When the highly acclaimed chef is not helming the kitchen at St Pierre, Emmanuel Stroobant is busy cooking up a storm in his own home kitchen, along with his wife Edina Hong. From raucous parties for extended families to cosy tete-a-tetes among friends, they breeze through each gathering with the ease of seasoned hosts. And the stage for all the action: the open-concept kitchen in their family home on Sixth Avenue.
“Our gatherings are not very formal – that is reserved for the restaurant,” says Stroobant, as he relaxes over a cuppa at the family dining table. It’s minutes before his friends arrive for a casual brunch get-together, and all he has prepared is a loaf of fig bread – which came from the restaurant kitchen, actually.
But he is not in the least bit fazed. It might have to do with the fact that people are always coming in and out of the dining space – the couple entertain friends and family about once or twice every week. On any given day, there are eight mouths to feed at home, including his in-laws and two domestic helpers.
“The kitchen is designed for cooking and sharing and having fun,” says Stroobant. The entire ground floor is a seamless space where the living area flows into the dining area and then the open kitchen, with easy access to the outdoor space where he “attempts” to plant herbs and other greens.
Says Hong: “We agreed on having an open entertaining space. We fantasise about entertaining because, in reality, he has no time! So I often entertain without him, and might put together an elaborate Peranakan feast for friends who I know appreciate the cuisine.”
She adds with a hearty chortle: “Within the family, it is my eldest daughter who entertains to no end. She perpetually has friends over. So, in the basement, we have an entertainment area, complete with beanbags, a Wii, an X-box and arts and crafts stations. At big gatherings, the kids can make a mess downstairs, while the adults party on the ground floor.”
Not being fazed might also have to do with the fact that cooking is pretty much second nature to the man who has worked in professional kitchens since he was a teenager. And it is certainly because even at home, he is blessed with access to a professional setup – the environment he is most comfortable in.
While Hong pretty much took charge of the design of the entire house, which was built from the ground up, the kitchen was Stroobant’s brainchild. She had to chase him for nine months for the kitchen design, but, when he finally sat down to plan it, it took all of one day.
“You can have 10 people cooking at once, and can probably service a 40-seat restaurant with it,” Stroobant says of his set-up which consists of parallel islands. One is a “hot station” fitted with an industrial sunken stove and oven; the other is a “mise en place” station also serving as a dining counter with five under-counter fridges. The serving counter is also fitted with shallow drawers designed for their daughters’ easy access.
“Keira is six years old and she is always asking me to cook with her. On Sundays, she sits here with Mia who is three, and they might make cakes or roll sushi. But apart from learning a skill and understanding ingredients, cooking also helps to inculcate the importance of sharing!” enthuses the doting father.
Stroobant and his family are not the only people who work in this impressive kitchen, which is equipped with a Pacojet, circulator, chamber vacuum and “all kinds of high-speed blenders”. “I also hold many professional meetings here and research on ingredients and dishes at home. For this reason, the kitchen is professionally equipped and replicates what I have in the restaurant.”
His pride and joy, however, is not any of the high tech toys, but a traditional thick-walled oven. He says: “The oven is very traditional, very old-fashioned. I do very basic baking – like what my parents used to do. I like this because the thick walls maintain the internal temperature well. With new ovens, the temperature drops rapidly the minute you open the door. “However, unlike modern ovens where everything is very precise and digitally presented, with this you have to experiment – what it says on the dial may not be the actual temperature inside!”
BACK TO BASICS
Stroobant’s favourite kitchen equipment is an indication of his cooking style when it comes to entertaining: back to basics.
“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity – that’s the key. My food is ingredient-driven and I try to introduce interesting produce to my guests,” says Stroobant. Today, for his two yoga-instructor friends, he has bought organic spinach from Japan, each cluster grown 25cm apart so that the vegetable flattens out into a disc, rather than grow tall into a bundle. The additional exposure to sun gives it candysweetness, making the stems a delight to snack on, even raw.
“I tend to prepare a lot of snacks when I entertain. Most of the time, hosts offer peanuts and chips to start; I chargrill baby corn, halve cherry tomatoes and sprinkle them with a bit of sea salt, and serve spinach stems. We also have bread with cheese and wine. For main course, we usually do a big sharing dish – maybe a couscous or pasta, depending on what my guests like to eat,” he says. “With home entertaining, there is no need to do massive, complicated cooking. I am not trying to earn a Michelin star for the house so I don’t have to work too hard to impress!” That said, elaborate feasts have been held in the residence.
Hong says with relish: “Once, I hosted some industry friends while Emmanuel wasn’t around, and we had otah, fish curry buah keluak, babi assam, cuttlefish with turnip wrapped in lettuce, rendang, chap chui… all for just seven persons.
And for Christmas, we had 40 members of my extended family over. Emmanuel made foie gras terrine and beef bourguignon; I roasted lamb and beef; our helper made couscous; and, for dessert, there was Emmanuel’s grandmother’s flourless chocolate cake. We also prepared mashed potatoes, salads, mac and cheese and spaghetti bolognese for the kids.”
Even Hong attributes their ability to feed guests well to the professional set-up: “Cooking on an industrial stove is so different. My fried rice is always perfect because the heat is so intense!”
3 Quick House Rules
Edina Hong and Emmanuel Stroobant share their tips on entertaining.
01: KNOW YOUR GUESTS
“Do some research and know what your guests like or dislike. Do they have dietary restrictions? Do they prefer Western or Asian food? I always ask if they have food preferences, dietary restrictions or allergies,” says Hong. “I’ve only had small screw-ups here and there, though mostly if the guests don’t fancy the food, they would just be polite and not eat a lot.”
02: HAVE STANDARDS
“Be the most painfully fussy person at the table,” prescribes Hong. Her rationale: If you can be satisfied, then everybody else would be well taken care of.
03: FIND A (GOOD) PARTNER
Stroobant’s only tip: “Marry a chef. That’s all there is to it!”
If you like this story, be sure to check out other interesting home stories here:
- 8 steps to get the perfect man cave
- 5 kitchen hacks: From organisation to entertaining
- Home tips: Entertaining tips from Iroshini Chua
Article by Koh Yuen Lin, originally appeared in The Peak.