Chef Isadora Chai On Motherhood: A Story in 5 Dishes
Congratulations to Bistro à Table’s executive chef Isadora Chai for bringing a beautiful bouncing baby into the world in January 2020. In conjunction with Mother’s Day, the chef candidly relays her food adventures pre- and post-pregnancy:
Chinese Confinement Food
We had a confinement nanny for a couple of weeks and she was afraid to cook for me as she knew I'm a professional chef. I found Chinese confinement food so utterly boring — I mean how much vinegar trotters can one eat in a week? — that I gave her my family food recipes to follow. The food started getting better and even my Mr Man ate some. But after three days, I kid you not, I took over and started cooking dinners for myself.
Strategic Pregnancy Meals
I used a pregnancy-by-week website that indicated the developmental stages of the foetus and ate according to the different growth stages. For example, if the baby was developing brain and neural synapses, I would eat high cholesterol foods. Another week it would be bones, so high levels of Vitamin D and calcium. For tissue and skin, I ate lots of fatty fish and animal fat. The nurses and doctors said that my kid was strong and hardy like a bull, so I guess it worked.
Having a child relatively late in life has its benefits — I am more confident when it comes to fighting off unsolicited advice from strongly opinionated mothers regarding ridiculous pregnancy diet taboos.
Also, being a scientist (in my previous life) armed me with the ability to regard or disregard taboos based on biochemistry and biology. It is quite alright to eat raw food and unpasteurised cheeses, provided you are acquiring it from respectable and reliable sources — the Japanese and French have been doing this since time immemorial. Also, do not kid yourself that you need to 'eat for two' during your first trimester. You are eating for yourself and a bunch of cells the size of a walnut.
A week before giving birth, I decided to check into The RuMa Hotel and Residences as the hotel is a walking distance to Sushi Oribe and Sushi Ori. I considered it my last chance to eat shellfish and have a decent sushi meal at the counter sans child.
And because I knew I would not be able to sit still at the hotel, I brought along my weighing scales and Chinese herbs to make my confinement herbal soup packs. The hotel suite looked like a Spanish hacienda drug den.
I absolutely abhor store-bought lactation cookies, which remind me of Jenny Craig’s diet biscuits. So when I was not producing milk, I had to Google ‘big boobs soup’ and came up with lots of soups involving green papayas, soy and chicken broths — I quite enjoyed the earthy mix of Chinese herbs and concentrated broths. Perhaps it was a placebo effect, but I started producing milk like the Bellagio Fountain.
Fancy Hospital Food
I remember being flooded with opinions on having a 'birth plan'. My birth plan was very simple: as soon as I was checked into the maternity ward, I bribed the nurses with Bistro à Table cakes — you will get the best treatment and care that money cannot buy. I also had Bistro à Table food delivered to me at the hospital for my meals, because what is the point of owning a French restaurant and having to eat hospital food?