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57 questions with Dan Segall
1. In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
I take responsibility for every decision made in the kitchen in hopes of creating a great restaurant for my guests, a great workplace for my staff and a great investment for my shareholders.
2. Most rewarding part of opening Ku De Ta?
Having staff bring their families to eat there. If it's good enough for mom, it's good enough for anyone.
3. Where is your getaway?
Midway through a plate of chicken wings or a bowl of ramen. I just sit and munch and clear my mind.
4. Which local Singaporean ingredients do you enjoy working with most?
I'm a big citrus junkie, so calamansi limes are top of the list, but there are just SO many: prawn paste, pandan leaf, palm sugar... and that's just the 'p's.
5. Having so much responsibility, how do you keep it cool in the kitchen?
There are really only two things that get me upset: laziness and carelessness. Other than that I don't get angry, but I do drive the team and I certainly drive the service. People say I'm a bit intimidating during the service, but you have to be.
6. Describe your ideal day off.
Sleep till noon...'Kopi C' and kaya butter toast, bit of sun by the pool, get some laundry done, meet a friend for eats- simple stuff like local food, pub or bistro, a cocktail or three, and some good laughs.
7. Movie of the year?
Honestly cannot remember the last time I went to the cinema. Every time I do an opening, I miss about a year of pop culture.
8. What quality do you look for in your food purveyors?
In this order, which is explained to my suppliers in painful detail: quality of product, consistency of service, competitiveness of price. (This goes right in line with my priority of satisfaction: happy guest, happy staff, happy boss - if 1 & 2 are sorted, 3 is nearly given)
9. What's in your fridge right now?
Fresh fruit, couple hunks of cheese, some kind of cured pork product (right now its bakwah - Chinese bbq'd bacon - oh that's right, I said bbq bacon), grand total of 17 mustards, hot sauces, pickles and various other condiments, fresh garlic & coriander, jar of anchovies, soda water, tonic water, tiger beer.
10. Which Ku De Ta menu item excites you most?
Well first it was the squid and then it was the duck...and now it's one that we should be getting on the menu soon. The squid was a little dream that came together and so was the duck, one day it's an idea scribbled on paper and the next people are paying money to eat it
11. Least favorite ingredient?
Don't know if I have a least favourite ingredient. It's my food so I don't use stuff I don't like. However (confession time...) I don't like doing soups. People like/need soups and I like 'soupy' stuff like ramen, but there's only two soups that I'd order if I saw on a menu. Stews & gumbos. Well that's a different story.
12. Do you think Singaporeans are adventurous in their eating habits?
I don't really like to generalize the people of an entire nation especially when it comes to eating habits. Frankly I'm not so sure how adventurous I am as a diner.
13. Favourite spot in the restaurant?
The service pass at the cocktail bar, its discrete. I have a great view of the diners. Rea, my bartender, is there and she always has a friendly word to say.
14. You have categorised the menu into sections like "cold" "raw" "crisp" etc. Why didn't you go the traditional route?
Not too sure there is a traditional route when it comes to this food but the headings are actually VERY traditional, but from a traditional Chinese food restaurant menu (one in China of course.) Just normal ordering in a restaurant in Beijing, you would get a few cold dishes, a few fried or steamed small plates like dumplings and then get into a couple large plates like a whole fish or pork ribs.
15. Fill in the blank: I don't feel at home without my ___________.
It sucks that I have to say this...blackberry.
16. When's dinnertime?
Is this a trick question? I'm usually a 10:30am, 4:30pm, 12am kind of eater... but I snack all day.
17. If you weren't a chef, what would you be doing?
Hmmm...probably be doing some kind of job that afforded me time for a hobby. I always get into something, like a martial art or physical program or some type of visual art and then I end up doing another restuarant opening and lose a half year of my practice.
18. Which actor would you hire to play you in the movie of your life?
I'd love to say Johnny Depp, but it would probably be Adam Sandler. Maybe if I worked hard at it the next few years, I could snag Sean Penn for the role.
19. Favourite Singaporean dish?
20. Who inspires you most?
The guys that keep showing up day after day to cook the food.
21. What do you eat when you're homesick?
Well I'm a bit of a burger hound. I can always eat a burger. But when I'm really needing some New England, either oatmeal or pancakes with entirely too much butter and a small lake of Vermont maple syrup.
22. Favourite offal?
Sweetbreads or Bone marrow, both because of their versatility.
