Nutfruit Blog

Inspiring you to add nuts and dried fruits into your diet

02 August, 2022 Gourmet

INC Talks with Chef Akmal Anuar

INC Talks with Chef Akmal Anuar


Akmal Anuar from sunny Singapore was raised by hawker parents and experienced first-hand how challenging the food & beverage industry could be. He was determined to get away from it but serendipitously found himself being drawn back to the kitchen during high school. The rest, as they say, is history and Akmal has been slinging out real, unpretentious grub for over 20 years now

Heading award-winning establishments and collaborating with some of the world’s best chefs like Tetsuya Wakuda of Tetsuya’s Sydney and Osteria Francescana’s Massimo Bottura has allowed Akmal to gain a vast amount of culinary knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the ever-evolving food scene. This has naturally led him to start White Rice, a boutique hospitality company that specialises in creating bespoke food-centric experiences. Now a successful restaurateur and the driving force behind multiple unique concepts in the region, Akmal has his sights set on global expansion. Chef Akmal Anuar was awarded the INC Award for Excellence in Gastronomy during the 2022 INC Congress in Dubai.

What inspired you to get into the culinary world? How did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
I grew up in a large family that enjoyed gatherings centred around amazing food. As the eldest child of parents who were hawkers in the 90s, I was always tasked to help with preparing the food for both family gatherings and crowd-favourite Malay dishes, like Nasi Lemak & Mee Siam, that we sold at my parent’s food stall.

Seeing how hard it was to run a food outlet when I was a kid was something that initially intimidated me and kept me from pursuing cooking seriously. However, I found myself being drawn back to the kitchen when I enrolled in a culinary program during my time in high school. Meeting the right mentors along the way enabled me to see the potential I had, and the rest, as they say, is history.

How would you describe your cooking style? Which cuisines inspire you and are interesting to you?
I don’t have a specific cooking style but the techniques I use in my cooking are heavily influenced by my background of having been trained in classical French & modern European kitchens while growing up in an Asian household that was always surrounded by food.

At its core, I believe in serving straight-up good food without all the bells and whistles. I love for the ingredients and food to speak for themselves. I’m now researching and going deeper into South East Asian flavours and heritage recipes. I’m also intrigued by traditional cooking methods, one of which was the inspiration behind 11 Woodfire, my latest restaurant in Dubai with a menu focused on woodfire cooking.

You previously were the Head Chef for famed restaurant Iggy’s in Singapore, and you have also opened up several more restaurants such as 3 Fils, which in 2022 topped the list as the #1 restaurant in the Middle East & North Africa. What does this recognition mean for you?
It means everything. It may seem like a fairytale but I’ve worked really hard in the last 20 years, so the recognition is an affirmation that I’m doing something right. While I have gone through a lot to get here, I’m blessed to have people around me who have constantly believed in me and pushed me harder with each new project I take on. Ultimately, I’d like to persevere and take on new challenges; the best is yet to be.

When a customer enters one of your restaurants, what is the dining experience that you aim to provide?
I believe in creating an experience even before a guest has stepped into the restaurant —they should feel excited to visit. This could be because of what they see on the menu or what they’ve heard from friends who have visited. In the restaurant, the service, ambiance and food must go hand in hand in creating a memorable experience. Who doesn’t enjoy a genuine interaction with their server while having good food in a comfortable environment?

Health is an increasingly important topic for consumers and nuts and dried fruits are loaded with health benefits, so how do you use nuts and dried fruits in your restaurants?
We use nuts in various dishes from appetisers to desserts in all of my restaurants. A crowd favourite at Goldfish is the Lamb Satay, which is served with a chunky peanut sauce while pecans are used in 11 Woodfire’s signature dessert, Dark Chocolate ‘Bone Marrow’. Dried fruits play an integral part in the beverages we serve at my restaurants. We use them for various infusions and they’re also a great addition to the tea trolley experience we have in 11 Woodfire.

What can nuts and dried fruits bring to a dish? What reasons do you like to use nuts and dried fruits when cooking?
I love how versatile they are and can help elevate a dish, be it sweet or savoury. Nuts add texture and their oils can add a depth in flavour to an otherwise ‘boring’ dish. Dried fruits are great in salads and I also love pairing them with cured seafood.

What is next for Chef Akmal Anuar? What can you share about any projects that you are working on for the future?
I’m all about taking on the unknown. I’m in the midst of opening a contemporary Asian restaurant called 53 in New York City right now. Back at home base in Dubai, my boutique consultancy firm, White Rice, is working on a few new exciting projects slated to open in the next year in and around the UAE. Stay tuned for updates!

QUICK-FIRE ROUND!
What do you enjoy the most about being a chef?
Meeting new people and getting inspired by our conversations.

What is your personal favorite dish with nuts or dried fruits?
I simply enjoy snacking on nuts —peanuts, almonds, walnuts, you name it.

What is the next big gastronomical trend in the world?
A larger focus on vegetables and sustainable eating.

What nuts and dried fruits do you always have in your kitchen at home?
Hazelnuts & Dates

Check out Chef Anuar's Lamb Satay with Peanut Sauce!
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