nobelle liew chocolatetbasil

If You’ll Indulge Me: Nobelle Liew, the Feisty, Tattoo-Etched Creative Driving Chocolat et Basil With Passion

Nobelle Liew, more affectionately known within the food scene as @chocolatetbasil (“Chocolat et Basil”, i.e. chocolate and basil in French, and not Chocolate Basil), is a content creator lauded for her sharp photography and intricate detailing of her best meals while eating her way through Singapore.

As a stalwart of the food blog scene, her reputation amongst foodies is resounding — she’s even overheard fans jokingly refer to her as an “authority on food” within earshot. What really makes her Chocolat et Basil account stand out is a refreshing honesty, an endearing lack of filter, and just unbridled passion for what she puts in her belly.

Quite unlike any other food blogger in Singapore, she’s feisty, straightforward, and is a walking tattoo canvas with beautiful black ink chiselled onto her arms which she flaunts with pride. 

nobelle liew chocolatetbasil

What might first come to mind when you talk about Nobelle are conspicuous superficial features like her septum ring, distinct eyeliner, and iconic blackout tattoo extending from the top of her arm but Nobelle is also a clandestinely talented multi-hyphenate. She’s a freelance photographer, copywriter, linguist, and masterful home cook when she isn’t just being Chocolat et Basil.

Amongst her other talents, she can smoke two packets of cigarettes a day, is a piano adept, and is fluent in French. But what is it really that makes her tick behind that seemingly austere facade?

1. Hello Nobelle, can you give us a brief introduction of yourself?

Nobelle Liew: I’m probably best known for my moniker of @chocolatetbasil where I am a content creator. But besides that, I am also a freelance food photographer — my job scope entails taking photos, copywriting, planning content calendars, marketing, social strategies, and all other facets of social media management.

The funny thing is, I actually grew up without access to a computer, to the internet, and all that newfangled modern technology that’d become such massive parts of my life right now. I didn’t have a colour phone until I was in Secondary Two or Three and I only got my laptop when Project Work in JC forced my parents’ hands.

It was only after I had constant access to a computer that I started getting enthralled by food, which eventually led me down the deep rabbit hole of learning to cook and excavating through countless cookbooks. So, here I am today.

2. What would you say are your favourite types of food?

Nobelle Liew: I don’t have a particular favourite type of food. At all. What I do love though, is food with complexity. It needs to be complex and nuanced for it to be worth eating. I’m a pretty adept cook myself so if it’s something I can make myself to the same standard, the gratification I derive from the dish will naturally be less.

chocolatetbasil portfolio

Photo credit: Nobelle Liew

3. Your photography is praised by many people for its distinct style, are there any secrets you can share with aspiring food photographers?

Nobelle Liew: “Pinterest is your best friend.” That’s how I can best explain the process to aspiring food photographers. When I first started, a lot of my growth process involved looking through visuals to develop my own identity and quirks as a photographer.

In the beginning, I merely wrote because I thought there was a niche of detailed food reviews to be filled but I didn’t quite understand the importance of drawing in people to actually read my reviews through visuals. It was my fascination with recipes and cookbooks that taught me how much room for improvement there was in my photos and from there, I built my aesthetic from the Pinterest images that jumped out at me — it’s best to develop a style based on what best resonates with you individually, I have to stress.

To be honest, a lot of people have raised the topic of me holding classes to impart my photography nous and other relevant skills and knowledge. This group of people included my sister who came up with the idea of collaborating with me for a “school” of sorts to share our expertise.

I’d actually helped to coach her on marketing, copywriting, and all their inner workings while she was working on her background knowledge. She then impressed a client and clinched her first marketing gig, and now handles marketing project management in a professional capacity. So she was sure that my expertise could help other new people taking their infant steps in the industry.

Ultimately, the truth is I am just a bit too lazy to hold any courses despite the apparent demand. *laughs*

chocolat et basil singapore

4. As a child of the digital age with a strong social media presence, what do you think of the impact content creators similar to you have on F&B?

