We find out just what makes the mind behind a multitude of culinary creativity tick, his favourite ingredient, and why it is so important to look for that oomph

On our foodie adventures, we’ll occasionally come across a dish or two that’ll etch themselves in our memories as they make us go “wow”. As visually appealing as they are delicious, these dishes always convey the chef’s vision through aesthetic presentations and inspiring layers of culinary effort.

Wowing us with menus overflowing with surprises and beautiful works of art, Executive Chef Russell Misso of The Refectory Concepts gives us a peek into his world of artistry.

 

 

What would you say defines your brand of cooking?

 

I wouldn’t call it a brand per se, but more of a style that I like and adopt. It’s a cheeky, playful style that usually comes with applying surprising twists on things that people traditionally have set expectations of.

Having said that, these surprises do not take away the element of familiarity from my dishes – they just change things up, to give diners a better, fresh experience of the dish without changing what it is fundamentally.

 

What is it about the kitchen that made you decide to become a chef?

 

To put it simply, it was the only place that accepted me at the time. It was a place that allowed me to make a living, so it was a practical choice at the beginning – and I have never looked back since.

 

We understand your childhood is amongst your strongest influences. Could you share with us some of the things that you picked up at home, that you still apply in the kitchen today?

 

The go-get-it attitude. “Never try, never know.” I remember that when we had meals as a family, we’d put all kinds of stuff together and mix them up, and sometimes we land on some surprisingly tasty combinations we’d not have thought of before.

One of those times, I remember mixing our family’s Eurasian stew with rice and maple syrup – and honestly, it worked for me!

 

 

Which dish would you say is most representative of Eurasian heritage in Singapore?

 

Devil’s Curry, of course. We love our spices. During Christmas, the whole family would gather and grandma would cook that dish. If I had to pick another, I’d go with the Eurasian household’s Babi Pongteh.

 

We love your commitment to the artistic aspect of cooking. Who/What are your biggest artistic influences?

 

I used to really love and connect with Paul Liebrandt’s style. His culinary sense really made sense to me on a personal level, so once I got into a Head Chef position, I started playing around and experimenting with my menu as much as I can. Never try, never know. And because of that, I actually managed to come up with a lot of different stuff – it’s really about that passion to experiment

 

With your background and experience in award-winning restaurants, what are your most memorable lessons?

 

Colourful languages aside, I’m still learning new things all the time – picking up new methods from the new members who join the team. I’ve learnt to be open and accepting of all kinds of suggestions, to adapt and accept changes.

 

 

If you could pick a new dish for BRDL and Glean, would you go for a dessert, main, or starter?

 

Dessert (without any hesitation). Because everybody loves desserts. So for commercial reasons as well, dessert.

 

Your interpretation and plating techniques are really exquisite. What’s the hardest part about putting art on a plate?

 

For me, the biggest challenge so far is having to make it make sense, especially to the guest. Making it look good, look sensible, and make sense altogether is usually the hardest part for me. That, and having to project to the team what I intend to put up on a plate. It may look good in my head but they often come out looking completely unlike and different.

 

What ingredient / group of ingredients would you say defines “Chef Russell’s” style of cooking the most?

 

Flowers, flowers, flowers. My team would joke that even if the bulk of a dish has no flowers, flowers will somehow still magically grow from it.

Other than that, what really defines my menu is still that “element of surprise”. With every dish, I’m always looking for an opening or space to inject an element that’ll bring out that oomph. I love how expected innovations deliver that essential kick to diners when they’re having my dishes. I always look for it, whether it’s through wordplay on the name of a dish or unique changes to a dish’s conventional ingredients and taste.

 

 

Among the dishes currently on the menu, which are the hardest and easiest dishes to prepare?

 

The hardest would be the Otah Ballotine, by nature of the fact that it takes about 3 days of work to get to the final product. We have to blend the rempah, cook it, cool it down, then blend the fish in, set it with meat glue, press it, cook it again, chill it, before finally getting to portion it – it’s really tedious labour.

As for the easiest, my team enjoys preparing the Cherry Tomato Caprese the most, because they mostly just need to peel tomatoes and do a wasabi pesto for that.

 

If you were to pick a different path, where do you think you’d have ended up? Perhaps a pastry chef, or something outside of F&B?

 

I did think of becoming a lawyer, a lot of people say I have the gift of the gab. And the job does look cushy from the outside, doesn’t it?

 


Experience Chef Russell's innovative dishes for yourself at The Refectory Concepts. Find out more on their website here.