Conversation with: Shadikin – Head Chef of The Secret Garden
By John Stanley Marsh
We sit down with Head Chef Shadikin of The Secret Garden to find out more about his influences and how the district has inspired this unique Halal French themed restaurant in the heart of Kampong Gelam.
Q: Chefs are often influenced by their heritage/culture which steers them into particular cuisines. Who are some of your inspirations and what inspired you to be a chef?
Shadikin: “I have several inspirations but the one that stand out would be my experience at Ku De Ta back in 2019. I had the humble opportunity to be taken under the wing of a British chef. In the five years that I was under his apprenticeship, we worked and travelled to many places such as Cecil Street, Chinatown and Swissotel just to name a few. I learnt about many cuisines and my mentor was heavily influenced by French flair of cooking. Together with him, we opened an eatery at Dempsey and it was there that I found my true calling for French Cuisine.”
Q: French cuisine has set itself at the forefront of cooking and seen as the leader of haute cuisine. What are some other cuisines that you think might be on the same level?
Shadikin: “Over the years, I have seen a lot of cultures being infused into different cuisines, a great example would be the traditional Malay cuisines and foods being infused with western tastes to create lots of fusion dishes. Strictly speaking, I would still place French cuisine at the top spot followed by cuisines that use lots of fresh ingredients and let their natural flavours culminate in the dish. A great example would be Australian cuisine like steaks, where a good cut of meat combined with basic seasoning can leave a lasting impression.”
Q: What are your thoughts on Gastro-tourism? Do you think it is necessary to travel to another part of the world in order to learn the heritage/culture in order to experience their cuisine fully?
Shadikin:”Yes definitely, anyone who really appreciates food should take a chance to travel and experience how different dishes are prepared and taste the different ingredients that are available in different regions. Even at The Secret Garden, we endeavour to take our guests on a journey by creating seasonal menus/dishes that are inspired by different countries. As a chef, it is equally important as it allows us to develop our culinary skills by working with a diverse foods.”
Q: How important is it as a Chef to infuse their heritage or culture into a dish?
Shadikin: “Well there are generally two schools of thought on this. On one hand, you have your ‘Purist’ where dishes must be prepared a certain way and if you stray away from a particular method of preparing that dish, it is not considered authentic. Personally, I feel it is important for a chef to incorporate elements that make the dish unique to their own style. On The Secret Garden menu for example, there is a squid ink pasta dish in which I sometimes add a hint of Bird’s Eye Chilli (Chilli Padi). It is important when people come and eat my dishes, they get to experience my take on how some flavours can bring the dish to the next level as well as how it speaks of my Malay heritage.”
Q: Was there a special reason to open The Secret Garden at Kampong Gelam? Has the heritage of Kampong Gelam inspired the restaurant in any way?
Shadikin: “Kampong Gelam is already home to many cuisines. You can find Mexican, Turkish, Japanese and many local restaurants in the area. We wanted not only to be the first French cuisine around but also the first Halal French restaurant. I think it is important culturally that the restaurant can open new doors for the Malay Community to enjoy French dishes.”
Q: If you could open a Singaporean themed restaurant in France, what would be on the menu?
Shadikin: ”Without a doubt, I would stick to my roots and create dishes like Nasi Ayam, Nasi Lemak, Mee Goreng however plating the dishes would have to be up to par. It will need to look appealing since you would be competing with all the other top-tier restaurants but I certainly would like to promote our local Singaporeans flavours in a unique way.”
Q: What can someone expect when they dine at The Secret Garden?
Shadikin: “We have our straight up French dishes like Duck Confit, Foie Gras and we also have dishes that have some fusion elements like the Squid Ink Pasta I mentioned before. We have had guests ranging from connoisseurs, foodies to makciks (aunties) and pakciks (uncles). Ultimately what the persons eating the food will gain is the appreciation of great flavours, prepared simply albeit with great elegance and technique.”
The Secret Garden by Zeekri
19 Baghdad Street
Phone: 9189 5663