Chefs Yong Ming Choong and Jacky Lai on bringing Van Gogh’s Sunflowers to life as an afternoon tea experience

Fairmont Singapore’s Executive Pastry Chef Yong Ming Choong and Senior Sous Chef Jacky Lai discuss working with ARTiSTORY to craft the National Gallery’s Seasons of Impressionists afternoon tea menu.

Guys, it’s great to connect. You’ve created an impressive menu inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers. What did the start of your process look like?
Farmont Singapore’s Executive Pastry Chef Yong Ming Choong: We were very excited when ARTiSTORY approached us with this partnership opportunity. Over the last few years, Chef Jacky and I have had the chance to create various themed dining experiences working with different brand partners, so we always welcome a new challenge.

To be able to reimagine one of the world’s most famous paintings as food art is an honour indeed. We began researching Van Gogh’s artwork and spent hours studying Sunflowers — from the strokes to the colours — to see how we could incorporate it into the afternoon tea. It was not easy, as we wanted to conceptualise a menu that would fully encapsulate the essence of Sunflowers.

It sounds like a real creative challenge. Which elements of Sunflowers stood out as being key to bring into the menu?
Chef Ming: As an art-inspired afternoon tea, one of the most important elements was the colour palette. Aside from the obvious shade selections of yellow and green, we found that Sunflowers also had tinges of blue in the masterpiece. It had a good harmony of colours, which was what we tried to portray in our afternoon tea.

Fairmont Singapore’s Senior Sous Chef Jacky Lai: Flavour-wise, we tried to bring forth the mild, nutty flavour which sunflower seeds are known for.

Yong Ming Choong, Jacky Lai, National Gallery, ARTiSTORY

Let’s dive into some items from the menu. The Sunflower Praline Pot looks remarkable. How did you work out what would both taste great, but also resemble a potted sunflower?
Chef Ming: We spent days developing the Sunflower Praline Pot before we achieved perfection. Everything on the menu is made from scratch, and it took us quite some time to get the colour of the chocolate-based pot right as it required careful mixing.

“I’m really proud of the Hazelnut Praline Sable, which is a miniature painting of Sunflowers coated with a layer of Nespresso chocolate ganache.”

The ‘soil’ of the pot comprises layers of chocolate mousse and marmalade, which we made using clementine oranges from Japan. It was challenging to get the perfect consistency for the layers. Even though we got the recipe down to a tee, it’d still take us another two to three days to make 100 Sunflower Praline Pots.

Wow. Impressive stuff. Elsewhere, the different elements of the Smoked Salmon Sandwich sound like it must’ve also taken a lot of time to get right…
Chef Jacky: I spent two weeks of trial and error before finalising the recipe of our Smoked Salmon Sandwich. I wanted to bring a hint of summer’s flavour to the sandwich, so I decided to infuse sweet blueberries into the sour creme fraiche to give it a nice balance. We also used saffron to give the brioche a nice orange tinge.

Yong Ming Choong, Jacky Lai, National Gallery, ARTiSTORY

I’m sold! Are there any other items on the menu that you’re especially proud of?
Chef Ming: I’m personally really proud of the Hazelnut Praline Sable, which is a miniature painting of Sunflowers coated with a layer of Nespresso chocolate ganache. It is impossible to repaint the Sunflowers so I used a food printer to print out an edible version of the artwork, and delicately constructed the dessert into an Insta-worthy bite.

Amazing! And Jacky?
Chef Jacky: I’d go for the tender Pork Bulgogi and the creamy parmesan mash. It’s paired with the crumbly texture of the maltosec to create a unique and delicious flavour and was a delight to prepare. It definitely added an element of fun and excitement to the cooking experience.

“We like working with brands that can challenge us to think out of the box.”

Do you think there’s scope for more brands to get involved in these kinds of food-based collaborations?
Chef Jacky: Yes, there are definitely such creative possibilities. As mentioned earlier, we’ve actually done many food-based collaborations with brands, including creating a Hello Kitty-themed afternoon tea for Sanrio as well as a fully vegan afternoon tea set with Weiss Chocolate and Classic Fine Foods.

Chef Ming: We like working with brands that can challenge us to think out of the box. It’s also easier for us in terms of R&D and ideas generation if the brand already has a strong visual identity.

Yong Ming Choong, Jacky Lai, National Gallery, ARTiSTORY

Yes, the Hello Kitty afternoon tea looked fantastic too. Guys, this has been fascinating. I have one last question: how do you fuel your creativity?
Chef Jacky: As a chef living in Singapore, I am inspired by the vibrant food scene in this city. There are so many incredible restaurants here, with many of them receiving Michelin stars. This level of competition pushes me to constantly strive for excellence in my creations, including the afternoon tea inspired by Van Gogh’s impressionist paintings.

Chef Ming: For me, creativity is fueled by my appreciation for art and design. The works of Van Gogh are a great example of this, as they incorporate bold colours and textures to create masterpieces. I try to apply the same principles to my desserts, using different colours and textures to create a multi-dimensional taste experience — this is exemplified by the Sunflower Praline Pot.

Absolutely. Well, a huge congrats again on your Seasons of Impressionists afternoon tea. It looks remarkable.

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