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Chef du Jour: Taking the Stage with Confidence with Ernest Toh

Words by Heidi Chan

At the tender age of 26, head chef Ernest Toh helms the kitchen at NKU Firewood in Taiwan, cooking up a storm with local ingredients while staying true to his identity.

*This is an extract of an article that first appeared in Wine & Dine’s 2020 ‘Tea Culture’ issue

LOSS AND GAIN.

I have been cooking since 11, but believe it or not, my time in the Food and Beverage Industry started because I wanted to shed some weight. As an overweight kid in secondary school, I was desperate for a change in lifestyle and was determined to enhance my knowledge for a healthier life. I then decided to take on Nutrition in polytechnic and lost 20kg in 22 weeks.

LOVE THY JOB.

I had participated in a cooking contest, judged by chef Emmanuel Stroobant, and was offered an internship at his restaurant, Saint Pierre. It was then that I realised I could see myself putting in that kind of time and effort and not feel like it is a job. Upon completing my National Service as an Infantry Officer, which taught me discipline and teamwork, I decided to enter the workforce instead of continuing my studies.

Head chef, Ernest Toh (Image courtesy of NKU Firewood)

GO-GETTER.

After Saint Pierre, I worked at The Kitchen at Bacchanalia and Nouri in Singapore. I then went on to intern at Relae and Amass in Copenhagen. Instead of taking the conventional route, I invested my time to gaining knowledge through experiences. One amazing trip was when I went backpacking in Europe. There, I knocked on the doors of various food service shops and asked if I could learn their skills during my, albeit limited, time in each city.

A HAPPY ACCIDENT.

My journey with NKU Firewood was entirely coincidental. I was on a vacation in Taipei when my friend brought me to NKU and from then, I became friends with the team and owners. As head chef, I manage the whole restaurant, including costing, pricing and training of our staff. Apart from leading the kitchen, I also design the beverage program. NKU’s complete operation has 12 people, consisting of a small but efficient front of house team.

Traditional Black Soy Mochi and Mango Leather (Image courtesy of NKU Firewood)

NKU FIREWOOD.

NKU stands for ‘Nordic, Kept, Unique’ and serves New Nordic cuisine. It was originally a Scandinavian-themed restaurant which was established about two years before I joined the team. Last year, we changed its concept to omakase to showcase the ingredients of Taiwan in creative ways. One of which is Taiwan’s wild seafood: be it squid, John Dory, or rockfish. We brush them with vegetarian rempah (spice paste), grill them over charcoal, top them off with a generous spoonful of rempah glazed uni, and finish with calamansi, basil and coriander garnish.

*Read the full article in Wine & Dine’s 2020 ‘Tea Culture’ issue. Available at newsstands and Magzter

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