Petrina Loh

Chef-Owner | Morsels

Chef Petrina left her well-heeled banking job more than a decade ago to pursue her passion for food and wine. What’s followed has been a whirlwind journey that has seen her graduate top of her class at the prestigious California Culinary Academy (which runs the Le Cordeu Bleu programme), given her a rare glimpse into some of the world’s most far-flung farms and kitchens, and made possible countless encounters with world-class food artisans.

Her award-winning restaurant, Morsels, is nestled in the leafy enclave of Dempsey Hill and has been Chef Petrina’s full-time endeavour since she returned to Singapore in 2013. There, she serves up her signature brand of Asian fusion food, garnished with her deep curiosity of food anthropology, sustainability and culinary culture.

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About you
1. Describe your culinary journey so far.
- Fulfilling, but also very trying. Cooking has blessed me with opportunities to travel — I’ve cooked on a ship that sailed 7 days from Singapore to India, travelled with the Toriyama Wagyu family to Europe, visited many farmers and met many sake brewers, miso makers, winemakers, local artisans, chefs from all over the world, and even competed in Spain with truffle. At the same time, things can be trying especially with the labour situation in Singapore and the fact that my food is not common, but rather niche.

2. You chose to move from a career in banking to become a chef. Why?
- I was 29 and didn’t see myself working as a private banker for the next 20 years. At that time, banks were very focused on sales, and from the ethical point of view, the products weren’t really what I believed in selling.

About food
1. How would you describe or define your cooking style?
- In a nutshell, I offer fusion cuisine, but I strongly believe that if you don’t understand culture and why people eat the way they do, you can’t fuse anything together. So it helps that I’m adventurous and that I appreciate food anthropology and history. I don’t pigeonhole my brand of fusion — one minute I’m doing Indian-Japanese, the next I’m cooking Korean-Asian. It is all about chasing umami and taking my diners on an adventure.

2. You were taught cooking by your late father, and have worked with many famous names in the culinary world. Who or what would you say has inspired you the most in your cooking journey?
- I don’t think there is one sole person. In my youth, I was influenced and polished by my father, who didn’t just teach me to cook but also to be open to all kinds of flavours and ingredients. One can find inspiration from hawkers, farmers, or random people. My very first culinary mentors in the US played a strong role as they didn’t just teach me cooking but also about life and leadership. When I moved back to Singapore, a meeting with Chef Damian D’Silva at his now defunct restaurant Immigrants, during which he let me taste his mother’s homemade Nanru recipe, changed how I viewed cooking and explains why I prioritise slow food, making things the artisanal way and cooking things from scratch. 

About your choice of ingredients
1. Why do you choose Japanese ingredients in your cooking/baking?
- I’ve always been fond of Japanese ingredients, because of the way they are made. The ingredients I select are often artisanal and traceable.

3. What can Japanese ingredients bring to the table that similar ingredients from other sources cannot?
- Their consistency and quality are simply unrivalled. Konbu and Katsuo Bushi are indispensable in my creations now. 

3. What are some new creations that you are working on now which incorporate novel Japanese ingredients?
- In Spring, we layer umeboshi and sakura flowers into our duck dish, and use ume to make a lovely barbecue sauce.