Amongst the many questions on food that people ask me, I find it most difficult to answer this particular one and that is, what does food mean to you? It may seem like a harmless question but as I start to answer, there’s always a moment of pause, when the mind’s racing through countless emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Somehow I am always at a loss of words to express how dearly I feel for food, which is also so personal.
When we met up with Andre Chiang, Chef & Owner of Restaurant ANDRE, Singapore, also ranked number 37 in World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and asked him the same question, he answered immediately, “food is my life, it’s what I do.” Simple and straight forward. Well, that is him, who makes simplicity look so good.
Such as his restaurant, a stark white, ordinary looking building at the historic district of Bukit Pasoh with an olive tree at the entrance. Who would have imagined the gigantic depth of creativity that lies within those walls! And as you enter the restaurant, there are cosy seating arrangements spread across two floors in a pleasant setting but nothing extraordinary. “Food to me is an intimate relationship. I cook to share my emotions, the experiences that I have gathered in life, and present a glimpse of what inspires me. It is not about trying to make an impression or boast about different culinary techniques. Which is why the idea behind the restaurant was to create a homely atmosphere, as though you were walking into Andre’s house to enjoy a meal,” says the Chef.
Chef’s culinary philosophy is based on a concept which he calls Octaphilosophy. It includes eight elements that represent eight different dishes: unique, pure, texture, memory, salt, south, artisan and terroir. “The eight elements represent different emotions, different sides of me – funny, serious, happy, intense, and so on. You will find some dishes are fun, some rustic, while some are sophisticated. For me, food is not just about the ingredients, cooking method, or the sauces but the overall experience, and the thought process behind the creation of each dish and that is what we share with our guests,” explains Chef Chiang.
Some of his dishes are: Zimbambe Gwheli Prawns with Seaweed Spaghetti, Cured Egg Yolk, Noirmoutier Potato, Mushroom Couscous and Sea Water Emulsion; Needle Fish, Artichoke Barigoule, Granny Smith Apple, Burnt Onion and Tomato Confit; Gardens by the Bay; Chlorophyll Capsules on Fresh Moss; Camembert-Hay Ice Cream; The Garden – Porcini Mushroom Chip, Porcini Meringue, Fried Potato-wrapped Fish and Chips, Chicken Marsala Chip, Patatas Bravas, Garlic and Chocolate; Snickers – Salt, Caramel, Nougat, Chocolate, Roasted Peanuts, Coffee Caramel Jelly, Milk Ice Cream, Beurre Noisette Ice Cream, and Cocoa Powder Ice Cream; to name a few.
It is a wonder how he thinks of such breathtaking ideas! “When I create dishes, I set no boundaries although I like to keep the idea simple. It is very important to think freely and not be obliged to create dishes to impress others. Most chefs land up complicating things in order to create a wow experience for their guests. In Restaurant ANDRE, there is no set menu. I create whatever pleases me. In the end of the day, I want to share with my guests what I like,” points out Chef Chiang.
Born in Taiwan, Chef learned the intricacies of cooking from his mother who is a professional chef too. She taught him to understand food by paying attention to details, flavours, textures, smell, and so on. One of his initial lessons was to list down all the ingredients of the particular dish that his family would order at a restaurant. This taught him to differentiate between varied ingredients and learn the characteristics of each kind. He went on to France to learn about international cuisine. And in that span of time grew an obsession for French cuisine. So when it came to starting his own restaurant, he knew he wanted to present nouvelle French cuisine.
Currently, he is working on two new concepts for his menu, both related to the use of charcoal as source of fire. One is called Burnt Ends which focuses on wood-fired Western dishes, and the other is called Bincho, which is a type of Japanese charcoal, and it explores Asian flavours and cooking techniques. “At Restaurant ANDRE, we primarily use traditional cooking methods along with modern techniques. The intention is to present a new perspective. When you come to dine at the restaurant, imagine that you are visiting a theater without the slightest clue on what to expect. So sit back and relax, and enjoy the journey,” he says with a smile.
His advise to aspiring chefs: “Be simple, be curious. Don’t get carried away with techniques and presentations that you forget the basic thing which is taste.”
Two ingredients he loves: “Salt. Not just the seasoning but different levels of saltiness that can be brought about with soy sauce, fish sauce, sea water, sea weed, etc. Second is citrus.”
Take on Indian food: “There’s so much to discover! It’s much like French food with each region having their own characteristic flavours.”
Source of inspiration: “Everyday life. Everything around me inspires me. I don’t read cookbooks but I like to read up on architecture, art, fashion and design, and somewhere I think they contribute to giving shape to my ideas.”
Last note: “Behind every creation lies a lot of discipline. It is not easy to deliver the vision that one has in mind without hard work.”
Restaurant ANDRE, #41, Bukit Pasoh Road, Singapore; tel: +6565348880