23. Who's your favourite chef: living, dead, or fictional?
Too many to name: Satoru Mukogawa, David Lai, Eric Johnson, Andy McKee, Ryan Clift and all my buddies in Marina Bay Sands like Sho, Josh, David, Stephane...these are guys who I have leaned on in one way or another over the years and have all made me amazing meals as well. But Primo, Tony Shaloub's character in Big Night makes me glad I am what I am. And Dean Bush, my Chef de Cuisine makes me glad I am doing what I'm doing.
24. How much is too much to spend on a meal?
Obviously I don't deal in absolutes too much. I tend to look at everything as being relative. If I spent $1000 on a meal for two and I don't have a second thought about it, well then it wasn't too much. Likewise, if I spend $10 on a meal for two and I feel like I overpaid...well then I did. I don't look at the number on the check, I usually ask myself "would I do that again?" There are a few famous restaurants in Singapore I have not yet gone to because I know I'm going to walk out feeling like I spent too much money. But I have also eaten at a friends' restaurant a few times and each time paid $300 per person, and I would happily go back.
25. What's your Chinese zodiac?
Tiger, last day, my lunar birthday is Chinese New Year's Eve.
26. What is your personal philosophy about cooking?
Maximum flavor, minimum fingers- basically do everything you can to make it taste good, but don't let people see the work.
27. Sweet or savoury?
Salted popcorn with peanut M&Ms dumped on top. Serve with either Coca Cola or beer, both ice cold...does that answer your question?
28. Favourite condiment?
29. How does Singapore's Ku De Ta compare to the original in Bali?
We try to provide the same experience in an urban setting.
30. Describe your best date night plan.
Date night...I heard about this.
31. Favourite time of day?
12am - 2am; restaurant quiet, office empty, thinking occurs.
32. Who do you text the most?
Far and away the most embarrassing yet truthful answer on this thing: Jason Licker, Executive Pastry Chef, JW Marriott Hong Kong.
33. If you could be anywhere right now where would you be?
Well at the time of writing its 2am and I'm in bed, and that's exactly where I want to be. Doesn't just have to be my bed, but definitely in bed.
34. What does your last supper look like?
A lot like Da vinci's Last Supper, but more like a Marx Brothers movie set in a Kosher Deli.
35. Brownies: with or without nuts?
In fact, a brownie is just about the only place in the world a walnut belongs...or on David Almany's ricotta with grilled radicchio, honey and spiced walnuts at Mozza.
36. Where does your alliance lie during the Olympics?
Winter or summer?
37. Favourite pantry item that most people don't have but should?
Soba-cha, toasted soba tea
38. If you could dine with two other chefs, who would they be?
I eat with chefs all the time...could I please pick two other people?
39. Do you still have a close tie to Hong Kong?
Hong Kong has been the center of my experience in Asia. Its nice to go back and check in.
40. What's on your playlist?
House music, progressive rock, American jazz (1955-1975)
41. After all the international travel, where do you consider home?
Where ever I can walk in the door and nobody asks where you've been because you're here now and that's all that matters.
42. If you could choose one food to describe you, what would it be?
I would be a thanksgiving sandwich: turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and sweet potato mash on a sandwich.
43. How do you take your coffee?
Kopi C kosong peng
44. Overall, was the challenge of Ku De Ta worth it?
To watch my boys cook, to see guests thrilled with the food, that's worth it. Yes.
45. What quality do you most admire in a cook?
Arrogance and pride...he just might end up being a chef.
46. If you were to open up another new restaurant anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Dunno if I want to do another opening, but I think I wanna live in Bangkok next...
47. What's your motto?
Could it be better?
48. Who would you challenge to a cook-off and what would you prepare?
I wouldn't. I love working with chefs. I've done a lot of non-competitive events with many other chefs. Its an incredible forum for learning.
49. Childhood food favourite?
Perdue Breaded Chicken Cutlets & KC Masterpiece Original BBQ Sauce
50. What was your most dangerous kitchen experiment?
Trying to fish a plastic cigarette lighter out of a deep-fat fryer (Denny's, Syracuse NY c. 1995)
51. Noodles or rice?
52. What is your favourite holiday?
Thaipusam for the spectacle, American Thanksgiving for the grub
53. Beer, wine, or the strong stuff?
54. Preferred form of communication?
Please refer to question #53.
55. Last thing you cooked for yourself?
Some grilled ribeye on rice
56. Guilty pleasure?
Fried chicken anytime day or night...and eating jam right out the jar.
57. Proudest moment?
A million little ones that make me believe what I am doing is not only making some people happy, but making their lives a little bit better. Especially when a chef leaves me to take on a higher position in a tougher kitchen.
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