Road to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017: André Chiang of Restaurant André
Renowned for his perfect blend of style and substance, André Chiang’s avant-garde cooking has won him admirers the world over. The second highest-ranking chef on the list of Asia’s Best Restaurants, his breathtaking dishes blend the precision of the Chinese culinary world with the boundless passion of the Mediterranean. His ever-changing menu is driven by Octaphilosophy, an unique and inspiring way of approaching the culinary arts.
Could you tell us a little bit more about your philosophy, Octaphilosophy, and why it’s so important to you?
Octaphilosophy is what makes Restaurant André what it is, what makes me the chef that I am. It’s the way I approach food and it’s the way that we present it to guests. These elements – Unique; Pure; Texture; Memory; Salt; South; Artisan; Terroir – are the key to my creative process, they all mean something specific and important to me. I’m a very deliberate person, I do things for a reason.
French cuisine had a big impact on your cooking, and it’s obviously one of the most classic and respected styles, but was there anything else about it that attracted you?
When I think of the best culinary cultures in the west, I think of France. Chinese cuisine is so technical, so skilled, arguably one of the most difficult. I wanted something that would challenge me and push me in new directions and learning from French cuisine appealed to me. There’s so much emotion there, a chance for creativity and imagination.
Do you feel that creativity and expression can sometimes be more important than absolute technical precision? If you had to chose between a memorable meal and a perfectly executed one, which would you choose?
It has to be both, which isn’t really answering your question I guess but… technique is obviously vital. A great idea that is made poorly is not a great dish. But then, creativity is also vital, it’s a huge part of what I do and how I grew up. Art is something that has been central to my family, my father is a calligrapher, my sister is a designer, personally I love ceramics; all the pottery in the restaurant was designed by me.
You’re well known for changing your menu incredibly frequently to best suit the ingredients at hand. Other chefs we’ve spoken to with a similar philosophy have talked about the struggles of maintaining the highest standards when they’re cooking in such a reactive manner, how do you get around that?
We don’t really have that struggle so much! It’s a challenge, I guess but one that keeps up fresh and eternally focussed on what’s in front of us. There isn’t time to be lazy, time to just keep putting out the same dish without thinking, which is what kills your creativity and your precision. We have the freshest, most incredible ingredients coming in constantly and we have to decide what to do with them.
Is there any dish that you just can’t see yourself dropping from your current menu?
We always adapt! Nothing ever stays the same for ever, especially not on my menu and not in Singapore. There is one though, Memory: it’s a warm foie gras jelly served with a black truffle coulis. It was the first dish I could really call my own, so obviously it’s very special to me but I also think it’s an incredible dish in its own right.
You have a deep passion for your food and obviously want to be heavily involved at every step of the process. Does this make it hard to have more than one restaurant? How do you handle not being able to be in the other kitchens?
I have brilliant teams in all of my restaurants, so I let them do their work. I have a huge amount of faith in the teams and what they do, I don’t need to be there keeping watch over everything because they absolutely know what they’re doing. Restaurant André isn’t open when I’m not here, as diners are right to expect to see me in my own kitchen, but in the others there are brilliant teams that do their jobs perfectly and let me stay focussed on what I’m doing.
We got to try your food last year at Lyle’s. How did it go and how close was it to what you do in Singapore?
It was great. We did dishes all around the world in so many locations. Each one different, each one tied in to much to the place that it was coming from. I looked at every city and thought about what makes it unique, what ingredients and ideas capture that city and I made a dish inspired by that process. In London, with James [Lowe] it was great, I think. We had talked before, seen each other’s dishes and been fans and I like what he is doing. He is very in touch with the ingredients he is using and the city that he’s in. The dishes that he creates are very true to who he is a chef, which is something I can relate to.
What was it that made you choose Singapore for Restaurant André and did you ever consider relocating?
I wanted to be in a city I know, a city I really understand intimately. For me, there has to be a real connection to the place where I’m creating and Singapore has that. It’s a brilliant city, in a way you wouldn’t expect. We don’t have the same access to produce that some places have, but that means we are more deliberate with what we do, we consider our ingredients carefully.
Let’s to talk about the 50 Best. Firstly, congratulations for being named the second best restaurant in Asia in 2017! How you feel about being included on the list once again?
Thank you, it’s an absolute honour. It’s a team effort though like I said, the team I have here have really helped make so much of what we do at Restaurant André possible.
Do you think being on the list and working with some of the other chefs on it has affected your cooking style?
No not at all. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way! It’s just that I know myself and my ideas. Obviously you take inspiration from them, you take inspiration from so many different sources, but you know what works for you. None of us are really like that, borrowing ideas from each other or adapting to what’s fashionable, it’s more about being relaxing for a little bit, talk to people, have some good food and just let your mind be creative. You can see the most incredible dishes, but if they don’t make sense with your own personal style then that’s all they are.
The competition for this year’s winner is as fierce as it’s ever been, who do you think will win?
I honestly don’t know! There are so many great names on the list, and many more that haven’t made it on. It’s impossible to call really, you can only say who you think will be in the 50.
And who do you think should win – who’s your favourite candidate?
I don’t really think it’s about winning, you know. For me, it’s the 50 of the best restaurants in the world full of innovative ideas, great chefs, amazing locations. It’s not about who’s number 1 and who’s number 50, just being recognised as one of those places is incredible. It’s an honour and I don’t really worry about who is top, who is moving up, where I am.