The Summerhouse, which is located in far-flung Seletar, is perhaps the closest we'll get to destination dining in tiny Singapore. But despite the distance, its chef de cuisine, Florian Ridder, makes sure that your journey will not be made in vain, thanks to his fresh approach to food and flavours, which is inspired, conscious and above all, delicious.
While most rave about the freshest vegetables from Japan or choice meats from Europe, it's not often that you find a German chef wax lyrical about gorgeous produce sourced from local kelongs, as well as Singaporean and Malaysian growers and producers. But that's exactly what chef Florian does. And with stints at Michelin-starred restaurants, such as Piment, Belle Epoque and Alma by Juan Amador, he is capable of transforming the most humble of ingredients into plated masterpieces that will make you want to return to The Summerhouse over and over again.
Do you remember your earliest memory of your relationship with food and how it influenced your career as a chef?
My love for cooking is very much influenced by my father. He is a great cook and I remember he used to make a pasta dish with tomato sauce for me. It was simple but tasted wonderful. I started cooking when I was quite young and I often tried to replicate my father’s pasta dish. I finally succeeded at making the dish that tasted like his when I was about 12 years old. It was also the same year that I received my first kitchen knife from my mom.
How was conceptualising the menu at The Summerhouse like? Was it organic or was it more studied?
Our cuisine's approach at The Summerhouse — nature inspired, "farms"-to-table — allows us to have the flexibility to curate dishes from seasonal ingredients we receive from our local and Malaysians growers, as well as the harvests from our edible garden. Essentially, our philosophy here is to use what we have in the kitchen to create our dishes.
The creative process for some of the dishes was very organic, where you basically find a product and directly feel what you want to do with it. However, most of the dishes take a lot of studying due to the limited product range from the producers; especially so for the new menu we are currently working on. We want to delve deeper into working with what we get from the farms.
While you’ve only been in Singapore for a short while, it’s interesting how you’re championing produce sourced locally or in neighbouring Malaysia. What’s the reason behind this?
We spend a lot of time searching for farms in Singapore and Malaysia and keep finding new ones. We hope that by working with these partners, it will help to increase the quality of their products, so as to promote them locally. In the long run, we hope to help to increase the demand from the local market and create a sense of pride in our local produce instead of praising the imported ones.
We know you’re a fan of permaculture and are slowly integrating it into both the menu and methods at The Summerhouse. What is your long-term vision for this?
My long-term vision clearly is to maximise the produce we can get from Singapore farms, maybe even changing the local farming scene. Most farms in Singapore are highly restricted in what they can grow even though some of them actually want to grow more varieties.
Last year, Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) invited local producers and key industry players for a meet-up session and we got a lot of good contacts from this session. We hope through such platforms, the AVA and local producers realise that there is a demand for more variety of products other than leafy vegetables.
Menu wise, in regards to permaculture, we want to be more flexible and be able to change the dishes even up to several times per meal session, according to what we get from the farms. In the long run, I want to see where it will lead us to and surprise myself.
Do you have a favourite ingredient to work with at the moment? Do you have any particular recipes that involve it that you’re currently developing?
Ever since I had this amazing belacan sauce in Cameron Highlands, we began to experiment a lot with it at The Summerhouse. Currently, we are serving a prawn and belacan beurre blanc with our Grouper. We are also working on something funky now, but that’s still in experimental stage, so we hope showcase more of this ingredient in the future.
What do you want diners to take away after eating at The Summerhouse?
First of all, I want them to have a great evening and a good time. As much as possible, local ingredients take priority in our dishes. If our diners enjoyed them and consider their dining experience flawless, compared to other restaurants that use primarily imported ingredients, we have succeeded in our goal to showcase local produce.
Is there something you’d like to be remembered for when it comes to Singapore’s dining scene?
I am just trying to do things right. Managing a team for a vast venue like this is not easy and I am still learning how to do that, as well as getting the best out of the three kitchens. So for now, the goal for myself would be that the team remembers me as a good chef that they like working with.
When it comes to food, what’s your guilty pleasure?
I don’t have a guilty pleasure, but only because I don’t feel guilty about it [laughs]!
It is quite interesting that as a kid, I hated fast-food eateries. I would kick and scream when we had to go there, especially on travels, for example. Now, I don’t mind it so much as they have their places in our food culture today. However, the problem is that people get so used to fast food that they are not able to appreciate properly cooked-food anymore.
Visit The Summerhouse today at 3 Park Lane, 798387 Tel: 6262 1063. For more information, click here