The Yum List chats with Chef Michael Fraser, Executive Chef of La Barra Colombian Bistro in Singapore...
What do you do and how did you got into the industry?
I handle all daily kitchen operations and collaborate with our co-founder, Patricia Klammers on the overall menu direction at La Barra. I also train all kitchen staff, source for all our produce and do research and development for new menu items and specials.
I’ve loved food and cooking from young. My mother was always cooking in our family home and I grew up watching and helping her cook. Growing up on a farm, I learned to make pastries from scratch in our fuel stove (heated only by fire wood). It was a huge cooktop and the oven was perfect for baking. The flavour imparted when cooking with wood is something unique. I also learned butchering and a lot of slow and secondary cut cookery living on a cattle stud.
I started my culinary education with a year-long pastry making and business management course. I then moved on to train under some of the best Chefs in Sydney (notably, Luke Mangan, Paul Pairet and Angel Fernandez). My cuisine has also evolved throughout the years. When I was head chef of Sea Temple Resort and Spa in Cairns, I was introduced to Asian ingredients and techniques. I made frequent trips to Bali and Thailand which exposed me to new Asian ingredients and their place in Asian cooking. My Colombian life partner was singlehandedly responsible for introducing me to the extraordinary world of Colombian cuisine. She was the first to teach me about Colombian ingredients and we have been cooking Colombian food at home together for the last four years now. I try to maintain the authenticity in my dishes as much as possible at La Barra and she is often my toughest critic when I test out my recipes.
What's the best/ worst part of your job?
Missing time with my family and spending long hours in a hot kitchen is probably the worst part of my job. The best part of my job is that I am given the ability to make people very happy, making food that I love and am deeply passionate about. I also feel really lucky to have a day job that allows me to continuously discover new products and rediscover old techniques. It is a constant culinary journey that helps to ignite a passion and fire within me.
What's your favourite Singaporean food?
Everything tastes better with pork. I love the intense herby flavours of Bak Ku Teh and the very sinful Kong Bak Pau (Chinese Braised Pork Burgers).
What's your favourite meal/ drink at La Barra?
My favourite meal would have to be our Churrasco which is grilled grass fed beef tenderloin served with chimichurri sauce and papas criollas (Andean potatoes). It makes for a perfect meal when enjoyed with a really cold and refreshing Aguila beer.
What's your favoured food and wine/ liquor pairing?
A glass of pinot noir with a beautifully cooked steak, béarnaise sauce and potato gratin. This is pure comfort food to me.
The perfect day off would be... a late brunch enjoyed with a glass of champagne followed by a late afternoon barbeque at home with lots of friends and cold beers.
A Day in the Life of a chef is... hectic with several cups of strong coffee required to get you through the day. I spend the day chasing suppliers for ingredients, training staff, doing research and development for new menu items and food prep for lunch and dinner services. When possible, I also dedicate some time to answering media queries and conducting interviews and tastings.
What's something you'd like diners to know about the cuisine prepared at La Barra?
We have tried to keep true to the authenticity of the food enjoyed in Colombia. Many of our ingredients are also available locally but we do import a lot of our products directly from Colombia such as our special Andean potatoes, our Arepas and the pre-cooked cornflour that we use to make our empanadas and pocket arepas with. Our beers, Juan Valdez coffee, Aguardiente and the fruit pulp we use to make our pura shakes with, are also directly imported from Colombia. We really wanted to ensure that we maintained the authenticity of traditional dishes you would find in Colombia so where ingredients were not available, we sourced them directly from Colombia. For ingredients available locally, I try to hand source as much as I can. I even have my own coconut lady in Little India that I personally visit to pick up coconuts for some of the restaurant items.
How do you select your ingredients and why?
I was born in Australia and lived on a cattle farm so I realized from young how important it was to know where your food comes from and how it is being raised and grown. I’m a firm believer in sustainable and organic produce. Where possible, I source for sustainable seafood. I believe that ingredients taste best when they are delivered straight from the farm to my kitchen door with as little handling as possible. Our beef is grass fed and if I can get organic fruit and vegetables, I will opt for them.
What can guests look forward to in the upcoming months at La Barra?
We are launching a new menu at La Barra in a few months and will be adding set lunches and lighter salad options for guests wishing to dine in or take away. More fish and seafood dishes will also be introduced to the menu. We are in the midst of opening a second restaurant concept called the Latin Quarter to cater to a more corporate crowd. It will offer a buffet lunch and hi-tea service. We will also launch an offsite catering facility which will focus on a more general Latin American menu for home entertaining and events.
Thanks Chef Michael! The Yum List hopes to find time to visit your newest restaurant and again sample the taste of Colombia.