Header: André Chiang and inside Restaurant André
As André Chiang wins the Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award just two weeks after closing his eponymous restaurant in Singapore, he tells us about his career highlights, future plans and advice for the next generation of cooks.
Forty-one years old may be considered an early age for an accolade celebrating a lifetime of work, but André Chiang has seen more, done more and achieved more than most. Starting his professional career at 13, the Taiwan-born chef spent two decades learning with French greats such as Pierre Gagnaire and Michel Troisgros before moving to Singapore and eventually opening Restaurant André in 2010. In his view, the key to success is time.
“The advice I would give to young chefs is take time, take risks and take it seriously,” says Chiang. “Nowadays, information is so fast, the world changes so quickly, you get used to receiving information at speed. Taking time to do something 100 times or 1,000 times seems unrealistic but that’s something we really need for this industry. Really doing one thing for 10, 20 or 30 years is the advice from me.”
Restaurant André exterior and frozen white truffle disc
It may seem surprising, then, that Chiang elected to close his flagship, Restaurant André, after just eight years – and indeed, many were surprised when he announced the news on his website on 11th October 2017. But according to Chiang, his “masterpiece” was completed and it felt like time to move on.
“I grew up in a family of artists and I’ve been into pottery and sculpture since I was a kid, even before I learnt how to cook,” says Chiang. “I say this because every time you create a masterpiece, there will be a day when you feel that it’s completed, then you sign your name in the corner and you don’t want to touch it any more and you move onto your next masterpiece. That’s exactly how I feel when I look at my restaurant. That’s the day I feel it’s completed, I have nothing more to add.”
Chiang closed Restaurant André on 14th February after a final service for friends and family of the staff. Now he plans to return to his birth country of Taiwan, where he has never lived in the past 30 years, despite opening restaurant Raw there three years ago. He will manage projects in both Singapore and Taiwan while focusing on nurturing young chef talent and creating a platform for the next generation.
“Taiwan is really a hidden gem and only in these last few years have people started to talk about its cuisine,” he says. “It will take a few years to move further but when we opened Raw, you didn’t really have a restaurant that was strongly focused on Taiwanese ingredients and flavour at an international level. In the next four to five years, you’ll see very strong, produce-driven, small, intense restaurants like Raw focusing on Taiwanese flavour. It’s the same thing as when you see Central in Peru or Boragó in Chile – they are great chefs that are working on local culture and flavours and trying to introduce that to the world.”
Vanilla, butternut, salted duck yolk tacos (image: Edmond Ho Fotografie)
For Chiang, while Taiwan is his “biological parent,” Europe is his “adopted parent”. And whilst he wants to return to the former to see “whether I still get along with it, whether we still have the same lifestyle,” it was in the latter that he felt the true turning point of his career.
In France in 1997 Chiang created his first dish from scratch – without drawing on inspiration from elsewhere or making a twist on an existing recipe. The chef at the three Michelin-starred restaurant where he was working at the time asked 30 cooks to create a dish, which he would then taste in order to pick just one for the menu. Chiang’s warm foie gras jelly – now one of his signature dishes – was the chosen creation.
“For me, this is not only the first dish I created but also a turning point. As an Asian boy working in a three-star restaurant, I worked with the best of the best teammates, so that was a huge encouragement. That’s when I started to create. That’s when I started to not be afraid of pushing the boundary. It was really the turning point of André.”
Later in his career, Chiang had the opportunity to cook for some of his mentors, including Pascal Barbot, Gagnaire, Troisgros and Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, and was able to impress the chefs who had most impressed upon him.
“My proudest moment would be day that I cooked for them,” he says. “Of course, I was nervous. The compliments I got from them were “I’ve never seen anything like this and I don’t see anything of me in any of your dishes – this is pure André.” For me, that was the proudest moment in my career.”
Watch Chef Chiang's response to winning the Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award:
Now take the chef's tour of the restaurant before it closed on February 14th:
50 Best will conduct a live interview with André Chiang as part of #50BestTalks in Macao on Monday 26th March. The chef will receive his Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award on Tuesday 27th March at the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony in Macao.