Nobelle Liew: Realistically speaking, content creators like us have a not-insignificant amount of influence, especially after they reach a certain follower count and garner certain perceived status. So businesses and brands will crave legitimisation from these people because it’s perceived as a “detached” endorsement as compared to traditional ads we’ve long grown weary of and learnt to attach a certain “biased self-praising” notion to them.

So that kind of organic validation, especially from someone with a wide follower base, is naturally seen as more valuable than paying for a space on a newspaper that has long lost its influence, especially over younger and increasingly more IT-savvy generations. Social media is king and it’s basically a new platform that allows for a multitude more people to speak.

5. Are there any prevailing trends in the current content creator scene that you feel you want to put under the spotlight?

Nobelle Liew: As I said, more people are allowed to speak but who gets the power to speak — that’s the livewire topic. At the forefront of this issue is inorganically inflated numbers, the elephant in the room that’s been haphazardly swept under the carpet. I hate, with a fucking vengeance, the rampant culture of follow-for-follow “influencers” and engagement loops that are usually partaken by those within closed fraternities, adding absolutely nothing material to the engagement needed by the brands.

For me, I didn’t start off making content for the sake of clout. I started out not even knowing I would still be a content creator to this day — it was just detailed, fleshed-out reviews on food that I did out of unadulterated love for food. (Editor’s note: she mentioned: “like in this hidden gem website called indulgentism.com,” no lie).

It was from there that I ventured into other niches such as detailed step-by-step recipe posts. My parents had always strongly encouraged me to monetise but I refused, on the principle that I’m merely sharing what I hope others would share with me. I fell in love with the food community doing what I did and I felt a sense of belonging within this motley crew of passionate and like-minded people.

I appreciate people who put in hard work, possibly from my upbringing where meritocracy was the ironclad rule in our household, so I admire creators who dedicate themselves to churning out good content. It’s suspicious when certain creators cook up subpar quality content but somehow maintain good numbers that float around a constant range because the numbers can fluctuate wildly even for the most established veterans in the scene, and we all know the new generations are turning into avid visual-dominated creatures.

Basically, I find that indulging in too many shortcuts will ultimately hurt brands sincerely attempting to engage a new audience or demographic for their survival and growth, and there will be brands who are uneducated on these dubious practices.

Knowing that some people abuse their status pisses me off since these people are taking advantage of the business owners’ genuine goodwill, only to misappropriate privileges they don’t truly deserve. If your numbers aren’t entirely genuine, from where do you even muster the audacity to request tastings from these businesses? It contributes little to the community except to dilute faith in bona fide content creator marketing in the long run.

nobelle liew

6. Many people don’t know that you are unfortunately rather allergic to many foods, does that give you a different approach to food as a content creator?

Nobelle Liew: I have a very unhealthy relationship with food, truthfully. So the underlying issue is that I am actually allergic to literally everything, which doctors discovered through extensive skin prick tests where I reacted to everything but egg whites — genuinely everything, with fructose in particular.

Even then, I never restricted myself from eating too much since it appeared to be merely skin-level allergies. That was until I experienced my first anaphylactic shock and it turned out unrealistic to test for everything with my staggering array of allergens, so I started a diary from then on for tracing my allergens in the case of another episode but it’s been futile thus far.

As someone who loves food, I still insist on carefully tasting the food even though I cannot finish the entire serving. That’s why when I go for tastings, I always ensure I take photos quickly so I can get in those precious few bites and record all the tasting notes down immediately while everything is still fresh and can strut vividly atop my palate.

Ironically, I also can’t eat most of my own creations despite being a fervent cook. I’m inherently creative and cooking is a process that I revel in so I often find myself drawn into conjuring up an entire smorgasbord of food to feed my loved ones. A dream I have is actually to one day open my own private kitchen to feed other people who appreciate my cooking!

So, sad to say but it’s a bit of a curse that I can only really taste and sample my own cooking to make sure it’s perfect for those eating it. (Me: So you’re like Beethoven making music even while deaf?) Yeah… but at least I can still taste and track my progress unlike the completely deaf Beethoven though. *laughs*

chocolat et basil reviews

7. Being an accomplished home cook, do you sometimes feel the urge to enter into friendly discourse with chefs on potential tweaks has anyone gotten offended?

