Chef Matthew Orlando has one big take on sustainable food, and he does it the best way possible — by serving up dishes you can’t get enough of.
Take, for example, the crispy oyster mushrooms coated in Sarawak pepper emulsion and seasoned with pickled chilies at the sprawling 40,000 sq. ft. restaurant concept. air on green Dempsey Hill, which opened on January 31.
Crispy oysters covered with a lacto-fermented spice mix made from kitchen vegetable scraps
Inspired by fried chicken, they have a more explosive umami flavor that is almost impossible to stop. The secret to their amazing depth of flavor lies in a lacto-fermented spice blend made from kitchen scraps of vegetables—proof that so much more can be done when it comes to the conscious and creative use of ingredients.
“Whatever you do has to be the same or better than what you’re trying to replace, or you’re not going to convince people,” Orlando says during a private preview of Air for Top.
Will Goldfarb and Matthew Orlando (right) and Air
A textbook example of this is Re-Incarnated “Chocolate”, which mixes the by-products of three common processes – cacao husks, cascara (the fruit thrown away during coffee making) and coconut pulp – with cocoa butter and sugar to create a luscious chocolate a bar with a deep roasted taste that will be difficult to distinguish from real chocolate.
“It’s basically the traditional way of making chocolate, just without cocoa beans, which are in short supply around the world,” he explains.
The reincarnated “Chocolate” dessert demonstrates the delicious remnants of three everyday cooking methods.
Most recently, he was a chef-owner of a restaurant in Copenhagen Amas. During its years of operation from 2013 to 2022, the restaurant sparked a movement in exploring how the hospitality and food industry should play a role in mitigating the negative impact it has on the environment.
“Everything you do has to be the same or better than what you’re trying to replace, or you’re not going to convince people.”
Chef Matthew Orlando
This conscious philosophy permeates almost every element of Air, the opening of one of the most anticipated restaurants in Singapore. Its campus consists of a farm-to-table restaurant, research lab, culinary arts and garden. In addition to Orlando, the two other minds behind this ambitious concept are Will Goldfarb, who runs a dessert restaurant Room 4 Dessert in Bali and Ronald Akili, Indonesian co-founder of the hospitality brand Potato head.
The menu of modern cuisine with strong notes of Southeast Asia and Europe is headed by Orlando. Large starters and hearty main courses form the beating heart of Air and are complemented by side dishes, desserts and cocktails infused with herbs and botanicals sourced from the farm to the bar. The chef duo hopes that this great food will organically spark deep conversation and positive action.
“We never want to be preachy, but how do we make something that’s accessible and gets people involved on their own terms,” says Orlando, who is now relocating full-time to Singapore.
Air was designed by David Giannotten, architect and managing partner of the renowned OMA, and Shinji Takagi together with designer Andreu Carulla.
“I could sit here for days and talk about using stems, skins and seeds to create flavor, or I could put a spoonful of delicious food in your mouth and get your attention. Food is very much a vehicle for communicating about broader topics such as food systems and the larger ecosystem.”
This is a key reason why he characterizes Air as an “open source” kitchen and is willing to share techniques and recipes with those who are interested. For example, the fish bone noodles at Fysh at Edition by Australian chef Josh Niland are based on a recipe Orlando developed in his research lab at Amass.
Air occupies the former Tanglin Clubhouse and is accessible from the main entrance on Dempsey Hill via a 100m walkway.
The next iteration of this culinary wizardry can now be found on Air’s menu. The Whole Coral Grouper entree (serves two) includes spicy fish head rillette, fillet with configuration and fish bone pita cooked by Orlando.
They hope to develop their spirit of sharing information for the common good in Singapore. Located on the restaurant’s second floor, the research space is where Air’s team of chefs will try and experiment with different ingredients and food processing techniques from starters to infusions. There will also be a regular lineup of cooking classes and programs for both the general public and professional chefs to further foster a sense of community spirit.
“There are already so many restaurants here with exceptional tasting. We’re not here to compete with anyone, we’re here to complement and welcome them into our home and share our knowledge and love of food,” says Goldfarb, who will split his time between Singapore and Bali.
“Part of the fun of this project is being able to have this platform for all our friends and great chefs, including retailers and home chefs with great traditional recipes. We want it to be a place for people who care about food.”
Chef Matthew Orlando (foreground) with his team at Air
He used his ten years of experience managing Room4Dessert in Bali and its generative garden and forest to create a thriving garden for Air and ensure that the various operational aspects of the project ran like a well-oiled machine. Among the plant species – bell pepper, star pepper, wormwood, cucumber, moringa and many others – the harvested crop will be used in the restaurant.
“We’re not here to compete with anyone, we’re here to complement them and welcome them into our home and share our knowledge and love of food.”
This ambitious and large-scale project is a two-story complex with an area of 40,000 square meters. ft., which accommodates 45 guests on each floor – could only be done in Singapore, Goldfarb points out. “Singapore has the perfect combination and dynamic food culture for this. People are extremely passionate about trying new things, there are many opportunities for cultural exchange, and there are many generations of people who want to interact with food in different ways,” he says.
The atmosphere at Air is casual and light
Orlando adds: “What I wasn’t prepared for until I started spending a lot of time here is what everyone talks about when it comes to food — they have their favorite dish in a certain place and they want to take you there. I was delighted to be “pulled” to taste so many things that people are so proud of, and which do not happen in many Western countries.”
Inspired by this uniquely Singaporean love of food and to fill their cavernous space, the chefs eschew their usual fine dining tasting menu concepts in favor of a more casual setting. For example, in addition to the all-day a la carte menu, guests can also sit on the lawn to enjoy appetizers such as oyster shwarma and fermented potato salad if they prefer.
Air offers an all-day a la carte menu that can be enjoyed indoors or on the lawn.
“We talked about how we could make the biggest impact, so we decided to create a more casual restaurant to make it more accessible. The more people you touch, the more impact you make,” says Orlando.
Agreeing, Goldfarb adds: “We want people to come three times a day – we want them to come in for a coffee, a glass of wine or a walk in the garden. We even want people to come here for no reason, like we had someone running here today.”
This article first appeared in Top