“WHAT I WANT to eat is homecooking, somebody’s—anybody’s—mother’s or grandmother’s food. A simple pasta pomodoro made with love . . .
. . . a clumsily thrown together tuna casserole, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, all of this is pure exotica to me, even when I’ve been neck deep all day in filet mignon and herb-infused oils and all the bits of business we do to distinguish restaurant food from what you get at home.”
~ Anthony Bourdain
“How to Cook Like the Pros”
EVERY HOME COOK has a story, one that invariably takes you back to some Proustian moment, that precious little flashback of childhood, a nugget of Grandma’s wisdom, or a mysterious Mommy maneuver you could never quite master. My story follows a template along these lines, except I’m missing the Grandma puzzle, which hasn’t made my cooking life and culinary journey any lesser.
The dinners I serve, the menus I put together, even the new dishes I attempt—dreamed up, souped up, or dutifully replicated from some master I revere—reflect not just my own whims and fancies, but my little life journey. It’s maudlin, I know, talking about life and journeys, but it’s not when you’re reflecting, particularly, on three important things: meaning, direction, and pleasure.
The business of prepping up a storm, laboring over process and detail, working the stove—that whole busyness of cooking, bringing people together and feeding them—is the very act of celebrating family and friendships, and honoring all that is good in Nature—Her gifts, Her bounty, and Her blessings.
Thank you for visiting me here as I share my writing, my philosophy, and of course, my food.
I look forward to sharing all the joys and delights at the table and the wondrous, wonderful revelations that sneak up on me in the kitchen, where teachers of all stripes speak to me all day: my knives, my pans, my little cake tester, the fish spatula, and as always, the visiting cadres of ingredients—fish and crustaceans, meat, poultry, herbs and greens, alliums, legumes, butter, cream, and, and, and …
The prospect of turning your home into a supper club, some hoped for dining destination, is not as daunting as figuring out what to call it.
Pop-up has a fine and hip ring to it, but I haven’t any plans to ship out of my home anytime soon—though life flirts with change all the time, so who ever knows? Supper club sounds cool too, but it has an exasperating, exclusive feel to it, evoking smoke-tinted scenes of well-heeled ladies and gents dining on caviar, champagne, ortolan, and dishes I probably don’t even know the names of, let alone how to cook. Well, how about speakeasy? I rather like the sense of mystery, though it teeters on the illicit and the dangerous, like a good ol’ Prohibition home that would only open to some special, coded rap and tap on the door.
So, I say, Let’s just drop this whole hip and cool thing, this exclusive party, and all that mystery nonsense! It’s just a home, for crying out loud, my very own little abode you could mosey on to from the Beauty World MRT station. It’s a place where I can just hang out and be myself—and for you, my friends, it’s a home dining space where you can gather, enjoy a homecooked meal, some conversation, perhaps a morsel of story or two from the maître d’, a little culinary secret from the cook, and of course, a touch of sweet from the pâtissière.
So let’s just call it Viv’s. That’s right, Come on over to Viv’s! We’re excited to have you!
Our menus mostly follow the Western progression of courses—four, always including dessert, 99 percent of the time, French. We tend not to serve template menus, we switch things up for each dinner, unless we get a dire, pressing request for Dish X. We like to do all we can to delight our guests, but we also never forget to delight ourselves.
What our guests love about our menus is the way they are written, always revealing some aspect of the dish, or an ingredient, to help them appreciate either the prep process, or the history of the dish, or the provenance and quality of an ingredient. The menu comes with photos, courtesy of the cook herself, or, on the rare occasion, her photographer-teacher, Todd Beltz.
Our cuisine style
French with little touches of Japanese, and some homestyle Chinese. And on days when I feel like driving a fast car, you will see some Italian.
I can’t say I come from the School of Escoffier (I wish!), but I’m drawn to French classics, and I meditate at the Temple of Cookbooks and am forever studying at the School of Practice, Practice, and Practice. I wonder when I’d graduate.
My favorite cookbooks are mostly authored by French chefs—Daniel Boulud, Jacques Pépin, Eric Ripert—and if not French chefs, at least those deeply grounded in classical French technique: Julia Child, Dorie Greenspan, Gabrielle Hamilton, Thomas Keller, Anne Willan. And within this same league of chef greats is a less familiar name, but revered in his home country: Hiromitsu Nozaki, whose Wa no Okazu (Japanese Dishes) is a treasury of Japanese culinary secrets.
I never worry too much about creativity—when it comes, it comes, and it comes, most times, in a flash. And I suppose you must make time for it, sit around, observe a lot, and forever be technique-obsessed. I’m not sure if I can will myself to lay a golden egg just like that, but I can work at perfecting an omelette, for instance—that devilishly difficult classical French omelette.
And so, I’m obsessed with execution, more than anything else, and its siblings: precision, beauty, harmony, and simplicity. These, on their own, I’m sure, can keep me delightfully busy till all my hairs turn gray—and it’s starting already!
Let’s Talk About Wine
My knowledge of wine is about the size of a pinot grape. My only claim to sounding like a connoisseur is my ability to articulate quite flawlessly the seemingly unpronounceable names of grapes, wine makers, and the wine-growing regions of France (and perhaps of Italy also), and so I’ve partnered with Franck Herbaux and Eric Wurbel, whose noses and palates aren’t only masterful, they’re imbued with a personality and charm, and a boldness of spirit.
I trust them with all of the energies I devote to my cooking and know they’d come up with the right bottle to complement the menu, always taking care not to get too fussy, or too precious. Complement, I almost feel, is a verb that might be too glib for them. There’s always that other verb in their professional idiom: respect. And somewhere between complementing the menu and respecting the food, they never forget their French joie de vivre: the wine’s gotta be fun to drink.
Spend a Soirée With Us
We open our home for dinners every Friday and Saturday, except the fourth Friday and Saturday of the month when we get a little busy with our baking classes for the weekend. Our doors are open to friends only, and friends-of-friends—we’re a little shy—but if you’d like to spend a soirée with us, we’d love to invite you to get to know us through any of our baking classes, perhaps a writing class, or a bake from our baker.
Our dinners start at 7:30PM, and we host no more than six. The evening is yours to enjoy, the conversations free and easy—at the table, or across the kitchen counter with the cook and the pâtissière. You could eat a little faster with relish, dawdle or doodle a little, but whatever the mood or tempo, we promise you this: our dinners honor the principle of not eating too much and not eating too little.
We do all we can to be mindful of this always.
come dine at viv’s
banner photo by viv steamed threadfin with crispy ginger wisps