Asian BBQ and modern desserts might seem like an odd juxtaposition, but it all makes sense once you get to know the quirky duo behind the concept at Fat Lulu’s at River Valley
Yin and Yang, manic and methodical, sweet and… burnt? Chefs Sam Chablani and Pang Ji Shuang (Song), who helm the kitchen at the new Fat Lulu’s (check out our review), revel in their dichotomous personalities, reflecting their respective #NoBurnNoTaste and #HappyEnding approach to cooking. In this month’s edition of Chef Chats, we interview the duo responsible for Fat Lulu’s Asian-inspired BBQ and dessert dishes, and find out how these two enigmatic personalities work together in perfect, playful harmony.
Hi Chefs Sam and Song! Let’s start with a fun one. If the two of you could form a superduo with superpowers, what would they be?
Sam: I would totally be Spiderman, because I hate taking transport and I’d rather just swing around in leotards. Song wants to be Iceman, ’cos he hates the heat in Singapore and would love to make sorbets all the time, anytime.
What are some of the most irksome (and endearingly annoying) differences between your personalities? And in what ways are your characters similar?
We both love food more than women, and we love to travel and understand the different cultures of food. We love having creative freedom when it comes to our approach of making new dishes, and we love consistency. We both also agree that even though something may seem perfect, it can always be improved. We love nagging too.
Song: Differences-wise, Sam is messy and grumpy and disorganised at most times, and goes with the flow…
Sam: … and Song is a robot, a creature of habit and slight changes make him question, “Why why why?”.
We believe the two of you first met at Halia. Do you remember your first impressions of each other? Were y’all very different from the person that you are today?
Sam: Song looked like a grumpy fish ball when I first met him, and now he looks like an older grumpy fish ball.
Song: Sam was dirty dancing in the kitchen and making fun of my macaron. Today, he is still dirty dancing at Fat Lulu’s and looks older. I also thought he was very handsome.
And now, what does Fat Lulu’s mean to y’all on a professional, and personal level?
We both agree that Fat Lulu’s represents freedom – freedom to create, change, fail, grow, and develop the team of chefs that follow us to follow their dreams.
One handles the kitchen, the other helms the dessert bar. At Fat Lulu’s, how would you say your dishes complement each other for anyone dining at the restaurant?
Sam: My food is #NoBurnNoTaste. In the kitchen, we take our meats and vegetables over our charcoal grill and burn them. There’s lots of heat and spice going on into our food as well, and this is where Song’s desserts come in.
Song: After dinner, you must #SinForSong. My desserts are refreshing, so you can cool off after Sam’s hot and fiery dishes. So remember to have desserts so that you can have a #HappyEnding at Fat Lulu’s.
What are your individual philosophies in the kitchen?
Sam: Cook like it’s the last time you’re ever gonna cook. Ride or die. Push push push. Ride the pony.
Song: A happy and healthy cooking environment working together as one big team (Sam: BORING!).
Despite the plus-sized reference in the restaurant’s moniker, are y’all huge fitness buffs yourselves?
NO, WE ARE FAT. And we love our bellies.
Sam, you previously mentioned your #NoBurnNoTaste style that you bring to the table. Could you elaborate?
Sam: I’ve always felt a connection with fire. When I was a line cook, it always felt like it was running through me. I know it’s cheesy, but I started doing BBQs as a kid for my friends, and always felt I could push the limits with salt and fire. At Lolla’s, I realised that burnt, black food can be sweet and tasty. I spent the past few years chasing vegetables, seafood and meats, burning them to see how they behave, and I don’t think I’m gonna stop for a long time.
What made you decide to work with Asian BBQ dishes – like ikan bakar – as opposed to normal, Western BBQ?
Sam: I was always into South American cuisine after I returned from the United States in 2013. After adapting back to Singapore after four years, I started noticing the local seafood and vegetables available, and how the aunties prepare them with sambal and stuff, and that blew my mind. Now, I only serve what I like to eat personally. Plus, Asian BBQ is pretty straightforward, comfort food.
If your home was on fire (touch wood) and you had to escape, what are three things you’d take with you?
Sam: My skateboard. Honestly, that’s about it;I am not a materialistic person. Besides, I practically live in the restaurant [laughs].
Over to Chef Song, can you elaborate on your #HappyEnding style in the kitchen?
Song: Desserts are like the ending of a movie. It needs to make you feel complete.
We like how you even have an “Atas” Kinder Bueno!
Yeah, that’s a dish that came from me playing with textures of chocolate throughout the years. It has been a dish that has been evolving together with me.
Song, if your life were a Hollywood film, what sort of happy ending would you like to have?
Song: My happy ending would be to share my experience and knowledge of pastries with people around the world!
To end off, what do the both of you hope for Fat Lulu’s to achieve in the local restaurant scene?
We wanna show people that a little neighbourhood restaurant can serve badass Asian BBQ and atas desserts without the pretentiousness that follows. We have always loved knowing the guests who visit us frequently, and we want them to feel at home here. We just wanna cook, break all the rules, and be the change we wish to see in the world of food and desserts.
Fat Lulu’s, 297 River Valley Road, Singapore 238338. Open Tue-Fri 6pm-11pm, weekends 11am-4pm 6pm-11pm. Closed on Mon.