Additional stills: Channel 5
Daren Tan may play the namesake character in upcoming Channel 5 dramedy, Koji Cooks, but don’t expect him to wield a chopping knife or cook up a storm in the show – as the title suggests.
In his first comedic role on TV, following two seasons of playing a hooligan (Seng Hock) in Mata Mata, Daren plays a high-flier banking executive who turns to managing and saving his father’s struggling restaurant business after he is unexpectedly given the boot from his investment job.
To put it plainly in Daren’s words: Koji is basically the one who gives all the bright ideas to save the family business while his older brother (played by Adam Chen) executes them.
“I don’t cook at all in this show,” he chuckled in an interview with xinmsn.
As a testimony to his role as a prodigal son who can’t cook to save his life, Koji attempts to fry a sprig of spring onions with a few cloves of garlic – in its unpeeled, original state, in the show’s first episode.
Not very impressive for a man who actually bakes and cooks in real life, with side dishes and desserts like chawanmushi (steamed egg custard) and macarons (those dainty colourful round treats that line the counters of Ladurée) on his been-there-done-that-cooked-it list.
“I do cook once in a while,” replied Daren, when we quizzed him on his culinary skills, “My grandma raised me and my grandma cooks. So I do help out and I do know how to cook.”
With “pasta and steak” counting as one of his best dishes, Daren shared that he also experiments with new recipes found on the internet – like that one time he “played around” with chawanmushi.
“I was experimenting with a lot of exotic flavours like wasabi. I realised that making chawanmushi requires a lot of technique and timing, and it’s not as easy as it looks,” he said, “I had fun doing that but I realised you need a lot of passion to cook.”
For the record, he made a total of 20 cups of chawanmushi before finally succeeding and both “the failed and good ones” went into his family members’ tummies. “Some of the flavours I tried like takoyaki (octopus balls) with mayonnaise and bonito flakes worked and it was really nice. But there were those that failed – it was smooth on top but watery below with all the egg yolks (chuckles).”
Does he have plans to translate his food experiments into a business venture, we wonder. “I did think about it but definitely not now,” he chuckled before laughing it off, “But maybe [it’d be possible], if I cook in Koji Cooks, if there’s a season 2.”
Ed’s note: In the meantime, if you want to see Daren cook – he’ll be on The 5 Show tonight for a cook-off with his Koji Cooks co-stars Crispian Chan and Silver Ang, Channel 5 at 8.30pm. Koji Cooks debuts tonight, Channel 5 at 10pm.
Read on for more!
xinmsn: We know Koji doesn’t cook, but how often do you cook?
Daren: It’s erratic. Once in a while ‘cos I really don’t have time to cook and sometimes it depends on when I want to do it.
And the most difficult dish you’ve made before?
I’d say macarons. It’s really hard to get pretty feet and I think I didn’t have the right oven so it became like shortcake, or like cookie sometimes. My oven didn’t have the right temperature but it’s interesting and the hardest ever. I think the success rate is 10%. I only had 1 tray that succeeded. And out of a tray of 20, maybe only 5 or 6 turned out proper. I tried it for 2 weeks consecutively, but not every day.
Do you bake macarons regularly?
No, I’ve never tried it again. I really only do it for fun.
So when was the last time you cooked for a girlfriend?
Uh, that was ages ago and a few years back - 'cos I'm single for such a long time already. I made American breakfast.
Would you agree then that cooking is the way to a man’s heart?
Not really. I really enjoy eating out (laughs). Maybe last time when food was not so fanciful, maybe that worked last time. But it doesn’t work on me lah.
Since you enjoy eating out – would you consider yourself a foodie?
Yes! I’d dive from the west (Jurong) to east (Tampines) side just to eat a bowl of fishball noodles. I don’t have any specific ones (favourite food hunts), I’d go everywhere and anywhere.
What’s the biggest sacrifice you’ve made for food?
Uh, remember that fishball store I told you about that I’d travel from Jurong to Bedok for? When I got there once, and realised it was closed, I was so devastated that I stayed in the carpark for 30 minutes and reflected on ‘what am I doing here’. Nah, just joking (guffaws).
Singaporeans enjoy queueing for good food – have you ever queued to eat something and what’s the longest you’ve ever queued for?
Of course, [longest I ever queued for something is] maybe 2 minutes? If the queue is too long I won’t do it. Forget it. I won’t [queue] unless I’m with family or friends; if I’m alone, it’s a different story altogether. I just don’t have the patience to queue.
What’s the most exotic food you’ve ever had?
When I was young because I had asthma, I had crocodile meat. And recently in Japan I had horsemeat sushi too. It was actually quite nice and of course I knew what I was eating. But after that I felt so bad because horses are so beautiful. And I had live worms before – in the army. It was for an initiation rite and as new officers joining a unit, there was a prank [to undergo]. In a bowl filled with grown mealworms was 5 sticks of Twisties and we had to grab and eat all the Twisties. So any remaining Twisties in the bowl we have to eat the number of mealworms for it. I had two (chuckles).