Hemmed in by the narrow Chinese shophouses of downtown Singapore, a solitary olive tree stands in the whitewashed courtyard of Restaurant André. Uprooted from its native France, it thrives as a symbol that lies at the heart of Chef André’s cuisine. It serves as a reminder to the beauty of adaptation.
The spirit of evolution is woven into the identity of Chef André’s cuisine. Like the tree, his cuisine adopts natural ingredients from foreign climates and reinterprets them for the urban metropolis of Taiwan and Singapore. Under the tutelage of the Michelin-starred Pourcel brothers, his cuisine reflects an appreciation for the importance of seasonality and working closely with nature.
In this series, we explore the role of sourcing and sustainability through the perspective of Chef Andre; a chef and an artist.
In modern cities, the food on our plates is often a world away from the produce that grows on local soil. Whilst this diversity is something to be celebrated, it has led many chefs to question the sustainability of the way they work.
In a place that maintains an unvarying climate, Singapore’s gastronomic landscape relies almost solely on the importation of foods from foreign countries. With little space for local agriculture, the question of sustainable cooking calls for a more innovative approach.
Chef Andre has cultivated a unique cuisine that transports the spirit of nouvelle French cuisine from the city of Montpellier to the metropolis of Singapore.
Will a man-made golden leaf ever be more spectacular than a real autumn leaf on a branch of a tree?
A STORY OF ORIGINS
If you go through the process, you respect the produce more
Delicately balancing vitelotte crisps on a pale white branch, to resemble the leaves on a summer’s day, his food is a sensitive imitation of nature. Whether delicately re-crafted or seemingly untouched, each creation circles back to its natural origins.
This connection with nature was inspired by his time in the premier kitchens and farms in the South of France. On the farm of Mr Colomnia, turning over the pumpkins and watching the gentle wane of the zucchini flower, Chef Andre observed how the simplest ingredients were handled with attention to their raw character and origins. He saw that cooking was more than just a personal creative expression, it was an articulation of the labour of the earth.
He has since established a two hectare plot of land in Taiwan. This supplies organic produce to the kitchens of both his restaurants in RAW, Taiwan and Restaurant Andre, Singapore. Growing micro beets and carrots from the heirloom seeds passed down to him by the French chef Pierre Gagnaire, this reinforces the history and provenance of each dish.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TIMING
You have to be very sensitive to timing and harvesting
During his years in France, he came to learn that the most beautiful process of cooking is time. The consideration for the role of time in creativity and creation, grew from observing the chronology of the natural world.
Sometimes to create, the process can take five minutes and other times five months.
Outside of the kitchen, time plays a central role in the craft of agricultural cultivation. To yield a good quality crop takes decades. The farmer must take into account the quality of the soil and the contrast of the seasons to support healthy growth
Jus des idées
Harvested as pure distillations of nature, Chef Andre’s ‘Jus des idées’ were created as creative couplings to his dishes. Spending five-month stretches tending to the jars on the stone basement steps, he revels in the unexpected flavours of the fermentation process. Playing with concoctions of red, sorrel, kale and seaweed each jus is an exploration into the curious transformations of nature. Following a course of speculation and change, each dish takes time to find its perfect expression in the process of cooking.
In a culture that lays food from around the world before us so readily, it is easy to forget the journey our food has taken to arrive on our plate. Echoing the artistry of the natural world and the cadence of its seasons, each dish serves as a reminder that consumption and environment aren’t paradoxical. Integrating an appreciation of provenance into our diet, Chef Andre encourages a collective effort to eat and cook our way back to nature.
It’s a chef’s responsibility to choose the right ingredients
A CHEF’S RESPONSIBILITY
The decisions of a chef can leave a lasting impact on the sociology of a culture’s food. Selecting the ingredients to work with, the decisions made in a chef’s kitchen can shape our ecological landscape.
Chef André asserts the importance of educating the collective palate of a community and encouraging wider environmental awareness. He believes that ‘the successful dish or combination of dishes can change a diner’s eating habits’. By pointing to the interdependence of all things, we are able to appreciate the world as an interconnected network of ecosystems.
Conscious of the way the industry’s culture of supply and demand affects the ecology of our oceans, his kitchens order fish by weight rather than species. He explains that, if a certain fish becomes highly sought after, appearing on all the menus in the city, the fishermen will farm it. This in turn, will gradually lead to an imbalance in the ecosystem.
Chef Andre’s creative process rests on the careful selection and sourcing of raw ingredients. Recognising that the relationship between the chef and supplier is essential in running a sustainable kitchen, he has made a concerted effort to build strong, trusting connections with his sources.
Beginning at the source, it is the farmers and fishermen that pick the produce and encourage the shape of the menu. Attuned to their intimate understanding of how raw ingredients are best appreciated, he often turns to them for preparation advice.
At Chef Andre’s establishments, the chefs don’t work to a set menu. Instead they adapt their recipes to the ingredients that their suppliers recommend and provide. Over the years he has amassed a network over over two-hundred producers and artisans, who share his perspective on responsible sourcing.
It’s a chef’s responsibility to highlight seasonality and to remind his guests what the seasons are.
Working through the seasons, his menus follow the verdant greens of spring through to the armagnac warmth of the winter months. Through the process of adaptation, Chef Andre’s team is encouraged to explore creative approaches to accommodate the day’s available produce.
He observes, ‘the only consistency we have is freshness’. The threads of these dialogues run through Chef Andre’s craft to weave an expression of nature in the truest and most artistic form. As a tribute to nature, his creations serve to provoke a deeper inquiry into the origins and future of the food on our plates.
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.
41 Bukit Pasoh Road