Susan Quah-Quinico has a deep passion for food and flavor.
Fondly known as Spicy Susan, this eclectic Chef is not only knowledgeable in a plethora of Asian cuisines, but she also has a bigger than life personality that would leave a memorable impression to anyone she meets. As a talented private Chef, Susan plans and creates amazing themed culinary parties for friends and regular clients. Some of her sought after menus are "Chilli Crab Night", "Laksa Fantasy" and "Hawker Food Mini Feast".
Besides putting together trendy themed parties, she also creates "Recuperating Menu" for patients who are recovering from a serious illness or after a major surgery, as well as personalized confinement menus based on the mom's food allergies and special dietary needs. Loaded with meal planning questions, we speak with the gregarious Spicy Susan about her passion for fresh ingredients, food preparation for the elderly, as well as squeezed some professional advice on how to plan a themed party.
Q. Tell us about yourself.
A. I started "playing" in my maternal grandma's kitchen when I was four years old. She would make me pound the fresh herbs and spices to create all the pastes she needed for the curries and savory dishes she would be cooking for a big family as we all lived together with my grandma, uncles, and cousins.
I'm most passionate about food, textures, flavors of herbs, and spices. I also take comfort in the aroma of food being cooked slowly in the kitchen. I was mostly trained by my grandma, who is Hokkien-Peranakan, and my mum who is Teochew-Hainanese. Over the years, I also learnt to cook through self-study and hands-on experience working in restaurants.
Q. What made you want to become a Chef and how long have you been one?
A. I didn't plan on becoming a Chef, it was a natural progression because I've been cooking for my family and close friends for most of my life! When I relocated to Manila with my late husband in June 2002, I was looking for something to do and ended up being a Chef Consultant for a restaurant-bar in 2003, where my role involved planning the menu, costings, setting up of the kitchen and training. I also handled the marketing and promotions for live bands to play their gigs at night plus coming up with special menus for occasions like Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, etc.
Q. Please share with us your experience as a private Chef in Singapore and in Manila.
A. In Manila, I was cooking mostly for happy events like birthdays, baptismals, wedding anniversary with an Asian theme mainly focusing on Singaporean cuisine.
In Singapore, I am mostly cooking for patients after surgery and the elderly as well as themed parties like "Chilli Crab Dinner", "Black Pepper Crab Feast" or "Hawker Food Mini Feast".
Q. In your professional experience, what are the instances when people engage a private Chef?
A. For very special events like 1st, 16th, and 21st birthdays, Golden wedding anniversaries as well as when people want to experience a specific cuisine, or celebrate a milestone event in the comfort of their homes. Or simply when they have the extra budget to pamper their families and loved ones now and again.
Q. Who are the groups of people who utilize your service?
A. Friends of friends who recommended me and clients from my restaurant business, who requested that I re-create the same taste in their homes. Filipinos are willing to pay good money for authentic tastes of Singaporean food and they know it's still cheaper than flying to Singapore to satisfy their cravings! They also know I'm a Singaporean by birth and I make my sauces and pastes from scratch, so they were proud to invite their families and friends to a dinner party prepared by my team and I. I was also featured in their local paper "The Manila Bulletin" plus other lifestyle magazines.
Q. Please tell us about the three dishes you would cook for an elderly person.
A. Steamed fish with light soy and young ginger, egg tofu with prawns in oyster sauce, and kailan with shiitake mushrooms and dried scallops.
Q. What are the top five things to know when cooking for an elderly person with chewing difficulties?
- Find out if the elderly person has any food allergies, as well as likes and dislikes.
- Use fresh ingredients as much as possible.
- Hold the oil, salt, and sugar.
- Cut ingredients into small pieces for easy chewing and swallowing.
- May have to cook for longer, using a pressure cooker to soften meats; or use a better cut.
Q. What should people look out for when choosing a good private Chef/cook?
A. Look for someone who has the passion and an authentic knowledge of different types of cuisines. Look for a Chef who has a professional expertise in planning a menu that highlights the best of a specific cuisine. Of course, it's also important that the Chef has many years of culinary experience, and a warm and pleasant personality because diners always love to mingle with the Chef when he or she comes out to greet them.
Q. Have you got any tips or advice on what someone can do when organizing a festive party?
- Make a guest list, separate the adults from the children and take note of any special dietary needs.
- Once you know how many persons are coming to your party, decide on the theme/cuisine you want to have.
- Once you know your theme, you can choose the appetizers, mains, whether they're rice, noodles, veggies, and finally desserts. This is where you decide on a fixed budget for each person.
- Always have an allowance for extra food. It's better to have more than to have not enough foods to last throughout the whole party. You should also know when you want to start and end your party. Besides the on-site cooking, you may want to have add-ons like pizzas, BBQ chicken wings, sushi platter all easily available from commercial shops for takeaway.
- Best to use disposable plates and cutlery to cut down on washing so that your helpers can also enjoy the party. They can also take better care of your guests by clearing tables and getting them drinks.
- Have disposable containers and plastic bags for those who want to bring back some food with them at the end of the party.
Q. Based on your experience, if someone wants to be a Chef, what are the things they need to do?
- You must have the passion and truly love food! You must like to work with fresh ingredients, herbs, and spices and not be afraid to work long hours on your feet, and get your hands dirty. Injuries like burns, cuts and scalds are common while working in a kitchen, so you have to be careful at all times.
- Get a basic culinary education, which will teach you the various forms of cooking, costings, budgeting, handling of ingredients and hygiene. But if you can't afford it, you can learn through short courses or work in a commercial kitchen to gain the necessary skills and experience.
- Decide what's the best cuisines you want to "master" and work in that direction. I chose to be an expert in Asian cuisines and my forte is Singaporean (mains and hawker foods), as well as Thai, Chinese and Filipino. I'm on my way to learning Vietnamese cuisine. I'm hoping to study Taiwanese and Korean cuisine in the near future.
- Be willing to learn from others, read cookbooks on your choice of specialization, watch a lot of cooking shows on The Food Network and LifeStyle Channel.
- Always keep an open mind, observe food trends to have a feel of current trends. Try out new concept eating places to check out the scene!
- Travel and spend time to immerse in the food culture of the cuisine you're specializing in. I hope to spend a few weeks in Vietnam soon – that's on my list of things to do for early 2017.
- Attend Food Fairs/Expo, connect with like-minded people in the culinary field of your current location.
- Keep eating, learning and exploring new flavors, textures, for inspiration to create new recipes!
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