Mott 32 Singapore: Interview with Malcolm Wood on authenticity, age-old recipes, and sustainability in a restaurant

Mott 32 Singapore: Interview with Malcolm Wood on authenticity, age-old recipes, and sustainability in a restaurant

Roots matter

Text: Janice Sim

Whenever the jingle 'East meets West' comes up, some might raise a few eyebrows pertaining to the question of authenticity. It's almost the same scenario to how fusion is dubbed as a bad word these days. While chefs might rep it in their food, no one ever says it — not out loud at least. But despite its affiliations with the West, Hong Kong's iconic Mott 32 stands firm on serving quintessentially Chinese cuisine. Its very first restaurant was after all, in Hong Kong, where it achieved critical acclaim, before expanding to Seoul, Vancouver and Las Vegas. Next year, the grandiose house will open right here in Singapore, at Marina Bay Sands.

Mott 32 Hong Kong

Marveled for its illustrious interiors by the revolutionary Joyce Wong Studio and backed up with time-honoured recipes elevated with a contemporary flair, Mott 32 ultimately stands as its own success story. Ahead of the opening on our shores, we caught up with Malcolm Wood, managing director and culinary director of Maximal Concepts, which owns Mott 32, as well as a slew of other brands and restaurants. After all, us being Asians, we had a few doubts to clear.

Malcolm Wood Mott 32

Mott 32 is inspired by New York — how did that come about?
With all of our brands we like to add as many layers as possible and create a narrative around the concept. The name of this restaurant was inspired by 32 Mott St., the location of the first Chinese grocery store opened in New York in 1851. Mott St became the nucleus for what is considered Chinatown in Manhattan today. The New York influence is represented by the industrial elements incorporated into the design of the space.

Tell us more about the East meets West connotation in Mott 32.
The East meets West story has always formed the basis of Mott 32's identity. Our cuisine is authentically Chinese. The Western influences come in the shape of the décor, service style and world-class wine and mixology offerings, which are less commonly found in traditional Chinese restaurants.

Mott 32 Singapore

How would the food be done differently than other Chinese establishments?
Our dishes are presented in a modern, contemporary style, but the cooking techniques and flavors are very authentic. Where our versions differ is that we use modern and Western techniques to elevate the traditional recipes and also play around with the source of the main ingredients — for example, we use Iberico pork from Spain and add truffle to a quail egg siu mai. We use a technique I learnt in the UK to make the quail egg soft and runny whilst also succeeding in cooking the pork tenderly.

Mott 32 Peking Duck

Our Peking Duck is one of our signature dishes — we spent three months testing it to get it near to what we think is the perfect version of Peking Duck, by combining lots of different techniques and styles together. You will see these twists throughout our menu and this is a signature style of cooking at the restaurant.

How old are these recipes, exactly? And who created them?
Some are very old and come from mine and my business partners' families, from as far back as our great grandmothers!

What spurred the decision to open Mott 32 in Singapore?
For me, Hong Kong and Singapore have always had a real symbiosis. The two feel inherently connected. Opening a branch of Mott 32 really felt like a natural path of expansion. I also have family who have lived in Singapore for a long time and my dad is currently based here so there is a personal affiliation from my side.

Mott 32 Singapore

Another key aspect to Mott 32 lies in restaurant's design vision, how does the upcoming outpost in Singapore compare to the other Mott 32s in the world?
We try to tell a new story with each Mott 32 and come up with a narrative — we like our concepts to be in-depth. To challenge ourselves, we like to do something different and find a new creative angle for each location. Each one is as exciting as the next, because we customise them according to the location.

We are opening up a Mott 32 branch in Bangkok just after Singapore and the colour palette of the restaurant was inspired by the natural landscapes of Thailand — we use a lot of natural wood and evoke a tropical, colonial vibe.

For Mott 32 Singapore, we drew a lot of our inspiration from the city's botanicals. Joyce Wang Studio brought elements of rich foliage and flora inside the restaurant, via illustrations on the chinoiserie backdrop, black and green terrazzo lining the floors, and hand-painted lanterns suspended along the perimeter of the bar amidst a green wall elevation.

How do you think Mott 32 will compete with the bustling Chinese cuisine landscape in Singapore? What does it bring to the table?
There's nothing like Mott 32 out there in terms of Chinese cuisine — we believe the combination and quality of our food, drink and wine program, doesn't exist elsewhere. We take our food super seriously and we take our wine list super seriously, too. That's why we're bringing this restaurant to different cities around the world. Great design combined with excellent Chinese food and a stellar mixology program — this combination is what makes Mott 32 unusual.

Mott 32 Singapore

How does Mott 32 contribute to your efforts of sustainability and environmental conservation?
Sustainability is extremely important to us as a company. The main thing we do to support this is to source for many local ingredients as possible, but at the same time, do a lot of research in finding suppliers who have above-board ethical and sustainable practices. And you will never, ever see shark's fin on any of our menus. We have never served it at Mott 32 and never will.

Mott 32 Singapore is slated to open in January 2020.