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Tragedy, passion, pastries

Samantha Chiew
Samantha Chiew • 10 min read
Tragedy, passion, pastries
Al-Matin has graduated from some of the best kitchens in town to open up his own space, Le Matin Patisserie. Photo: Albert Chua/ The Edge Singapore
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Mohamed Al-Matin talks about life and Le Matin Patisserie at Ion Orchard, where he serves his much talked-about treats

Le Matin Patisserie started as a pop-up store along Paragon in Orchard Road and Raeburn Park in Tanjong Pagar. The flavours of the pastries made by homegrown chef Mohamed Al-Matin — the son of an Indian father and a Chinese mother — spoke for themselves, and word travelled.

On Feb 1, Le Matin — French for “morning” — opened its permanent location at Ion Orchard, with a brand-new concept café serving signature French delights for brunch and dessert. The patisserie, founded and helmed by Al-Matin in 2020, features its biggest menu with this new location, comprising the chef’s authentic French pastries, main dishes and desserts.

Al-Matin is a skilled pastry chef with a keen palate and a strong desire to push the boundaries. He has honed his skills by working alongside famous chefs like Adriano Zumbo (Adriano Zumbo Patisserie), Christopher Thé (Black Star Pastry), Peter Gilmore (Quay), Andre Chiang (Restaurant Andre) and René Redzepi (Noma).

With the new location, expect a host of brand-new pastries like Roasted Hay and Pecan Tart and Sake Lees and Macadamia, Choux Bun and Ox Tongue and Wagyu Bresaola Croque Monsieur, as well as never-before-served hot mains like Wagyu and Chutoro Brioche Feuilletée and the Black Truffle Scrambled Eggs Croissant. The dessert menu tempts with new decadent plated sweet courses, giving guests something to look forward to.

See also: Japanese flavour secrets revealed

Le Matin Patisserie opened at Ion Orchard on Feb 1 after two pop-up stints in Paragon and Robinson Road, serving signature delights for brunch and dessert

The new Le Matin Patisserie will serve its famed pastries all day for dine-in and takeaway, while brunch and desserts are available for dinein only from Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 3pm (last order 2.30pm) for brunch and 6pm to 10pm (last order at 9.30pm) for desserts.

Options had the chance to have a tête-à-tête with Al-Matin over some of his famous pastries, and he tells a tale filled with determination, a life-threatening injury abroad and his passion for what he does.

See also: Local chefs who creatively blend European cooking techniques with flavours drawn from their Chinese heritage

How did your passion for pastries start?

I’ve always had a sweet tooth, and I love food. I love to eat. When I was younger, I had the ambition to be an ice cream taster.

My family did not have a cooking culture. So I had to fuel my passion. After finishing my stint in the army [where he served as a Guardsman during national service], I contemplated three career routes: To sign on with the army, pursue a career in sports science, or be a pastry chef. My feelings and passion for pastry was stronger, so I took that path.

What was your culinary journey like?

I always knew that I wanted to own my patisserie. After serving in the army, I went to Sydney to study culinary. And when I started there, I knew that I had to put in extra effort if I wanted to make it, as most of the apprentices in Australia had at least four years of internship experience before getting a job.

So I asked for jobs in patisserie to gain more experience. I worked for free and even washed dishes. But I needed to focus on being a pastry chef after a while. So I went around applying. I applied to Adriano Zumbo Patisserie and Black Star Pastry, and they accepted me. I didn’t know which to choose, and I chose both — it was the best of both worlds. Black Star was a more artisanal bakery, while Zumbo did the crazy, wacky stuff.

After a while, I had the opportunity to join Quay, one of Australia’s best restaurants. It was awarded three hats. Working there helped boost my experience and organisation skills by working in a restaurant. Being exposed to fine dining helped me improve my palate and skills as a pastry chef. There’s also a certain discipline in restaurant kitchens compared to pastry or bakery kitchens.

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The strive for excellence and quality from all these top places in the world — Australia, Singapore, Copenhagen — pushed me to the next level.

How did you start your business?

I’ve always wanted to start my cafe, but when I was ready to start my own, it was during the Covid-19 “circuit breaker”, and investors were not interested. But I still wanted to do something. So I started selling my pastries online. But I needed a good kitchen to work out of (instead of a home kitchen). I worked out of my friends’ kitchens to start my brand. After hours of baking my pastries, I would be in the kitchens of Park Bench Deli, Cloud Street and Le Bon Funk. And by a stroke of luck or something, it took off.

What were some challenges you faced?

The location was a challenge, finding a spot and having a proper kitchen. Getting my ingredients was another problem because I was buying at a small scale, so I was “fighting” with the hoarders and home bakers during the circuit breaker. During Covid-19, it was hard to get economies of scale. But when I started my business, I tried not to look at the competition. I just did what I wanted — if people liked it, they liked it.

There was another hurdle that nearly ended your career.

