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What To Do With Cheese — Stellar at 1-Altitude’s Chef Christopher Millar Tells

By Guan Tan

 
The Cheese

"Gruyere is a traditional, creamy, unpasteurised, and semi-soft cheese," explains chef Christopher Millar, executive chef helming Stellar at 1-Altitude. "It has a natural, rusty brown rind that is hard and dry. Slightly grainy, the cheese has a wonderful complexity of flavours." Browse through the gallery for the makings of chef Millar's twice-baked gruyere souffle.

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The Ingredients

Ingredients for chef Christopher Millar's twice-baked gruyere souffle include: grated gruyere cheese, milk, nutmeg, bay leaf, white peppercorn, butter, flour, egg yolks and whites, mesculun, crispy bacon and croutons.

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The Steps

Chef Christopher Millar first scalds the milk over a moderate flame, together with nutmeg, bay leaf, and white peppercorns before setting it aside. Then, he moves on to melting the butter. Later, he stirs in 80 grams of flour, and waits for the mixture to bubble.

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The Steps

Chef Millar whisking in the scalded milk as it simmers and thickens.

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The Steps

Add the egg yolks in, one by one, stir until yolks are fully incorporated into mixture.

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The Steps

Add the gruyere cheese and stir until cheese has melted.

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The Steps

The mixture should be of a creamy, yellow texture when all of the gruyere cheese has melted.

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The Steps

Chef Millar picks up another bowl, pours in the eight egg whites and whisks them to soft peak.

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The Steps

First fold half of the peaked egg whites into the base mixture before folding in the other half of the peaked egg whites.

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The Moulds

Chef Millar picks up a few souffle cups as moulds, and brushes the insides with butter.

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The Moulds

Dust the moulds with flour.

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The Moulds

Now, all six souffle moulds are buttered, dusted with flour and ready for use.

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The Steps

Transfer the souffle mixture into the souffle moulds.

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The Steps

As the souffle mixture settles into the moulds, prepare a baking tray and pre-heat the oven to 155°C.

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The Steps

Place the moulds in the baking tray and fill the tray with boiling water, up to half of the tray's height.

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The Steps

Place the tray of souffles into the oven and bake them for five minutes at 155°C. Later, turn the oven up to 165°C and bake for another five minutes. Finally, turn the oven up to 175°C and bake for a final 10 minutes. Take the tray out and allow them to cool.

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The Steps

Take the souffles out of their moulds and the baking tray. Plate them to a gratin dish. Here, chef Millar scatters more grated gruyere cheese over the souffles.

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The Steps

Prepare the oven for 180°C and pop the entire gratin dish back in. Bake for another 10 minutes at 180°C.

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The Steps

After 10 minutes, the souffle should be risen and golden.

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The Plate

Chef Millar serves his twice-baked gruyere souffle with a side of Mesulun and crispy bacon.

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The Chef

51-year-old Melbourne-born chef Christopher Millar is the executive chef at Stellar at 1-Altitude. He first prepared a twice-baked gruyere souffle over two decades ago. "This dish is actually a French classic," says Millar. To him, the souffle presents a different facet of cheese — that it can be light, fluffy, and can even be paired with a salad. And Millar's gruyere of choice is one "from fromagier Hervé Mons as it is perfectly balanced."

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"There are about 18 types of cheese, and these branch out to hundreds and thousands of different cheese varieties," explains a 51-year-old Melbourne-born chef Christopher Millar, who is based in Singapore and helms the progressive Australian restaurant, Stellar at 1-Altitude. "Most cheeses are made in Europe, with countries like Germany, Netherlands, France and Italy leading in global cheese exports. Outside of Europe, the United States also produce a significant amount of cheese. Australia also has a growing distinguished cheese-making industry." 

Amongst them, Millar's favourites hail from the French premium cheesemaker, Hervé Mons. The gruyere, for one, is a cheese made from cow milk that borders between sweet and salty, and it originated from the medieval Swiss town of Gruyères. "Gruyere is a traditional, creamy, unpasteurised and semi-soft cheese," says chef Millar. "It has a natural rusty brown rind that is hard and dry. Slightly grainy, the cheese has a wonderful complexity of flavours — at first fruity, later it becomes more earthy and nutty. The cheese is darker yellow than Emmental cheese but its texture is more dense and compact." Millar recommends the gruyere when it comes to baking savoury dishes. 

