Written by Liang Ying, Featuring Danny Tan of Craft and Food
Edited by Athena
For Danny, owner of private dining Craft and Food, the kitchen is where he elevates food into a new dimension, where he churns out dish after dish of delightful experiences. Watching him speak about his food is an experience in itself — the glimmer in his eyes and hands in a series of gestures to move his story along seems to mirror the way his agile, nimble fingers would make their way in a kitchen: chopping, cooking and plating, breathing life and beauty into seemingly plain ingredients. The chef of this home-based restaurant knows how to hone his craft for sure at Craft & Food.
Danny also goes the extra mile to to make customers’ dining experience extra special by specifically curating menus for them, and he makes sure that no detail, no matter how small, is overlooked – he takes everything into account, from the time management to the wine pairings that go with the food. Iit shows in the breathtaking presentation of the spread he has for each guest, and more importantly, manifests in the stunning flavours of his food.
Danny’s cooking journey began when he was in primary school. “I didn’t like the food served at home,” he says, a sheepish grin on his face. “The maid cooked poorly, and my parents seldom cooked. Watching Iron Chef in the afternoon was a big inspiration. At that age all I could do was imagine the flavours that were happening at the kitchen in Iron Chef. I knew that cooking, from a young age, was something I liked to do.”
Despite a lot of scepticism surrounding the idea of being a cook, Danny remained unfazed in his dreams although it meant having to bear an unattractive pay initially, and long, long working hours. “I didn’t really care about the long hours. It was more about doing what I liked to do.”
After his O Levels, he decided to pursue his interests in the Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre, Shatec, but dropped out early to work in La Strada. “It’s not that the school is bad,” he clarifies. “I just wasn’t very fond of the size of the classes then – it was too big (for each student to get one-to-one time with teacher). I believe that all cooking schools are good because they teach you cooking. But for me, Shatec wasn’t my place to be, so I dropped out.”
After completing his National Service, Danny went to At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy to finish his culinary education. After that, the young man invested himself in the culinary sector, working from restaurant to restaurant with a hunger to learn. He first worked without pay at Restaurant FiftyThree, then got an internship at Ritz Carlton, afterwards went back to Restaurant FiftyThree again, and finally worked in Bistro du Vin. Amongst his time in these restaurants, his experience in Restaurant FiftyThree (now closed) was a turning point.
“I wondered: just exactly what was I chasing?”
“The chef there had once worked in Restaurant Noma (two Michelin-star restaurant) for a while. When he came back, he copied the dishes, the style, and opened a Scandavian restaurant, and it made me feel small,” Danny shares, deep in thought. “I wondered: just exactly what was I chasing?”
Back then, Singapore had neither-Michelin guide nor Michelin-star restaurant, he explains. The concept of fine dining and western food was something new to him and he realised just how little he knew about the world of food. Determined to learn and truly understand what food was about, he knew he had to get out there and get a taste of the experience for himself. He was also acutely aware of the competitiveness of the industry, and decided that in order to gain an upper hand over potential rivals, he would study wine — particularly its pairings with food. In his twenties, he stepped foot in London for the first time.
It seems almost unreal to hear of Danny’s adventures in Europe, from London to Norway and frequent trips to Paris and Barcelona. The thrilling experience of it all – new cultures, new languages, and most importantly, a whole new world of food and flavour – is freshly ingrained in his mind and he can still remember them like it was just yesterday. He shares with us two fond memories. The first is in London, at Restaurant Dabbous, where, he says, “Chef Ollie Dabbous had a big impact on my cooking.”
“He (Chef Dabbous) has Lebanese background, so he cooked with Middle Eastern influences. That, to me, was very new. If you were to ask someone in Singapore about Middle Eastern food, they’d just point you to Arab Street with their mezze platters and conventional dips. But when I worked with Ollie, he taught me how to use ingredients so differently. He taught me how to use sumac (a tangy spice with a sour, acidic flavor reminiscent of lemon juice), shared with me the trick of infusing fenugreek seed with oil which will give a lovely maple-ish flavour when you cook proteins with it. We did so many crazy things, too, and we used hay ash once. I didn’t understand the ash, but the flavour components were special.”
“If you were to ask someone in Singapore about Middle Eastern food, they’d just point you to Arab Street with their mezze platters and conventional dips.”
He also shares with us his experience at Restaurant Maaemo in Norway, where he went foraging in the forest for ingredients, definitely the freshest he has ever seen. “We brought the ingredients back to the restaurant to cook, and I learnt how to elevate the simplest of ingredients. It was about changing the expression, presentation, and integrity of the product. They were all simple things, but when presented differently, were very impressive. They taught me out-of-the-box thinking, how to view the end result from different angles and then execute the dish to reach that point.”
