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Home Cook Q&A: How This American Expat In Singapore Developed Such An ECLECTIC Repertoire Of Recipes

image: Tatyana Kildisheva

If you ask Michelle Pilarczyk – the International Cooking Club Singapore (ICCS)‘s Founder, Director and CEO – what she enjoys most about being in ICCS, she will tell you it’s the people.

“It has been fantastic to make so many friends living in all parts of Singapore, and in all different stages of life and from so many different countries, races, religious, etc.,” shares Michelle, who is American-born with dual U.K. citizenship. “Across the 300 active ladies and several hundred alumni in ICCS, we now represent 97 countries!” (Read more about the group here.)

But, it wasn’t until she became Editor-in-Chief and Co-publisher of the group’s The Red Dot Melting Pot Cookbook that Michelle discovered her real passion: food styling.

“I’ve loved being part of the creation of our cookbook, which has received much attention in the press,” says Michelle. “I learned, via this process, my new love for food styling, and I continue to challenge myself by doing my own styling and photography of all sorts of food I make for my family.” (Just SYK, you can follow Michelle’s Culinary Journey on Instagram at @michellesculinaryjourney.)

image: Grey Pilarczyk

No question, her family members – including German hubby Ralf and son Grey, 15, and daughter Bo, 14 – benefit greatly from Michelle’s regular culinary masterpieces. One of their oft-requested favourites is for her Swedish Lemon, Dill and Roe Buns (see below), which is one of six recipes Michelle contributed to the ICCS cookbook.

“Nothing is better than making homemade bread, or in this case buns,” she says. “They are both sweet and savoury, and whilst I could say they make a great breakfast or snack, in reality, when I make a batch, they get eaten at every meal. They don’t last long!”

image: Vanessa Lazcano

In addition, Michelle’s recipes for American Apricot, Brandy and Cream Cheese Brownies (shown at top) and American Mini Parmesan Shortbreads with Parsley Pesto and Goat Cheese (shown at bottom) are especially popular during this time of year when people are entertaining at home for holidays such as North American Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But, rather than spend endless hours in her own kitchen roasting that traditional Turkey Day bird, she confesses her secret weapon of seven years: Hoe Brothers catering.

“I kept my parents’ turkey roasting pan as one of my memories of them, but it’s just never fit in any oven we have owned!” says the former chemist-turned-management consultant, who has lived in SG for seven-plus years, with stints in the Dubai and London before that. “[Hoe Brothers does] an amazing job and has everything delivered on the day of, at the time wanted.” (Tip: You can also opt to have one of these delicious eateries and bakeries serve your Thanksgiving spread this year.)

Ready to learn more insider tips? Here are some of Michelle’s favourite food-related recos around SG and, well, the world:

When did you first learn to cook?

“I was around 13 years old when I first learned to make quiches and breads with my mother. A few years later, in 1986, my grandmother wrote a cookbook with her eight children – each one got a chapter in the book. Her energy and happiness in the kitchen inspired me.”

What are some of your favourite dishes to cook from your home country?

“I love fresh shellfish – Dungeness crab and lobster – since I am from the San Francisco Bay Area, and lived on the East Coast of America for 10 years. But, needless to say, it is quite expensive here in Singapore! One place I have found great shellfish at a decent price is The Ocean Mart, but it’s still expensive in comparison.”

What authentic restaurants in Singapore make dishes closest to ones from home?

“We don’t go out very often, to be honest. When we do, it’s usually for a special occasion, either as a couple or as a family. Salt Grill & Sky Bar, on the 55th floor of ION Orchard, is one of our all-time favourites. It has a super menu, great views. And – for a great deal – check out its lunchtime specials.”

Where do you buy good-quality, authentic ingredients in SG for when you cook at home?

“I don’t do much American cooking – mainly, I make dishes from all over. My favourite places to shop for ingredients are: Tekka Market (I love the ambiance, good prices, knowing many of the vendors and that my grated coconut and coconut milk is fresh from there!), Mustafa Centre (I love the 24/7 convenience – but I usually shop early morning hours to avoid the crowds), Tanglin Market Place and Paragon Market Place (for Western items not found in the aforementioned places) and Huber’s Butchery (for good-quality meats). I also love the new Culina at COMO Dempsey – it’s like a foodie’s museum!”

image: Claudia Anzur

What favourite foodstuffs do you buy overseas while travelling?

“I love to check out the spice aisles and bring home anything I find intriguing. When last in Germany, I found a ‘vanilla bean twister’ that works like a black pepper mill but with whole vanilla beans inside. Twisting this over a dessert makes a terrific touch in terms of aesthetics and taste! So many people have asked me where I got it by now. I also love to look for unique and authentic props in various countries to continue my food styling hobby.”

How has living in SG changed your cooking style or menu repertoire?

“Being here has led me to start ICCS, and meet so many passionate home cooks who have taught me so much. Needless to say, creating our cookbook taught me a tremendous amount about a sampling of dishes from the 75 countries represented in the book.”

When you’re not cooking or eating, what are your favourite places in SG to grab a drink?

“Cocktails at Tippling Club, especially when paired with the menu. This is a real treat!”

Last, what do you like most about living in SG?

“How friendly, generally speaking, everyone is here. The terms ‘taxi uncle’ or ‘bus aunty’ speak for themselves. Virtual strangers are effectively referred to like family.”

About International Cooking Club Singapore (ICCS)

International Cooking Club Singapore (ICCS) is a non-profit organisation consisting of approximately 300 participants from more than 95 countries divided into 25 cooking and baking groups. They rotate homes and teach one another culinary skills. ICCS created The Red Dot Melting Pot Cookbook, a top-ranked cookbook containing 223 authentic recipes from 75 countries. Follow ICCS on Instagram at @iccs_sg as well as its cookbook page @reddotmeltingpotcookbook for a regular dose of delicious recipes!

By Sara Lyle Bow, November 2019

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