#50BESTTALKS MACAO: CHEFS EXPLORE IDENTITY
The latest edition of #50BestTalks, which took place ahead of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2018sponsored by S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna (live-stream the ceremony on 27 March from 8.45pm local time on Fine Dining Lovers here) focused on identity and welcomed some of Asia's best chefs (and one bartender) to the stage to discuss what it means to them and how they express their identity through gastronomy.
Here's what the speakers had to say.
An emotional André Chiang, winner of The Diners Club® Lifetime Achievement Award 2018, pictured above, described having to watch a video tribute to his recently closed Restaurant André in Singapore as “intense,” but, he said, it was the right decision to close the restaurant after 10 years. He was seeking to reconnect to Taiwan, the country he left when he was just 13-years-old, to discover what it means to be and to cook Taiwanese now. “I feel frustrated that I don’t know more about Taiwan,” he confessed. He already has a restaurant there of course, Raw in Taipei, which was recently awarded a Michelin star and will likely climb the ranks of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants this year, but he also announced two new concepts for 2018: one on the site of the defunct Restaurant André in Singapore and one in an as yet unnamed Asian city.
Chiang also wants to devote more time to training the next generation of chefs in Taiwan and said he sees himself now as “more of a coach than a player.” Keen to learn more about Taiwanese ingredients himself he hopes the new wave of Taiwanese cooks will grasp the importance of sourcing locally, and realise that in order to go global, you have to represent what’s local first and create something that fits the local community. “The most successful restaurant, is one that is needed,” he said.
The trio of chefs at the helm of Mume in Taipei, Taiwan – Richie Lin, Long Xiong and Kai Ward – are on a steep learning curve too. Having met, in different combinations, at Noma in Copenhagen and Quay in Sydney, the team decided to set up in Taiwan because it would be out of their comfort zones and would provide the opportunity to continue to learn. However, at first it was difficult to gain the trust of producers, who couldn’t understand why these none natives (Lin is from Home Kong, Xiong from the US and Ward from Australia), weren’t cooking French or Italian food. They now work with 90% Taiwanese ingredients from 95 different suppliers, cooked using techniques picked up at the world famous restaurants at which they trained. Lin says working at Noma taught him to take “crazy" chances.
The chef at Japan’s Shima Kanko Hotel focused on sustainability for her talk, particularly with regards to the ocean, explaining how she likes to work with producers who hand catch only the finest seafood. Higuchi feels chefs have a duty not only to “contribute to local industries,” but to spread the world about them too, and explained how her cooking his influenced by Japanese, French and Chinese techniques.
What is the Singaporean identity? At the Native bar in the city, which currently sits at number 47 on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, mixologist Vijay Mudaliar has created a drinks list that represents the melting pot culture of Singapore, shunning non-local spirits like tequila for Indian, Chinese and spirits from other parts of Asia. His flavour matching philosophy is ‘If it grows together, it goes together,” and many of his ingredients including ants and local plants, are foraged, unusual in a city that imports 90% of its produce. They are big on sustainability too: guests sip drinks placed on reusable coasters and the bathrooms are cleaned using leftover sous vide water.
Watch Vijay in action below
All images: Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S.Pellegrino & Acqua Panna.