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Digest Singaporean Pastry Chef Mohammed Al-Matin Leaves Noma To Set Up Bakery Back Home

Singaporean Pastry Chef Mohammed Al-Matin Leaves Noma To Set Up Bakery Back Home

Singaporean Pastry Chef Mohammed Al-Matin Leaves Noma To Set Up Bakery Back Home
By Annette Tan
June 02, 2020
The eager young chef's rustic viennoiseries are already a huge hit on Instagram

He may have worked in the highfalutin kitchens of the Singapore’s now defunct Restaurant Andre and Copenhagen’s Noma—perennially regarded as the world’s best restaurant—but Singaporean Mohammed Al-Matin has humbler ambitions. At the tender age of 31, the well-spoken pastry chef has returned home from Denmark in search of a pastry shop to call his own. One that’s bijoux in size and filled with the sweet scent of rustic croissants, galettes and Japanese-style mousse confections.

This traditional pastry shop model is a far cry from the fine dining kitchens that Matin has spent the last seven years in. The latter is all about excellence and precision, with pastry chefs producing complex plated desserts that hinge on constant experimentation and the ability to think differently.

At Noma, where Matin served as pastry sous chef for two years, his job centred around executing desserts like a crepe made of white mould (made from barley inoculated with koji spores and left to ferment for a couple of days) dreamed up by the restaurant’s test kitchen. “My role was more about organising operations than it was about creating desserts,” he said.

This explains his return to the fundamentals of pastry—rich, heart-warming classics that he truly enjoys making and eating. “I don’t want to make anything fancy or trendy. That’s not my cup of tea,” he said. ”When I worked at Restaurant Andre, the most positive feedback I got was always when the desserts were comforting.”

Mohammed Al-Matin (top left) was pastry sous chef at Noma for two years.  Image: Le Matin
Mohammed Al-Matin (top left) was pastry sous chef at Noma for two years. Image: Le Matin
Noma's mould pancake. Image: Le Matin
Noma's mould pancake. Image: Le Matin

Matin’s stellar resume served him well upon his return home. Investors showed interest, he auditioned for a big-name restaurant group who considered giving him a space under its stable, and had begun looking for potential venues for his bakery. But the uncertainties of Covid-19 put everything on pause.

Restless and eager to keep practicing his craft, Matin began working out of restaurant kitchens owned by his friends and staged pop-ups at his friends’ bakeries to get people acquainted with his offerings. Singapore’s avid foodies did not disappoint. Matin’s pastries, sold under the label Le Matin, consistently sold out in quick time.

(Related: Singapore Chefs Share Simple Chinese Recipes You Can Make At Home)

Image: Annette Tan
Image: Annette Tan

Most Wanted

The natural progression, then, was an online store, where the public can buy up to 35 boxes of a collection of five pastries each day. Orders open at 4pm on Sundays and sell out within minutes.

It’s no exaggeration that Matin’s are currently the most coveted pastries in the land. On Instagram, the land of the virtual haves and have-nots, posts featuring his signature kouign amanns, smoked cruffins, rose pistachio escargots and burnished canelés elicit plenty of pastry envy. “Almost impossible to order”, one ‘grammer grumbled. “They’re always sold out! Lucky you”, whimpered another. “Definitely one of the hottest commodities in the pastry scene here right now”, wrote someone who must have scored himself a box.

(Related: Spanish Restaurant Esquina Shares The Only Recipe For Burnt Basque Cheesecake You Need)

Image: Sihan Lee
Image: Sihan Lee

But are these pastries worth the hype? The kouign amanns are certainly deserving of praise. Typically gum-numbingly sweet thanks to a thin, glassy coating of caramelised sugar that defines the pastry, Matin’s defy flavour conventions with its balanced sweetness despite its sugary lacquer.

The lacto-fermented plum galette—jammy, almost savoury fruit set on a flaky short pastry—needs a little warming up and more sugar to be fully appreciated, while the classic canelé could use a crunchier crust around its lemon, vanilla and cardamom-infused custardy centres.   

The much-talked-about smoked cruffins, so flavoured because it was inspired by the Australian bush fires (is that a sense of humour, we detect?), are technically perfect and striated with threads of charcoal-laced pastry to further drive home its point.

(Related: Why The Revived Bread Course At Today's Top Restaurants Deserves Its Place In The Limelight)

Image: Sihan Lee
Image: Sihan Lee

Are there better viennoiseries to be had in town? Absolutely. But what Matin represents is hope that when we make it through this phase where home truly is the safest place, we may emerge in a new world where there may be a quaint little pastry store waiting for us, with warm viennoiseries behind glass cases made by a Singaporean son who represented us well in the world’s best restaurants.

For is that not why we sit, fingers poised at our devices at 4pm on a sleepy Sunday, to order a box of pastries we’ve only glimpsed on a small screen?

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Digest pastry chef local pastries best kouign amann cruffins

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