I was in New York City (working at Le Bernardin) in 2013, trying to get more experience in a Michelin-starred restaurant. One day, I was cycling to work, and I got hit by a getaway car that was being chased by the police. The car hit three other people before hitting me, but my injuries were the worst.

I was in an induced coma for about a month. I suffered several broken bones; the worst injury was the nerve damage to my right hand, which is my master hand. So, that was very tough. It was a long recovery. But thanks to the training I received back in my junior college days playing soccer, and during my army days, it put a lot of fighting spirit in me, and I was able to wave it off and push on.

How have your family and friends supported you through it all?

My family supported me right from the start. They blessed me when I pursued culinary arts, and my father even helped partially fund my studies. That was all the support I needed for them to let me go (pursue my passion). Now, with my new place, they wanted to support me, but I told them no. I don’t want to burden them or stress them.

My family took care of me after my accident. They took turns caring for me when I was bedridden for four months. I couldn’t walk, and my mother went to the US to be with me.

My close friends started a fundraiser, which helped me (Al-Matin’s friends raised more than $150,000 through Facebook. The funds were used to defray his medical and living expenses).

Clockwise from bottom: Lamb and Red Wine Pie, Mango Macadamia Pain Suisse and Smoked Cruffin

What inspires your menu?

It’s just really what I like to eat. It is what I’ve learned over the years. Sometimes, it’s also influenced by my friends. One that has an interesting background is the Smoked Cruffin. When we started the circuit breaker in Singapore, bushfires were happening in Australia. Pastry chefs worldwide created dishes around that theme at that time to help raise funds for the Australian bushfire. My creation, the Smoked Cruffin, has a strong smokiness that resembles fire, while the eucalyptus meringue is a tribute to the perished wildlife.

What are some of your favourite pastries?

My favourite is the Pain Au Chocolat or the Mango Macadamia Pain Suisse from my range of bakes. But if I go anywhere else, I’ll always lean towards getting a Pain Au Chocolat, a regular croissant or an apple turnover.

Is it just pastries and desserts that interest you?

I love to eat. But I decided to pursue pastries because I wouldn’t say I liked butchering meat. I have a very sweet tooth, so the pastry kitchen was better for me. There is a niche market for savoury pastries. What I do is put the savoury stuff I like to eat and put them in pastries. So far, it has gotten good responses, so I know I’m doing something right.

Bistro fare and sweet desserts

Get your mornings off to a good start the French way at Le Matin. Here, you will find brunch dishes that are unlike anywhere else. The Wagyu Brioche Feuilletée ($45) presents a brioche feuilletée with a marbled wagyu ribeye of MBS5+, cooked to tender bites in smoked duck fat, sweetened with onion marmalade and fragrance d with brown butter leek, crispy shiso fritters, yuzu salt and black garlic aioli.

The Chutoro Brioche Feuilletée ($38) is a seafood alternative with sweet shoyu-cured chutoro fatty tuna enriched with sea urchin butter and texturised with edamame mash, yuzu wasabi mayo and pickled red onions.

The Seafood Pot Pie ($25) is a classic with a twist, where a puff pastry is packed with various seafood, including salmon belly, snapper, Tiger prawns, green mussels, clams and scallops. A taste of Vietnamese comes in the Smoked Beef Cheek Bahn Mi ($19) of laminated brioche sandwiching 48-hour braised and smoked wagyu beef cheeks, pickled carrots, daikon, black garlic and chimichurri.

A simpler but no less decadent option is the Black Truffle Scrambled Eggs Croissant ($36) — a round croissant stacked with black truffle aioli and truffle paste, fluffy and buttery scrambled eggs with 8g of sliced black truffles. This was a personal favourite, as it was a familiar dish with a touch of luxury.

These brunch items are served with a side of salad and are available on Wednesdays to Sundays from 11am to 3pm (last order 2.30pm). While you can start your mornings right at Le Matin with its brunch treats, you can end the night on a sweet note with French desserts and aplenty.

If you are a cheese fan, the Fromage de vos Reves ($21) is for you. This medley of sweets with all-cheese bases, including brilliant savarin mousse, reblochon cremeux and comte sponge, is touched with milk crumble glaze and served with a creme fraiche ice cream.

A nuttier taste comes with the Tarte Aux Noix de Cajou ($20), made of fragrant cashew custard, cashew nougatine and filo pastry, topped off with orange blossom scented mulberries and Pedro Ximenez cream. A classic French flavour can be found with the Pain Perdu ($18), aka French Toast but jazzed up with a date and lacto-fermented plum jam, walnut praline and a topping of brown butter ice cream.

These desserts are available on Wednesdays to Sundays from 6pm to 10pm (last order 9pm).

LE MATIN
Ion Orchard #B2-49 2 Orchard Turn
Singapore 238801

Contact:
Email: [email protected]

Opening Hours: Daily 10am – 10pm

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