix of Roku Gin, white peony, calamansi, and gingerflower. This was almost too pretty to drink!

One of my faves—though everything was sooo good— was Metiz’ small yet memorable Fried Ensaymada, topped with ubod puree and mustard leaves. That one tiny bite sure delivered a knockout punch of flavors. Meanwhile, Labyrinth had Otah, chef Han’s take on otak-otak but instead of banana leaves, leek greens were used with burnt lime wedges on the side.

Native’s mix of Roku Gin, White Peony, Calamansi, and Ginger flower

Next on the menu was Native’s Mango Ginger, Japanese Whisky, Basil, with my fave herb tempering the rather strong flavor of the whisky. The drink was the perfect companion to the Cold Somen, White Kimchi—a comforting cold-noodle dish I downed in one go. Metiz’ Inihaw na Puso ng Saging paired with cashew cream and crispy fermented black rice had a texture so delightful I was tempted to ask for one more serving.

Then we had Toyo Eatery’s Kamias, Kamatis, Kabute, a bowl of soymilk curd with a sauce made of kamias and tomatoes, and earthy mushrooms, hence the straightforward name. This dish paired well with the citrusy medley of suha syrup, tublay lemon, whiskey, and bignay lime.

The next dish was among the standouts in a night of exquisite dishes—Restaurant Labyrinth’s version of classic Chili Crab with Local Tomatoes and Crab Fat Mantou. The deep-fried claw packed with blue and mud crab meat, with local tomatoes and tomatillos as its sauce, teased my tastebuds with its sweet, spicy, and sour notes; it’s almost like magic. I made sure to wipe my plate dry of the sauce using the mantou.

When they announced that it was time for the main course, my jaw dropped, and I asked my table mate jokingly— “Hindi pa ba main course ‘yun mga naunang dishes?” Not that I was complaining; I could only be happier that more food was to come.

Native’s Ceylon Arrack, Old Coconut, Pineapple Skin, and Sri Lankan Spices

The main course consisted of various dishes from each of the teams, with every plate or bowl or glass a reflection of the establishments’ ethos and their country’s heritage.

Labyrinth’s chef LG gave us a taste of Singapore’s national dish through Tinawon Chicken Rice, basically our favorite Hainanese chicken rice but using the Cordillera heirloom rice called Tinawon, which lends the dish a smokier taste compared to plain white rice. The dish came with Chili Sauce that made use of chef Han’s grandma’s recipe.

Metiz’ Cabbage, Potato, Shrimp tasted of the earth and the sea, while Native’s Massa-mole Curry’s strong flavors were complemented by the sourness of the Belimbing Salsa which interestingly was made from kamias.

Next on the line was Toyo’s Tortang Kalabasa topped with pinaputok na munggo and ginataang mangga, that went well with their own Banana Ketchup made from bulkan bananas. Native’s Ceylon Arrack, Old Coconut, Pineapple Skin, and Sri Lankan Spices had my tongue torn between sweet and spice. Worth mentioning was how the pineapple skin used in the cocktail were leftovers from the pineapple shoyu in the Miang Kham appetizer.

Amazake Ice Cream, Monggo, Dikai

Dessert came in many mouthwatering forms. Toyo’s Taugtug Syrup, Green Mango Juice, Tublay Lemon, Gin, which made use of local taogtog berries—prepared the palate for the sweetness that awaited: a bowl of Amazake Ice Cream, Monggo, Dikai. Amazake is a Japanese fermented-rice drink with a creamy consistency and pleasant nutty taste.

Native’s Banana Gin, Calamansi, and White Soy paired perfectly with the Tostadong Bigas Shaved Ice, Bandung, and Rosella with cacao nibs and bites of bakwa (Chinese candied pork).

Closing the night was Ube Halaya, Sibuyas Tagalog, Pandan Mochi Cake, Pili Nut & Cacao, and Kaya Toast—one of the best I’ve had in my life; I wish I had two or three more slices! 

Dessert finale—Ube Halaya, Sibuyas Tagalog, Pandan Mochi Cake, Pili Nut & Cacao, and Kaya Toast

Fang Xun Ong, Philippine area director of STB said that Singapore has long acknowledged sustainability as a vital part of its present and future. “Collectively, we have been taking steps to develop innovative experiences with a reduced impact on the environment,” she added.

This limited time offering was part of the ACE organized by Angelo Comsti. This year’s edition of the ACE is designed to showcase Singapore through a series of cross-cultural collaborations between Singaporean and Filipino chefs.

The ACE is part of Serve It, Singapore!—an STB project that brings a slew of one-of-a-kind dining experiences straight from the culinary capital of Singapore to delight the palates of Filipino foodies.

For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/VisitSingaporePH.

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