“My biggest pleasure is simply cooking for my guests in my little restaurant. If I stick to my principles, the rest will follow.”
When a young chef is trained under some of the world’s best, Pierre Gagnaire for example, the young chef is surely destined for great things. André Chiang is one such chef. Leaving home as a teenager to go in search of culinary excellence in France, André inherited a love of cooking from his mother. “My mother was a great chef who had a Chinese restaurant in Japan. I grew up in a world of cooking and started to cook at the age of 13. If I could take a plane ride anywhere, just for one meal, I would go home to Taiwan and have a meal with my mom. It is something that I crave for, and I don’t see her often. I miss her cuisine.”
As a youngster, growing up in Taiwan and Japan, André was inspired by his mother’s cooking and Japanese cuisine. “After first discovering the culinary culture of Japan, I became inspired and decided to go to France and start my culinary journey. I arrived in France when I was 15-years-old and stayed there for 14 years.”
After his time in France, having learnt from the best in the business, André settled in Singapore, taking up residency at Swissôtel The Stamford’s luxury fine-dining restaurant, Jaan par André, serving French cuisine that he had learnt from the masters. “I learnt alongside the best chefs in the world and had so many unforgettable moments. Those chefs taught me how to respect the produce and its character, how to listen and work with nature and to never over or under work the produce.” He continues: “I have met so many talented chefs over the years, each one of them inspired and influenced me in a different perspective. My mentors such as Joël Robuchon, Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, Pascal Barbot, Pierre Gagnaire and Michel Troisgros, have played the biggest influence on my career.”
Within two years of landing in Singapore, Chiang’s culinary flair was beginning to receive recognition, with critics taking notice. Jaan par André was soon placed at 39 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and fourth in Asia.
In October 2010, André opened his own restaurant in Singapore, Restaurant André, serving a French-Mediterranean menu. The restaurant is filled with character, set in an intimate 1920s Singaporean three-storey building in the district of Bukit Pasoh, seating just 30 guests.
In addition to the restaurant and kitchen, the building also houses André’s private atelier, loft office and the restaurant’s wine cellar, which is well stocked with a collection of exclusive biodynamic wines.
André's signature style of cooking follows the eight principles of ‘Octa-philosophy,’ a culinary philosophy created by André, which the menus at Restaurant André are based on. He explains: “Over the years I have researched how our capacity to taste food is influenced by our memory bank, through the personal experiences we acquire over time. This has led me to develop a culinary principle [called] Octa-philosophy, based on eight primary characteristics: unique, texture, memory, pure, terroir, salt, south and artisan. These elements reflect my cuisine and the thought process behind it.
“My philosophy is to use only the freshest of seasonal produce by collaborating with the best artisans in the world.”
Careful consideration goes into the selection of wines at Restaurant André, says Chiang: “Restaurant André’s cellar features only small-production wines of boutique wineries in France, with an emphasis on the best quality. Uniquely, we only feature natural and biodynamic wine. It also includes rare wine labels personally selected that are directly imported by us.”
André is a fan of pared down dishes, using a combination of freshness, quality and technique to create unique and exceptional flavours. It’s this simplicity that André admires in others, too.
“I have great admiration for chef Yong-Long Yang of Sasa in Taiwan. Sasa is a beautiful, elegant Japanese restaurant with great produce and flawless techniques. It is the best Japanese food I tried last year.
“My favourite local dish is laksa, a popular traditional spicy noodle soup found in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, served at Sungei Road Laksa (31 Kelantan Lane, 01-12 Seng Chuan Eating House, Singapore).” Chiang explains: “The place started in 1956 and since the beginning they have used charcoal to boil their laksa soup base. It’s a place where I find the most authentic laksa flavour in Singapore with an amazing price, just $2!
“I am really into [using] charcoal grill. I think it is something that modern techniques and equipment cannot compete with, flavour-wise.”
André spends much of his time in the kitchen, spreading the word on Octa-philosophy and developing his second Singaporean restaurant, which opens soon. “I am about to open a casual charcoal grill concept. We’ll use a range of premium Japanese charcoal, European cherry wood and maple wood to create different flavours.
“We’ll serve dishes such as smoked mussels and house dried beef, grilled cockscombs and chicken skewers. Price will starts from $1.50. I am sure this is something Singapore needs. There isn’t anything like this around at the moment. We crave for a proper place to have supper.”
André’s new restaurant will open from 6pm until 3am everyday. “I’m sure it will become the best place for chefs to hang out after service.”
This year is set to be as exciting as last year for André, who has several projects in the pipeline. “As well as my new concept restaurant, my biography is published in Mandarin and I am starting an organic farm in Taiwan for our restaurant.” He adds: “I will also be attending some of the best food festivals around the world such as NOOSA in Australia and World of Flavors in North America. At the restaurant I’m also looking forward to having a guest chef almost every month for special events.”
Although André is still without a Michelin star, in 2011 Restaurant André was named CNN.com’s Best New Restaurant in Singapore, while The New York Times voted it one of ten restaurants worth a plane ride, also in 2011. Reflecting on his most recent achievement—Restaurant André was voted 68 in The World’s 100 Best Restaurants of 2012—André says: “It is one of the best achievements you could wish for as a chef. We are honoured and lucky to be included within the S.Pellegrino 100 Best Restaurants of 2012. There are so many great restaurants I admire that weren’t included, which makes me really appreciate that there are so many professionals out there who saw our passion, hard work and what we try to present to the world.
“When I was in France I learnt the saying ‘tout vient a point à qui sait attendre,’ which means everything comes to he who waits. My biggest pleasure is simply cooking for my guests in my little restaurant. If I stick to my principles, the rest will follow.”
Take a look at chef Chiang's profile here.