For most chefs, it’s a dream come true to be able to share their food with the world. For Daniel Surendran, he also (happily) shares that experience with his mentor, his mother Letchmi.
The duo have cooked their way from humble hawker stall, Heavens, at Ghim Moh Road Market Food Centre, into the hearts and stomachs of many a faithful customer and have since expanded to five stalls around Singapore. Originally started by Madam Letchmi 15 years ago with the aim of serving up traditional Indian dishes such as thosai and appam, Heavens quickly gained popularity for its authentic taste and rich flavours.
Now guests and local food lovers can sample a wide range of Heavens’ specialities as Letchmi and her son Daniel prepare 25 traditional Malay and Indian dishes in a dinner buffet at Town Restaurant at the Fullerton Hotel from 9 to 19 July 2015.
We sat down with the mother and son duo to learn more about their journey and what it takes to work closely (and successfully) with family members.
Lifestyle Asia (LSA): Tell us a bit about your cooking journey, how did it all start?
Letchmi: 15 years ago, no one else sold appam. I was one of the pioneers back in the day, using traditional cooking methods such as with an iron caste, so the taste is very authentic. We don’t just serve typical Indian food, like Mee Goreng or prata. We focus on items that aren’t commonly sold nowadays, like Putu Mayam. We do it fresh too, which is not common nowadays.
LSA: What are the main differences in the stalls run by the two of you?
Daniel: My mom runs the original Ghim Moh outlet and to me her food always tastes better! On a more serious note, she sells a wider range of food, while I focus on the more popular dishes. In my stalls I also use more modern techniques while my mum is more traditional.
LSA: Have you ever thought about opening a restaurant?
Letchmi: Not really, we get a lot of freedom the way we operate. Heavens is plain and simple – you know what you’re going to get. We just find it easier to create home-cooked food and serve our customers best this way.
Daniel: We love to cook, and when we do, it’s a labour of love. Our food has a different taste because of this. We showcase our effort and appreciation through our food, and we have wonderful customers that support us through our journey – they look for us wherever we go.
LSA: What is special about the way you cook?
Daniel: I like to mix and match, particularly Singapore dishes with uncommon ingredients. I’ve always felt that there are dishes, if done differently, will taste better, but for cultural or religious reasons, are held back. For example — Indian dishes don’t use beef and Malay dishes don’t contain pork. However, I believe that some of these dishes actually taste better when cooked in certain styles that cannot traditionally be found in Singapore, so I do them.
LSA: Have you always enjoyed working together?
Daniel: I don’t really find it a challenge at all because my mum is very patient. I’m more hot tempered and easily irritable, but I’ve learnt to be kind, patient and friendly by observing my mum while we work together.
Artisanal Malay and Indian delicacies by Daniel and Letchmi Surendran (priced between S$55 to S$89 per adult), Town Restaurant, Fullerton Hotel, 1 Fullerton Square, Singapore 049178, +65 6877 8128, www.fullertonhotel.com