Makansutra: Hawker stall serves up perfect pasta
Chef Choo Signature dishes at Golden Mile Food Centre are nostalgic, comforting
There is just something about chef Choo Siew Leong's pasta.
I am not a big fan of heavy-duty starch meals these days, but I cannot stop eating his version.
The basic Sizzling Tomato Seafood Spaghetti ($6.90) is so alluring and comforting, I kept wondering what spell he had cast on it.
So I prodded and got my answer.
"I used to work at Pete's Place," said chef Choo.
That took me back to my growing-up years in the 90s, when I used to frequent that little basement Italian haunt at Scotts Road.
So it was nostalgia I was tasting at Chef Choo Signature at Golden Mile Food Centre.
The lessons I learnt about al dente pasta and how much tang and umami tomatoes can lend to a noodle dish all came back - intact and in my mouth.
Chef Choo, 32, is a true-blue, all-rounder millennial hawker who can handle the best of local and Western chow.
He began in his teens and sold braised duck at Tiong Bahru Food Centre and zi char, before stints in the Western kitchens of top five-star hotels here.
One look at his little stall will give it all away - it is clean, professionally laid out and he can single-handedly dish out more than 100 portions a day.
His Filipino wife Hazel assists with front-of-the-house service and he proudly dons his chef uniform every day.
I had to eat here three times before I dared to confirm that there is a hint of wok hei in his pasta (he offers just 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 them with the various flavours.
Besides his popular tomato seafood pasta, I also dived 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 was like an Earth, Wind & Fire hit in the palate, a flavourful blast of Boogie Wonderland.
As for his simple Aglio Olio ($4), the butter, garlic, olive oil and seasoning plus the sprinkle of chilli flakes over the al dente pasta was local Italian soul food to me.
Another special, which he scribbles on a whiteboard out front, is the Spaghetti Alle Vongole with Japanese Scallops in Spicy Garlic White Wine Sauce ($10).
There was a light hint of spicy tomatoes with the garlic wine and it was just fine by me.
The scallops were extremely fresh, as were the in-shell vongole clams.
Chef Choo's prices are reasonable, even bordering on cheap, but the reason why he wants to bring this class of food to the masses as a hawker is priceless.
He said: "It is the freedom I have with my wife at such stalls."
And that adds to the variety of flavours we get at hawker centres.
Chef Choo Signature
B1-45, Golden Mile Food Centre
noon to 8pm daily, closed on Mondays