'THE LITTLE PRINCE', ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
Like the Little Prince in Saint-Exupéry’s tale, Chef André’s approach to his craft is born out of curiosity and wonder. With his unique perception for detail, he has cultivated a culinary style that boldly explores the transformative and creative potential of cooking. By carefully aligning each creation against the framework of his ‘Octaphilosophy’, his cuisine realises new and unexpected dimensions to food and taste. Simmered in thyme and Fleur D’oranger water, curls of watermelon skin become a beautifully light dish, and what was once overlooked is imbued with a new appreciation.
You are shaped by the people around you– when you are surrounded by a strong team, they keep pushing and encouraging you to be better.
In his path of creative discovery, Chef André’s story reads like a tapestry of influences that have woven themselves into his life’s work. From Taiwan to France, the tangents of his journey have converged to inform a creative method that is unique to his vision.
Chef André’s journey is a story of many beginnings that trace their roots to the formative years of his childhood. Speaking with the Taiwan-born chef, he recalls his experience as a young assistant in his mother’s Chinese restaurant and observing her meticulous commitment to accuracy and technique. Remarking on the structured and systematic regime of Chinese cuisine, the chef credits these early lessons to instilling an appreciation for structure and discipline.
As a young boy, food became closely associated with his mother’s love. Early memories of his childhood harken back to her tireless dedication to nourishing and providing for her family. With all three children attending different schools, Chef André’s mother would prepare meals, split them into separate canteens and lovingly deliver these meals to each child on her motorbike.
In the years to come, these early experiences would lead to Chef André’s study in France where he discovered a new vocabulary of creative expression. Under the tutelage of Southern French masters and artisans, he remembers being exposed to a system that encouraged a more inquisitive approach to food. ‘I felt totally free’, he recalls, ‘I could apply my ideas and imagination to a dish and feel encouraged’. These accumulative experiences; the pre-dawn trips to the market, the rhythms of the kitchen’s service, the flavours and aromas of the unfamiliar French palate, would serve to inform and define the artist within.
I want everyone to understand their own philosophy and explore it in their own style.
For Chef André, every individual possesses the innate ability to create. In our conversation, he explains, ‘I think inspiration should come from within, you don’t look without for inspiration.’ This watchful inner creativity has come to define André’s vision.
‘I don’t believe in luck’, the chef states, ‘it’s about strategy’. Commenting on the creative process, the Michelin-starred chef firmly attests to the virtues of commitment. As with any craft, the pursuit of creative freedom is about discipline and practice. ‘Once you do one thing a thousand, or a million times, things become intuitive and natural – it becomes instinct’. In his pursuit of perfection, he asserts that talent is a concept that can only be realised through the rigour of discipline.
‘TO THINK OUT OF THE BOX, IS TO STAY OUT OF THE BOX’
As an artist, he believes true creativity is found through being receptive and living inquisitively. Curating a creative identity outside his metier, he states proudly that he ‘never reads cookbooks’. Instead, he turns to other creative avenues such as photography, architecture and fashion, for inspiration. The chef explains, ‘creativity takes courage. Many great chefs create good dishes for great restaurants. But for me, I like to create new things. This makes you a better person and artist’. It is only in the bold pursuit of our creative truth, we discover ‘who we are, what we create and we believe’.
I believe everyone in this life is here for a purpose. Everybody has one thing they do better than others.
Very early on in his career, Chef Andre had only worked exclusively in three-star Michelin restaurants. ‘The whole period of my career, I was learning from the best of the best and had adopted the philosophy of their cuisine’. Although these mentors gave him the strength to become a great chef in his own right, he felt that he needed to step out of the ‘shadow of other people’ and identify a style of his own. He recalls, ‘I kind of lost who I was and what I liked. I would cook asparagus only in the way I was taught’.
In a moment of revelation, he decided to take a hiatus from the brigade de cuisine, and decided to dedicate two years to working exclusively with the luxury resort in the Seychelles. Reflecting on the time he spent cooking on Mahé island’s rocky pennisula, he identifies this as the turning point to discovering ‘what I truly was, and what I liked’. For Chef André, the ability for an artist to find his own creative identity is imperative to the process of creation. In what he refers to as his personal way, he firmly believes that every artist possesses a unique vision that needs to find its expression.
It’s not just about what we see. We need to be sensitive and emotional to find the meaning in things.
The menus at Restaurant André are inscribed with just eight words. Unique. Pure. Texture. Memory. Salt. South. Artisan. Terroir. These words form the basis of his ‘Octaphilosophy’, a framework that has developed as a tool to explore the emotive dimensions of taste. Using these guides, the diner is encouraged to engage in free play interpretation, crafting a narrative around each dish. The chef explains, “I feel most rewarded when people totally understand the idea behind it, and feel the hand of the artisan”.
Creativity takes courage and we are the courageous ones.
For Chef André, every artist has a responsibility towards defining his creative selfhood and craft. Like the principles that shape Octaphilosophy, he believes each creative must have ‘five, eight or twelve words that are most essential to them’. It is only through the processes of perseverance and introspection, that we can begin to uncover the sources of our creativity and apply this to our art and life.
André Chiang is a Taiwanese Michelin-starred chef and owner of five restaurants. As the former head chef of the three Michelin star restaurant Le Jardin des Sens in France, his Restaurant André was recently lauded the second-best in this year’s worlds ’50 Best Restaurants’ in Asia. Welcoming its first guests in 2010, Chef André’s intimate, three-storey establishment in Singapore, serves refined French cuisine influenced by his culinary journey and training under Jacques and Laurent Pourcel at Le Jardin de Sens- Montpellier. His book ‘Octaphilosophy‘ published by Phaidon, offers insight into the culinary philosophy and creative process of the premier chef.
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