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5 mins with London-based chef Elizabeth Haigh

London-based chef Elizabeth Haigh has always paved her own way. After establishing the Michelin starred-restaurant Pidgin, she turned her back on fine dining to perfect the art of Singaporean street food with her Borough Market stall, Mei Mei. She talks to Whistles about the importance of seasoning, sustainability in the kitchen and her love of natural wine.

When did you first realise food and cooking was so important to you?

As a Singaporean, we live to eat. Everything we talk about is food related – from what meal we will have next to where it will come from – and I constantly bombard my mother with requests for recipes. From an early age, I knew I wanted to be around food one way or another. I had no idea I’d eventually become a chef though.

From an early age, I knew I wanted to be around food one way or another. I had no idea I’d eventually become a chef though.

Mei Mei

You moved away from the Michelin restaurant scene to focus on developing Kaizen House, a restaurant and events company that explores food, and recently opened Mei Mei - the Singaporean food stall within Borough Market Kitchen. What do you love most about this style of cooking and dining?

It’s about the senses, nostalgia and memories. It may seem simple to customers but to master and create this type of “street food”, you really need to understand the methodology of the techniques. These are dishes I’ve learnt over 20 years so I understand the passion and feeling behind the recipes.

Mei Mei

Were there any major challenges in going solo and opening your own series of food projects and restaurants?

Of course – from trying to open business bank accounts to finding the right investmentors. There’s a whole host of skills I needed to learn very quickly to achieve what we needed. It was a lot to take on but we worked day and night to make it happen.

Favourite meal of the day?

Brunch. My husband is Australian so I have a real appreciation for getting up a little later and having a longer breakfast than normal.

Guilty pleasures?

Natural wine, good food and music.

What do you love most about London?

The multi-cultural aspect. It’s similar in a way to Singapore, where many cultures and people come together to make a wonderful city.

Elizabeth at Mei Mei

Kaya apple pie tea tarik ice cream

London is similar in a way to Singapore, where many cultures and people come together to make a wonderful city.

Favourite restaurants in London?

Brat, Smoking Goat, Kiln and my very favourite, Elliots.

How do you relax and spend time when you’re not working?

With my family at home with lots of music, playgrounds and our pizza oven.

What music motivates you?

Anything by The Howling, Moderat or Ame.

Any advice you could give to aspiring chefs?

Be patient and empathic to yourself, as well as others. And don’t rush things that require more time.

Most influential recipe book on your shelf?

It’s this scrapbook of recipes that my mum has collected over the years. It has so many wonderful and weird dishes in there.

Podcast recommendations?

Rice to Meet you. My friends Nigel and Evelyn started it the same time we opened our restaurant and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Mei Mei signature dishes

Kaya toast

Sustainability plays a huge part in the way you cook and work. How crucial has this become over time and why is it so important to you?

We have to consider our future generations and the effect our actions will have on them. Although working sustainably with food can be costly, in my eyes it is totally worth it.

Any tips for minimising food waste at home?

I try to buy my groceries weekly then work out what meal I’ll make each day to avoid ingredients going off before the weekend. I always wash salads, herbs and then pack them away carefully in a damp cloth – this makes them last longer. I also buy from our local farm shop because the produce has a longer lifespan.

Your go-to weekend brunch dish?

Kaya toast served with coffee. I always have a jar of kaya (coconut jam) from Mei Mei in the fridge and it’s delicious served on bread – it reminds me of Singapore. It also works well on pancakes or waffles.

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