Martin Wong, Head Chef and Zack Lee, Bartender of Tess Bar & Kitchen emerged as the national winners of the Dilmah High Tea Challenge Singapore which ended on 23 March 2015. Representing an establishment that is less than a year old, they were the underdogs who beat the top-notch hotels and restaurants in the competition with their finesse and flair.
We caught up with the duo before they vie with 23 national winners from 13 other countries for the top honours at the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge finals in Sri Lanka this July.
Asia 361: How did you guys come up with the winning combination, and how long did it take? What was the inspiration behind it?
Martin: During the challenge briefing, we knew we were the last team to present to the judges. So we had to come up with a very strong presentation and create lasting moments in order to wow the judges. We had a few friends who had helped us by contributing some ideas and rationales behind it.
Zack: It actually took us three weeks to prepare and find the props, glassware and plates for our Real High Tea presentation. Dilmah Tea emphasised on the importance of five senses so we made use of and incorporated the idea into our drinks and food pairing presentation.
Asia 361: Many of the other teams paired food with tea, but your team chose to pair cocktails with food instead. Who came up with the idea?
Zack: As part of the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge requirements, we actually had to come up with one tea mocktail (non-alcoholic, served chilled), one hot tea mocktail (non-alcoholic, served hot), one tea-based cocktail (includes alcohol, served chilled) and one traditional loose leaf black tea brewed at the table in front of the judges.
Martin: Zack is talented in crafting cocktails and ideas for drinks. For me, I simply tasted his drinks and I thought of the dishes to pair with the corresponding drinks for the competition. It’s tough coming up with ideas and dishes for a pairing competition.
Asia 361: What difficulties did you meet while trying to come up with the winning combination? How did you two work together?
Zack: We sacrificed sleep and did a lot of tastings on our creations. We also went around to various places to search for the right plates, glassware and props for our presentation. We believe hard work and a lil’ bit of luck won’t let us down. Most importantly, both of us exchanged ideas and did what was necessary to improve on our drinks and food presentation.
Asia 361: What went through your minds when you were at the competition? How did it feel after the win?
Martin: Before our presentation started, our head bartender, Steve Leong, brought us a bottle of bourbon whisky and we toasted a shot each (we call it the “Tess Courage”). When we were presenting our high tea menu, we were confident and treated the experience as if we were serving our daily customers. We were also very focused throughout the presentation. As Zack was preparing his drinks, I was serving our food creations while explaining to the judges. We enjoyed the competition and appreciated the experience as we see ourselves as our own competition.
Asia 361: Martin, I noticed you have tattooed “Tess Bar & Kitchen” on your arm! Why made you do that?
Martin: Working in Tess Bar & Kitchen has truly inspired me and given me lots of exposure in variety of areas. So I can say I have a few good mentors and customers who believe in me, hence I decided to ink “Tess Bar & Kitchen” on my arm.
Asia 361: How are you preparing for the Dilmah Tea Challenge final in Sri Lanka?
Martin: The Dilmah Real High Tea Global Challenge is undoubtedly a tough challenge as we have to bring some heavy kitchen equipment over to Sri Lanka and submit the ingredient and equipment list in advance. As we are representing Singapore, we are trying to focus our attention in striking a balance between work and preparing for the competition while putting even more effort towards the global challenge.
Asia 361: We wish you guys the best of luck!