Nobelle Liew: I don’t force the conversation but will actively engage when anybody comes and starts a conversation with me. Most of the time, I think the most articulate feedback is through writing a review after the fact. Chefs don’t recognise me either most of the time —but somehow some followers can recognise me just by the shape of my brows— so I will generally keep bad reviews to myself when in person.

Generally, I love engaging with F&B owners but I don’t appreciate it when some of them get aggressive over genuine constructive criticism. Like one time, an owner messaged me directly and sanctimoniously derided me over a sightly negative review that I honestly thought was tame and inoffensive. To keep things simple, I stay fairly anonymous unless I get really impressed by something, like that one time when I raved to Guerilla Coffee about their affogato.

An interesting story is that I own a copy of The French Laundry Cookbook and I’ve gone over every page of the introduction ad nauseam because I relish all the small details that let you better understand and process the food you put in your mouth. I am someone who’s obsessed with recipe experimentation, to the extent where I can easily identify elements inside, i.e. brown sugar ratios in cookies, which I’ve baked a metric ton of. So I do genuinely appreciate the intricacies and techniques which I can taste in the chefs’ earnest creations.

8. As someone emblazoned with tattoos, what would you get if you were had to ink a specific food on yourself?

Nobelle Liew: I actually thought about this. I don’t have a specific food or dish I would like to have inked but there’s a food-related tattoo idea that’s been gestating for a bit — a scene from Howl’s Moving Castle where the fire demon Calcifer cooked a hearty breakfast serving of bacon and eggs.

The scene left a lasting impression on me because it somehow managed to make something as mundane as food look so good even in animation form! How the pan sizzled and how she slapped the thick slab of bacon onto the plate — it was just magical. Plus, Howl’s Moving Castle is probably tied with Princess Mononoke as my favourite Studio Ghibli film.

However, I admit this is counterintuitive to my general rule of thumb which is to give tattoo artists almost free artistic reign since I believe each of them has their own distinct vision, which I respect as a fellow creative. (Editor’s note: yes, so her iconic blackout sleeve on her left arm was actually a bold idea from the tattoo artist himself.)

nobelle liew singapore

9. Describe yourself in tasting notes.

Nobelle Liew: I cannot. This question is too complex for me. *laughs*

But I think the best way to describe myself is that I am like black coffee, it’s straightforward — on the first sip, you can tell whether it’s bold enough for you, acidic enough for you, or smooth enough for you to appreciate it or not. And then you take a second sip and start to discern more of the different tasting notes.

Put it this way — I’m a very in your face person and you can quickly ascertain whether you like me or not. So it’s like a glass of iced double shot long black where maybe you will slowly notice more complexities as the ice gradually melt and more of the surreptitious details creep to the surface. Alas, you wouldn’t have stayed to truly indulge in the entire transition if that potent first sip had put you off, because it can be jarring.

10. If you knew you were dying and only had to pick 3 places in Singapore worthy being of your last meal, which would be your top picks? 

Nobelle Liew: There’s nothing that I can name off the top of my head right now because I’ve been swamped in the past few months and I haven’t really had the time to go out and explore many places, especially all the shiny new restaurants popping up.

But if you forced me to name a place then it has to be, from the bottom of my heart, Shashlik. Not because it represents the pinnacle of cooking but for the fact that I’ve been celebrating my birthday there every year so it’s a place that is loaded with limitless sentimental value to me. 

It’s one of the institutions that I think is immune to criticism even if it refuses to bend to the ever-changing culinary landscape. Because it’s simply timeless. It’s 50 years of history and it’s familiar — it’s a place that I wish would never change.

“Last meal” doesn’t have to be the best meal but something that means the most to you and you want to experience one final time — as I’ve reiterated, there’s a lot more meaning and romanticism to food and that’s what makes food such a beautiful medium to work on.

(Editor’s note: I like this answer because having one clear answer is actually much more impactful because it truly is the last meal they want.)

Read “If You’ll Indulge Me” with Junior Lim, Singapore Aeropress Champ and Barista-Owner of Rookie’s Coffee Shop, here.

Check out Nobelle’s in-depth write-ups and striking photos for yourself on her Instagram, @Chocolatetbasil.

 

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