Nick Scorpion, head chef of Oxwell & Co, once went AWOL from NS duties because he didn’t want to let his kitchen down (yes, he served his term and has learned his lesson). These days though, he’s putting all that passion into making good, simple food – 16 hours a day.

Meet Nick Scorpion Of Oxwell Co The Man Who Went To Jail To Keep On Cooking

“I like the hardest things,” Nick Scorpion tells me over dessert at Oxwell & Co, where he’s helmed the kitchen since June last year. Before that, he worked for six years at Tippling Club with celeb chef Ryan Clift, whom he credits for most of his culinary skills. His role as pastry chef at Tippling Club was something Scorpion relished, not because he’s got a sweet tooth, but because of the high skill level and technical know-how required: “Sunlight, heat, air, humidity – these are all enemies of the pastry chef. And just 1g of extra flour can wreck things.”

This is the guy who gave up a place at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris when he was 16 to learn the craft the gritty way – by working stints, often for free, in kitchens in New York, Vincenza, Barcelona, Paris and Melbourne, just to name a few. Oh, and he went to jail (worse, actually: detention barracks) for 45 days for going AWOL during his NS stint, all because he felt he had to run back to the kitchen at Tippling Club and do some cooking.

The effervescent, irreverent chef has just created a new menu for Oxwell & Co and is making his mark with simple, down-to-earth British food that restaurant manager Serena Fabbri tells me is one of Oxwell & Co’s defining elements. But simple food isn’t easy – the ox cheek, for example, is braised for 48 hours.

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Traditional British fare at its best: The fish and chips is exactly what it should be – fresh, firm, succulent fish in a thin coating of crispy batter, with a generous portion of thick-cut chips.

And fuss-free fare isn’t less emotional than fine dining either. “Everything should be cooked with love,” Scorpion declares. “Fine dining can get so technical that the food loses its soul. Food doesn’t have to be complicated to be good or make you feel something. Hell, I’ve cried eating a carrot.”

The new menu and meat offerings at Oxwell & Co will probably have some carnivores in tears. The ox cheek (below, left) is braised for 48 hours, then chargrilled, for meat that’s tender, juicy and flavourful. The steak tartare (below, right) is chopped, not minced, for more bite.

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The most conventional items on the menu are made with just enough of a twist to keep things interesting. The apple crumble (below, left) is a medley of textures – stewed apple, sweet crumbly pastry, slivers of fresh apple. The pina colada (below, right) is made with coconut water, not cream, for a more refreshing taste. That bit on top is flambed coconut meringue – delicious.

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And here’s where I grill the chef:
What do you love best about being a chef? And what’s the hardest thing?
“The best? Probably the experiences it has given me and the places it has brought me. Hardest thing, time away from family and loved ones.”

What’s your favourite hawker/local dish? Where’s the best place to go for it?
“Braised pig innards (kway chup), but it really depends on the situation. Balestier has some sexy pig intestines.”

What food trends are making their way to Singapore, and what’s your take on them?
“Making their way to Singapore, I reckon, would be high-profile chefs/names opening and contributing to the food scene – placing Singapore on the map internationally. It’s become known for our awesome local food and also a stage that hosts the top guns and titans of cooking. On the other hand, there’s a rising trend of young chefs opening small places to express themselves. Which is something I personally feel that should be supported by all of us, because some of these young chefs are doing amazing things.”

Who would you like to cook for, given a chance? What would you cook?
“I would love to cook for my family and loved ones, to be honest. I rarely get the chance to meet them all up. I’d cook the foods I know they love, with ‘me’ in it.”

What’s the hardest dish you’ve ever learned to prepare? 
“It was a vegetable dish assigned to me when I was training in New York. It consists of peeling fresh almonds (this alone took me two hours), turning eight different kinds of baby vegetables to identical shapes and sizes, microwave-frying stinging nettles into chips. The hardest part of the dish was making and adjusting a beautiful morel broth to the head chef’s liking. All of the vegetables were cooked at different temperatures and the plate-up of the dish needed at least two senior chefs. It was ridiculously amazing.”

Share an insider tip with us.
“This isn’t really insider, but I feel that its been looked over, a tip that I am currently learning and practising as I go is to be extremely people-focused. We make the world revolve. Not money. We make money. Without us there isn’t anything. So, cheesy as it sounds, treat and respect people well, in all walks of life and it’ll catch on. If everyone can do that, everything would be better, and I mean everything. Food, service, drinks, perhaps even your laundry. Places with higher standards of life (not living) actually have better everything. For example, in Scandinavia, it’s hard to come across a bad meal, or bad service. And it’s all to do with people and culture. I feel that we need to develop a culture of respect and service starting from the ground up, and then we can look forward to better food, restaurants, etc. and a more robust dining vibe and experience.”

Oxwell & Co is at 5 Ann Siang Road (6438-3984).

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Want to read more interviews with chefs? Here’s Chef Juwanda Hassim of The Fabulous Baker Boy talking about Singaporean food.