The gruyere has been commonly used in traditional savoury dishes across the board in Western cuisine repertoires — Swiss cheese fondues, French onion soups, brioche sandwiches, the Croque Monsieur, pizzas, and casseroles. "The European countries often have cheese dishes as part of their savoury selection," Millar observes. It's quite the opposite when it comes to Asian culinary cultures. "Except for mozzarella and burrata, you don't often find cheese dishes as such in Asia. It's more served as a cheese course after dessert or as a melting cheese on pasta. Australia and the United Kingdom is also similar in this regard," Millar continues.

The aversion to cheese may have stemmed from two factors — the public's perception and accessibility to quality cheese. "Too often in Singapore, we consume cheese that is mass-produced and [they are] rarely served in their prime conditions, which [means they] can be under or overripe," says Millar. The lack of access to a healthy variety of cheese may have contributed to the unfavourable perception that cheeses are dense, unappetising and jelak — as the locals would say in Malay to signal that they are sickened by the food's intense flavours and textures. "They may have in mind that an all-cheese dish may be too heavy," says Millar. 

"However, a dish like the twice-baked gruyere soufflé is surprisingly light and can be served with a salad," Millar quips. While Millar first attempted this dish over two decades ago, the souffle dates back to the 1700s. "This dish is actually a French classic." 

It seems like the souffle is a perfect dish to change any long-standing negative perceptions about dense cheese dishes. "There is the light, fluffy texture of the soufflé itself, which is then balanced with the delicious melted gruyere and creamy gruyere sauce," Millar continues. 

However, Millar notes that the gruyere has to be of good quality. For him and the dishes that he serves up at Stellar, Millar works with the esteemed cheesemaker, Hervé Mons. "This is very important for gruyere as this dish requires the cheese to be smooth and not overly strong in taste." 

That aside, "timing and method is crucial as you need to make sure the mixture has the correct texture before baking. You also need to ensure that the oven door is not being opened and closed during the cooking process." Baking is often likened to a mathematical and technical feat, but to Millar, so long a home cook follows the recipe closely, "it should be easy and not pose a huge challenge." 

Here, chef Christopher Millar's recipe for the French classic, twice-baked gruyere soufflé:

Ingredients for Soufflé

220 grams Gruyere Cheese 
500 millimetres Milk
Pinch Of Nutmeg
3 Bay Leaves
6 White Peppercorns 
80 grams Butter
80 grams Flour
8 Egg Yolks
8 Egg Whites
Butter And Flour To Coat The Molds

Ingredients for Salad

50 grams Mesclun 
Crispy Bacon 
Croutons

Method:

1. Scald the milk over a moderate flame with the nutmeg, bay leaves and peppercorns.
2. Melt the butter and stir in the flour. Allow mixture to bubble.
3. Whisk in the milk and gently simmer until thickens. Allow to cool slightly.
4. Whisk in the egg yolks one by one until fully incorporated.
5. Add the gruyere cheese and stir through until melted.
6. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks.
7. Add couple of pinches of salt to stabilise the whites.
8. First fold in half of the peaked egg white to the base before folding in the remaining half of egg whites.
9. Smear the 12 souffle moulds with butter then dust with flour.
10. Transfer the souffle mix to the moulds.
11. Place the molds in a baking tray and half fill the tray with boiling water.
12. Pre-heat the oven to 155°C.
13. Place the tray of soufflés into the oven and bake for five minutes.
14. Turn the oven up to 165°C and bake for another five minutes.
15. Turn the oven up to 175°C and bake for a final 10 minutes.
16. Allow the soufflés to cool on a cooling rack.
17. Gently take the soufflés out of the moulds using a dinner knife.

Assembly:

1. A la minute before serving, transfer the individual soufflés to a gratin dish. 
2. Pour cream around the edges and scatter with more gruyere cheese. 
3. Bake for another 10 mins at 180°C. The souffle should be nicely risen and golden.
4. Serve with salad.

This was a recipe that took chef Millar years of development before he nailed it. "It took a while to refine it to become a dish which is light and fluffy, accompanied by a luxurious creaminess," says Millar. He wanted to revive this classic French dish in a different time. "I felt that savoury cheese dishes were somehow being forgotten. I liked the idea of bringing back a dish which is a classic but presented in a modern way." 

Although many things have changed — the gruyere is now made in France instead of Switzerland, the diners are of numerous nationalities and culinary backgrounds, and the soufflé is prepared by the hands of an Australian-born chef in Singapore — the diners' takeaways from this soufflé remain unchanged. At the end of every meal, diners should feel a sense of comfort and instant happiness. "When a dish hits the spot and you see the pleasure on the diners' face, it makes all prior disasters worthwhile," says Millar. 

Visit chef Christopher Millar at the Dom Pérignon Pléntitude Suite in Stellar at 1-Altitude.