There was something about his pasta, and honestly, I am not a big fan of heavy duty starch meals these days, but I could not stop eating his version. The basic Sizzling Tomato Seafood Spaghetti ($6.90) was so alluring and comforting I kept wondering what magic mojo he blessed it with. So I prodded and behold, I got my epiphany. “I used to work for Pete’s Place” , and Chef Choo Siew Leong brought me back to my growing up years on the 90s when I used to frequent that little basement Italian haunt off Scotts Road. It was nostalgia and comfort I was tasting at Chef Choo’s. The lessons I learnt back then about al-dente and how much tang and umami tomatoes can lend to a noodle dish, all came back, intact and in my mouth.
Chef Choo, at 32, is out and out a true blue all round millennial hawker who can handle the best of local and western chow. He began in his teens and sold braised duck at Tiong Bahru hawker centre and cze cha before being baptized in the western kitchens of top five-star hotels here. A look at his little stall will give it away- it comes clean, professionally laid out for ease of operation and he can singlehandedly dish out over 100 portions a day. His Filipino wife Hazel helps out front of house service and he proudly don his chef uniform every day. I had to eat here three times before I dare confirm that there’s a hint of wok-hei (no kidding) in his pastas, and he only offers spaghetti , for ease of operation and speed. He brings up the fire in the pan with shots of wine to gently sear the noodles before infusing it with the various flavours. Besides his popular tomato seafood pasta, I had to dive into one of his daily specials, the Live Blue Mussels White Wine Light Spicy Tomato Spaghetti ($10, and don’t let the name intimidate you). The sweetness of the live mussels over the tangy sweet umami laden cheese garlic sauce (that’s what I tasted) was like an Earth, Wind and Fire hit in the palate, a flavourful blast of Boogey Wonderland. His simple basic Agli Olio ($4) was as easy as it comes. The butter, garlic , olive oil and seasoning plus the sprinkle of chilli flakes over the al-dente pasta was Iocal Italian soulfood to me. I asked how he manages alone in the kitchen and “it’s about menu and kitchen layout planning” be blinked at me and I realised it was a silly question for someone like him. Another of the specials, which he scribbles on a whiteboard out front, is the Spaghetti Alle Vongole with Japanese Scallops in Spicy Garlic White Wine Sauce ($10, again fear not the name). There was a light hint of spicy tomatoes with the garlic wine and it was just fine by me. The scallops was uber fresh as was the in-shell vongole clams.
His prices are reasonable for what you get, bordering on cheap but the reason why he wants to bring this class of food to the masses as a hawker, is priceless, “It’s the freedom I have with my wife at such stalls.” And that adds to the freedom and democracy of flavours we get at hawker centres.
Chef Choo Signature
B1-45, Golden Mile Hawker Centre,
505 Beach Road
12pm to 8pm daily, closed on Mondays