THE NEXT GANG
Boulud, Puck, Robuchon, Tetsuya—scores of the world’s big-name chefs have made their mark in Singapore. Now a young band of Asian chefs is firing up the food scene at a local level. Kate Crockett meets five young guns
THE ARTISAN AND ECO CHAMPION
ANDRÉ CHIANG, 35
“I recently travelled to Borneo to support a project called the Rainforest Kitchen,” explains André Chiang, chef-patron of André in Bukit Pasoh, on the edge of Singapore’s Chinatown. “I volunteered my knowledge as a chef and as a forager to help find sources of income for locals instead of cutting down the forest for plantations. Inspired by the plants and herbs we found, I created the Orangutan Salad, a celebration of herbs and fruits similar to those an orangutan eats. The idea is to make guests realise that the rainforest is in danger and that we need to protect it.”
André’s story reveals much about his outlook. A Taiwanese national, André was raised in France from age 13 to 31, during which time he worked with a number of Michelin-starred chefs; at 31 he decided to return to Asia because “there was always something missing.” After a wildly successful stint running Jaan par André at Swissôtel The Stamford, in late 2010 he opened Restaurant André, currently rated number 68 in the list of the World’s Best Restaurants. At the heart of his work—which Jason Atherton, chef-patron of Singapore’s Esquina, describes as “delicate, Asian-French cuisine like I have never seen before”—is the desire to acknowledge the people and places that inspire and facilitate his creations.
‘The way we work with our farmers and producers is quite different to most,” André explains. ‘For example, we order 6kg of seafood every day from Japan, but we don’t order specific produce: we simply say we want 6kg and then the supplier will buy whatever is best in the market that day. It might be abalone, eel or rockfish: we just open the box, see what we’ve got and work with it. That is how we work, even for seasonal vegetables and herbs; we trust our producers to select the best.”
Basing his menu on his own “octaphilosophy”, André uses eight elements to create eight different courses on the set menu: “pure”, “salt”, “artisan”, “texture”, “south”, “unique”, “memory” and “terroir”. Pure, for example, is a dish created without seasoning and without the aid of electricity; the idea being to present produce in its purest form. The Artisan course pays homage to the producers, recreating how a particular farmer feels their produce is best served. Overruling his own creative instincts as a chef and presenting produce “from the farmer’s perspective”, André is a quiet revolutionary.www.restaurantandre.com
André rates: “I have been inspired by all my mentors, in particular Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, Michel Troisgros, Pierre Gagnaire and Pascal Barbot.”
Off-duty eats: “Hachi Japanese restaurant by chef Kishio Watanabe has simply great food with unpolished flavours; it’s straightforward and honest cuisine, which demonstrates a depth of knowledge in produce and technique.” www.hachirestaurant.com
THE ROCK AND ROLL PÂTISSIÈRE
JANICE WONG, 28
Sweet sensations in a riot of colours, deconstructed and decorated with edible flowers, are all signatures of Janice Wong. But most of all, Janice, the Singaporean chef-patron of 2am:dessertbar in Holland Village, loves the element of surprise—of texture, temperatures and flavours. Like her chocolate dessert that looks like coral stone but is actually a mousse, as light as air. Or the “seven textures” stack of passion fruit leather, coconut ice cream and Okinawan “sea grapes” that burst on your tongue.
“Janice is one of the new breed of rock and roll pastry chefs,” says Atherton, who also owns London’s Pollen Street Social and has a second Singapore restaurant, Pollen, opening in June. “I love the way she works, using all the traditional techniques but with all the Asian fruits. She taught me about kaffir lime going with pineapple, and now I do that at Pollen Street Social.”
Such flavour combinations are under constant development in Janice’s 2am:lab that opened in November 2011. A centre for experimentation and exchange for culinary enthusiasts, the 2am:lab has already played host to Atherton, Sat Bains and Claude Bosi, as well as American pastry chef Will Goldfarb and Daniel Jordà from Spain, who created all the breads for El Bulli. Rosio Sanchez, pastry chef at Noma, arrives in July to present a series of workshops.
Janice’s current passion is the creation of edible art installations where guests eat marshmallows off huge-scale sugar walls-come-artworks—the kind of thing Willy Wonka would be proud of. “I’m hoping to do one in London,” she enthuses. “It’s a way for me to share with people a different way of experiencing food.” In the meantime, 2am:dessertbar continues to be one of Singapore’s most unique dining experiences and a must-visit for hungry night owls: order the signature 4X4—four desserts and four wine pairings. www.2amdessertbar.com
Janice rates: “Carolyn Nugent, now head pastry chef of Bottega Louie in Los Angeles, inspires me, as does American chef Grant Achatz. He has a boldness and brilliance for creating not only tasty food but unforgettable experiences for his guests.”
Off-duty eats: “The Tippling Club is a great concept that is still fresh and exciting. Ryan [Clift] constantly outdoes himself and I admire his passion and stamina for creativity.” www.tipplingclub.com
THE CUSTODIAN OF NEW TRADITIONS
MALCOLM LEE, 27
“When you come to Singapore, you have to taste two things. First, the hawker street food, and second, the Peranakan food—and that’s where I come in,” says chef Malcolm Lee. One of Asia’s oldest fusion cuisines, Peranakan was born out of the culture that developed when 15th- and 16th-century Chinese merchants married into Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian families. Heavy in its use of tamarind, galangal, coconut milk and lemongrass, Peranakan is one of Singapore’s few original cuisines. It is also a forgotten art, which makes fourth-generation Peranakan Malcolm Lee one of only a few young Singaporeans who not only grew up with the cuisine but also know how to cook it.
