Willie Sng, executive chef of college dining at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will be at Davidson College Feb. 20 as part of the Guest Chef series, where he will prepare and discuss a dinner featuring Paranakan cuisine. The event is open to the public. Prior to starting at the UMass Amherst in 2003, Sng had a 35-year career as executive chef with Westin Hotels and Resorts and worked all over the world. Lake Norman Magazine talked to Sng about his upcoming appearance and the secret to preparing a great Asian meal.
What is your culinary background? I was born and bred in Singapore and got my first job at the Singapore Westin hotel. I worked for Westin for 35 years, moving from Singapore to Montreal, then Edmonton, Bermuda, L.A. and Cincinnati. I left hotels to work for Miami University, in Ohio, as executive chef of college dining for three years and have been at UMass Amherst for the past 10 years.
What will you be cooking at Davidson College? I will be featuring Paranakan, a very unique fusion of Chinese and Malaysian cuisines, with some Thai and Indonesian influences, too. It is extremely fresh and flavourful, with a sweet, sour, salty and pungent profile. We use a lot of shrimp paste, lemon grass, yellow ginger, kaffir lime leaves and tamarind paste.
Do you have any tips for preparing Asian meals at home? Yes! Buy ingredients in small quantities, frequently. Don’t buy large containers of anything because it will sit in your refrigerator or cupboard and get stale. Paranakan is about freshness!
Do you have a favorite dish? Oh yes, chilli crab. I only eat it when I cook it myself at home because it is so messy, with sauces. It’s made with Mud crabs in Singapore, but Dungeonous crabs are similar. It is delicious!
Do you have an interesting food memory? The Westin has yearly conferences that I attended, where chefs from all over the world come together. The team of chefs from Mexico had made a snack that was on the table where we were gathered. The general manager of one of the Canadian hotels started eating the snack. We asked him if he knew what he was eating and he said, “Yes, it’s trail mix.” We couldn’t help laughing and told him that it was not trail mix; it was a Mexican specialty: a plate of fried worms. He nearly threw up.
Who were your culinary influences? My grandma. She was an amazing cook and baker. She never used a recipe. She would just cook and adjust as she went. I tried and write down what she made because it was all so good.
Want to go? William Sng Guest Chef luncheon at Davidson College When: Wednesday, Feb. 20. 5-7:15 p.m. Where: Davidson College, Vail Commons Dining Hall on Patterson Court, 431 N. Main St., Davidson. Cost: $10.25 Details: Call 704-894-2600.