Local Farms Continue To Grow Their Impact On Fine Dining
Singapore’s agriculture sector contributes less than one per cent of the country’s GDP per capita and more than 90 per cent of our food is imported. It’s on a path of slow and steady growth but that is not to say local farms have not been innovative with growing vegetables and herbs, of which some are good enough to for a host of fine dining restaurants.
Sustenir Agriculture grows four tonnes (4,000kg) of veggies and strawberries per month. This new farm supplies its strawberries to the likes of one-Michelin-starred Labyrinth, arugula to Fat Prince, and kale to Tung Lok restaurants, Summerlong and Origin Grill. The total volume of produce supplied to about 12 restaurants presently is approximately 800kg.
Co-founder Benjamin Swan says, “we are the first farm ever to successfully grow strawberries in Singapore; we have learnt how to naturally adapt the flavour of our produce to match the requirements of our customers, resulting in the cleanest, freshest and tastiest locally-grown fruit and vegetables on the market.
He said the company decided to start with kale because it’s notoriously difficult to grow, and he knew that if they succeeded, they would be in a good place in terms of how far they could push the limits of vertical farming. Sustenir is expanding to Hong Kong later this year, making them the world’s first international indoor vertical farm.
The size of Farm deLight is 600sqm of which about 55 per cent is used to grow plants; about 30 types of herbs/micro-vegetables are grown while about 10 per cent of these plants in their developmental stage—meaning that the company is trying to ascertain if the market will accept new varieties, said General Manager Edmund Wong who confirmed that 30 types of plants are supplied to the local consumers every month.
Farm deLight focuses mainly on micro-cresses and according to Wong, the most popular in Singapore are the green shiso cress, red shiso cress and pea shoots because they usually last longer.
“We want to grow the best vegetables, so on top of being as eco-friendly as possible, we use light, water and biological/organic fertilisers combinations that are able to bring out the best colour, aroma and flavour from our vegetables.” Wong adds. He credits a few good mentors, in particular its first five customers—including Ken Loon (The Naked Finn) and Chef Emmanuel Stroobant (Saint Pierre)—for helping him understand the trade. Some of the Michelin-starred restaurants that are using his products include Whitegrass, Braci, Candlenut and Corner House. Saint Pierre buys about 40 punnets per week; some like the red oxalis are regrown. Chef Stroobant also uses marigold cress to make an oil, which he says has a very distinctive taste.
Citizen Farm is a sustainable and socially-driven urban farm occupying an 8,000 sqm plot of land at Jalan Penjara. Run by a group of 25 young farmers from diverse backgrounds who work together to connect the community through urban agriculture, it uses a closed-loop farming model which integrates different indoor and outdoor farming systems to cultivate sustainably-grown, pesticide-free quality produce with minimal waste.
The farm grows 20 different types of herbs and veggies such as kale, lettuce, arugula, sweet basil, purple basil, and mint. The microgreens grown include red vein sorrel, spicy mix, mustard frills, snap peas, crazy peas, and red amaranth. Edible flowers include tarragon, butterfly sorrel, blue and white peas flowers, red leaf hibiscus, and ulam rajah. Darren Ho who helms the farm says, “The most popular type is our microgreens. We supply about 1 tonne (1000kg) of that a year.”
Mid-range and fine dining restaurants buy at least once or twice a week from them, Ho adds. They include Alma by Juan Amador, Open Farm Community, Tippling Club, Cure, 1-Group of restaurants, Chef’s Table by Chef Stephan, Candlenut, and Labyrinth. Citizen Farm also supplies to 50 families weekly that subscribe bags of veggies and herbs from the farm.
Cure’s chef-owner Andrew's Walsh says he uses herbs like micro basil, Mexican tarragon, dogfennel, wood sorrel and chives to whip up his tableside pesto, used to crown his Summer Tomatoes creation in the autumn menu. These herbs, he shares, make a world of difference to the aromas of the dish, by first whetting the appetite, then contributing a vibrant and sweet freshness to cut through the acidity of the tomatoes and the richness of the Irish goat cheese tortellini.