During his time abroad, Danny learnt much as he could in the food culture so that he could appreciate flavour pairing. That meant eating in 28 Michelin-starred restaurants and countless bistroners and diners, as well as exposing himself to the variety of wine out there. “I ate and drank until I sian already,” he chuckles. “But I still did so because I had to learn.” He knows that such an experience doesn’t come round often, and constantly expresses gratitude for the opportunities he had worked for and been presented with. “The time abroad and excessive dinners at the fine dining restaurants helped me to learn to understand that the experience of dining is primal, and food and wine are a big part of it. They’re the base that has to be strong.”
Upon returning to Singapore, Danny gained more experience working in different restaurants while studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) Exam, French Wine Scholar (FWS), and Wine and Spirit Education Trust Level 3 (WSET), before deciding to take the leap and set up his own private dining Craft and Food.
During this time, Danny also organised dinner gatherings and invited his friends over. “I’d cook dinner and they would come over to my place. It was really enjoyable,” he shares. “Over time, some of them brought their own friends, so I organised more dinners.” This marked the beginning of starting his own private dining business.
The idea of starting his own private dining venture was an exciting prospect for Danny, who saw the potential of cooking from home. In the restaurants he worked for, there were rigid rules to follow, but by being his own chef he could call the shots – he had the freedom of choice and could work with ingredients however he wanted. Having his own platform enabled him to create wonderful food his way, and present it to the world. “It’s not about being famous,” Danny says. “It’s about doing something on your mind that no one has done before and putting it out there – and then someone comes and tries. It doesn’t matter whether they like it or not. It’s that they’ve tried, and it’s out there, and people know. You feel good.”
Naturally, there were people who discouraged him for his endeavour. “The most discouraging thing someone told me was that doing this business from home meant that I was a bum waiting for things to come,” Danny says, alluding to the Chinese idiom 守株待兔,which means for someone to succeed by relying on chance rather than putting in the effort. “She told me it was better to go outside and have a low salary. She discouraged me from doing things I wanted to do, and I was taken aback. But I took it as a driving force, because I did want to prove her wrong.”
“Deep down, cooking is a high responsibility job.”
The biggest motivational force, he says, would be his religion. A devoted Christian, Danny believes that all is given by God. “I cook from my heart, but I don’t let the compliments get into my head. I know that if I am ever haughty, I won’t be able to improve. Every time I do something, I think about improving.”
As a chef, Danny emphasises on the need to learn continuously, staying relevant to societal changes, and being flexible. He gives a unique insight: “Deep down, cooking is a high responsibility job.” This is especially so when tackling and working around dietary requirements in our modern society. As people become more health-conscious today, the buzz in the health industry centred around health and healthy cooking is going strong. As a result, a plethora of diets, from keto to paleo to pescatarian, are emerging. As the public gets more educated and pursue lifestyle and diet choices, cooks must be able to deal with the many different dietary needs.
“Dietary requirements limit creativity,” Danny explains. “There’s so many things you cannot do, so you have to be versatile. It’s hard to make food interesting with limitations.” To ensure that he delivers his professionalism, Danny researches the different diets so that he can understand how to cater to those with dietary concerns.
It is clear that Danny has high standards for himself. “I associate my food with a one Michelin star standard, because I trained in three and two-star restaurants before. I don’t want to disappoint. The stress in cooking comes from an inner pushing because you want perfection; you want to deliver.”
Danny also advocates innovation and taking chances. “Somebody suggested before that I look at the food industry and what it required and work from there.” But the idea of it seemed restrictive and lacklustre. He cites an example, “When I told people I wanted to make a pita-bread snack, everyone told me to do it salted-egg yolk flavour,” referring to the salted-egg yolk hype that once buzzed about in Singapore. “I refused. I think it’s important to remember that trends are temporal. Don’t listen to advice that just tells you to follow the crowd blindly. Do what you want to do and put it out there. Take the risk; make your own trend.”
As we end the interview, I am awed by Danny’s story and how far he’s gone to achieve his dreams as a home cook. As a big foodie myself, it touches me to hear the dedication and effort Danny pours into his expertise. I believe that Danny’s food, all lovingly and thoughtfully created, is surely not something to be missed.
In light of Covid-19, where businesses such as Danny’s Craft & Food are disrupted, let us come together and show support for our food industry. Drop by www.craftandfood.com/menu for a special and hearty dinner — contact Danny at least one day prior to your meal. Menu selections listed are good for 4. Bespoke/customised menus are also available. You can place your orders by contacting Danny through WhatsApp (+65 9785 5990). Ask for an “off the menu item” and be in for a surprise!