“I was raised with the smells and flavours of Peranakan food but on TV it was always French that formed the image of fine dining, so I thought I should travel to France to learn to cook,” Malcolm recalls. “But then at culinary school, I realised for the first time that Asian food had its own potential, and that I should learn about my own food and culture.”
Peranakan cuisine became his speciality, but he brought to it his knowledge of modern cooking techniques, such as sous vide, with an ambition to evolve the tradition. “These days people see Peranakan as old fashioned but, in Singapore, any changes to it are seen as unauthentic,” Malcolm explains. “I want to preserve the Peranakan traditions, but it is my job to make it relevant to the younger generations. To do that, I don’t just want to follow a recipe, I want to use new techniques to improve the textures and flavours.”
Malcolm opened Candlenut Kitchen in April 2010 on the outskirts of Singapore’s central business district, showcasing his take on Peranakan classics such as beef rendang, laksa and buah keluak (black nut). After two years and much acclaim—but also mistakes and a rent rise—Malcolm has closed the restaurant. He plans to reopen at the end of 2012 in a new incarnation, retaining the Candlenut moniker but with the restaurant more clearly positioned as a new Peranakan experience. Watch this space. www.candlenutkitchen.com
Malcolm rates: “I draw a lot of inspiration from Heston Blumenthal in his new approach to cooking by refining techniques and flavours for everyday dishes. I also admire Willin Low, who pioneered the modern Singaporean food movement.”
Off-duty eats: “I have so many favourite places and it’s all hawker food. I love to eat crabs and in particular a butter crab dish at Mellben Seafood in Toa Payoh.” +65 6285 6762
THE GALLIC GOURMET
ANTHONY YEOH, 30
“If you want to get to the heart of a culture anywhere, try the everyday food”
“If you want to get to the heart of a culture anywhere, try the everyday food.” This is the mantra that inspires Singaporean local, Francophile and head chef of Cocotte, Anthony Yeoh. In a lively corner of Little India, inside the Wanderlust hotel, Anthony has created his imagining of relaxed, French bistro dining, complete with chalkboards and aluminium Tolix chairs. “My vision was to have the food I love—which is French—but also the regular everyday food of France,” Anthony explains.
Inspired by his grandmother, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Anthony found his way to culinary school via an economics degree and a stint as a radio DJ. As the course lacked any specific focus on Anthony’s preferred cuisine, French, he started reading. “I learnt it all from cookbooks and travelogs,” he explains. “If I wanted to get to the heart of, say, a Niçoise salad, I’d read the recipes but also all the different perspectives on what makes a good Niçoise salad, to try to appreciate its essence.”
A chance meeting when Anthony was later working as a private chef led to Cocotte. “I was introduced to the hotel owner who asked me if I would open the restaurant,” Anthony explains. “He said, ‘the concept is up to you—the food, the décor and how you serve’. Everything was handed to me.”
That was in July 2010 and, two years down the line, Anthony can’t take the roast chicken or the roast pork collar off the menu for fear of upsetting his regulars. “We get a mix of hotel guests, locals and expats,” he says. “At first we were worried about what French visitors would think but they were really happy,” he says, relieved. With a new brunch just launched on weekends, Anthony is focused on establishing Cocotte as a viable long-term business—“especially in Singapore, where we are saturated with new restaurants”. www.restaurantcocotte.com
Anthony rates: “I admire Thomas Keller because he comes from a similar mindset—he built his way up, not having been to culinary school. I also like the old school—chefs such as the Roux Brothers and Raymond Blanc—and Nuno Mendes, who’s doing fantastic stuff at Viajante in London.”
Off-duty eats: “At Tetsuya’s Waku Ghin in Marina Bay Sands. I also like Patrick Heuberger at Le Bistrot du Sommelier—his food is fantastic.” www.marinabaysands.com; Le Bistro: +65 6333 1982
THE PEOPLE’S CHEF
DANIEL SIA, 35
Away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, the unique vibe of Singapore’s foodie enclave Dempsey perfectly suits chef Daniel Sia’s casual concept for The Disgruntled Chef, a Modern European restaurant which places as much emphasis on the food as it does on the wine and cocktail pairing.
The Disgruntled Chef opened in August 2010 to a flurry of questions about its unusual name. It came, Daniel explains, from a discussion between the chef and his business partners about all the things they didn’t want their restaurant to be—formal, fussy, white-linen tablecloths—making them sound like, well, disgruntled chefs. In they end they settled on a relaxed, communal dining concept with a bar serving cocktails made with fresh ingredients and spirits in 45ml measures. Dishes are served together on large plates, or lots of small plates for sharing; menu favourites include baked bone marrow and special short ribs.
“I would love to see more local chefs have the freedom to express what they believe in”
“We are very much a regular place for local people,” says Daniel, who started his career at Les Amis in Singapore and honed his skills in fine-dining restaurants in London, Hong Kong and Shanghai. With it came a passion for travel. “I get my inspiration from the street food in places like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand,” he explains. “Because we have a kind of sharing concept, rather like tapas, I went to Barcelona last summer to experience the food and to study how people eat and how they like their food to be served.”
Noticing a trend in Singapore for more independent restaurants, Daniel says: “I would love to see more local chefs doing this because it gives them the freedom to express what they believe in and realise the dreams they have.” www.disgruntledchef.com
Daniel rates: “There are many chefs who have influenced my work including Justin Quek (Sky on 57), Michel Roux Jnr and Marco Pierre White; while André [Chiang] and Janice [Wong] are putting the Singapore dining scene on the international market.”
Off-duty eats: “There are so many great places, but Artichoke comes to mind. The food is great with its simplicity and flavours, and the chef-patron Bjorn Shen has real passion.” www.artichoke.com.sg