For two spectacular nights at Kilo, we found our kitchen taken over by the talented Russell Doctrove from Maximal Concept’s Fish & Meat restaurant in Hong Kong. In the first ever edition of travel app Spottly’s Spottly Insider Event, we presented Hong Kong Cooking Beats — a food and music event that saw our very own Chef Manel supporting Chef Russell in the kitchen, and the two of them moving from behind the stoves to behind the decks in Kilo Lounge after dinner.
Chef Russell brought his honest, ingredient-focused fare to the tables at Kilo, serving up seven courses of shared plates throughout the evening. Highlights of the menu included Marinated Raw Yellowfin Tuna with compressed watermelon, soy sauce, herb vinaigrette, and raw quail egg; Beef Tartare with pickled jalapeño, duck yolk, and parmesan; Squid Ink Linguine, sea urchin, salmon roe, garlic, and chilli; and Grain-Fed Beef Tenderloin with coriander broccoli puree, charred alliums, and roasted garlic jus.
Before all the madness of the night began, we sat Chef Russell and Chef Manel down for a little chat to find out how they worked together, their background in both food and music, and the best piece of advice they’ve ever received.
Kilo (K): Russell, you were born and raised in Hong Kong. What is your heritage? How do you think that has influenced the way you cook?
Russell (R): My dad is from a small island in the Caribbean, and my mum is from England. They’ve both lived in Hong Kong for over 30 years now. My parents used to cook quite a bit at home, but I was always a fussy eater so I was probably their harshest critic. Maybe that kind of forced me to do things myself — I’ve been cooking as far back as when I was in primary school, and it kind of just became something that was second nature to me. I didn’t really think it was that big a deal until I realised that none of my friends could cook. When I was still in high school I’d get a job working in a kitchen over the summer holidays.
K: Is this your first time in Singapore? How has it been so far? How different is it cooking here than in Hong Kong, and have you tried any local food, and ?
R: Yes it is. So far so good — the first day I was still getting used to the kitchen, and I had lots of questions, but the guys in the team are very organised and helpful. Yesterday and today were much easier than I had anticipated. Apart from the weather, Singapore is pretty similar to Hong Kong. I would happily have these guys working in my own kitchen — my kitchen is quite a young team as well, which is good because you can mould them and get them to kind of work the way you want them to.
I did manage to try some local food. One of my good friends lives in Singapore, so he took me to Orchard Road, and to the food courts inside the shopping centres. I had chicken rice, which was my favourite; I could probably happily eat that every day. I love the sweet sauce, the chill sauce, the rice, the chicken without the bone — it’s perfect for me. It was heaven.
K: This was the first time that you’ve met Manel — how was it like working together in the kitchen?
R: We’re both pretty similar: we both like to have things well-organised, well ahead of time; we don’t like to leave things to the last minute. That’s kind of evident with the kitchen team as well, because they kind of work the same way I like to work. They work clean, they work tidy, so it was pretty stress-free. I was kind of nervous beforehand, because whenever you go to someone else’s kitchen, you never know what it’s going to be like but they had everything I needed and everyone was ready to help out. So yeah, it’s been almost too smooth — I’m kind of just waiting for something to go wrong, but hopefully it doesn’t!
K: Was there something that you learned from each other in the short time you spent together? Was this any different from previous collaborations you’ve done with other chefs?
Manel (M): Yeah, definitely, you always learn things from people who are passionate, and each chef always has their own way of putting things together. I can often sense the passion in other people and it’s easy to soak in the information from them as well.
R: The plan is for Manel to come up in a few months to Fish & Market and do a menu as well; it’s like an exchange.
K: What’s your favourite dish on tonight’s menu, and why?
M: It’s hard to answer these kinds of questions because it’s not just about each dish; it’s about the whole menu, the way everything is planned, and how easy it is to execute but still have interesting flavours, and how each dish is balanced. I really like the beef tartare, though, if I had to pick.
R: I was going to say that too. I used to hate eating beef tartare, so I thought I’d try making my own version. I make it quite well seasoned, with a bit of jalapeño for some spice. That’s my favourite.
M: He keeps saying to the staff, “It’s well-seasoned, guys!” and actually that’s why I like it.
K: Russell, you’ve mentioned that you’ve played at numerous clubs and events before. How did this start? Were you always interested in music as well?
R: Music is something I’ve kind of always had a passion for, but it was kind of a tricky hobby to balance with being a chef because the hours are so long. You either work all day then you go out and party all night, which was what I kind of ended up doing. Within the last few years I’ve had the chance to DJ at some pretty well-known clubs in Hong Kong. I think the next project I’m working on in Hong Kong is a blend between late-night dining and kind of like a night club or bar/lounge environment. (Something like what Kilo does?) Exactly. I think the two go pretty well together and most chefs that I know are pretty into music as well because it’s quite a creative field. (So you see a similarity between cooking and music?) Yeah I do, definitely. Everyone has their own unique style of DJ-ing, and the same can be said of cooking as well — it’s very similar.
K: If you could pick one — music or food — what would it be?
R: If you had asked me that question 10 years ago I probably would have said music. But I think now it’s 50-50; it’s an even split. It’s difficult to pick. I prefer not to pick!
K: And Manel, what’s your background with music?
M: I was telling Russell, the last time I played in front of people was back in Barcelona, so that was maybe 7 years ago. I was studying art and DJ-ing; I wasn’t cooking at all. But once I got into the kitchen, things got a bit busier and I had to prioritise. (And if you had to pick as well?) Well, honestly, once every few months, or maybe twice a year, I have these thoughts of going to play…
R: It’s difficult. It’s easy to DJ, but I think to do that professionally is pretty difficult — you need to know the right people and not many people can literally say they make a living from just playing. I think food was something that we were just as passionate about, so we kind of decided to continue with that, and every now and then, when we get the chance, we try to play or throw a party. So this event is the perfect blend of two things that go really well together.
K: Lastly, what is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
R: Honestly, I think it was at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay where I was working, under the head chef Clare Smyth. I think it was in the middle of service and I was kind of getting losing it a little bit, and she just pulled me aside and told me to just chill out — at the end of the day, we’re just cooking; we’re not saving lives, we’re not operating on people. Relax; it’s simple. I think when you kind of overthink it, sometimes, you make it more complicated than it needs to be. So, especially here, I want to keep it as a very stress-free environment. If something didn’t go right, that’s fine — we’ll just improvise and adapt. That’s the way I prefer to work.
M: For me it’s pretty much the same. Not so much about the advice, but about the feeling of working with someone who has a lot of experience in the kitchen. I’ve had the chance to work in China under chefs, such as Carles Tejedor, who are very calm and respectful in their kitchens. They have a vision, and it’s a special experience.