The Taiwanese-born chef behind one of Singapore's most stellar restaurants speaks to us about his unusual cooking philosophy – all eight of them

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Every time chef André Chiang approaches the kitchen of his restaurant, he looks at his work with an outsider’s perspective, and asks himself a philosophical question: “Who is Andre?” One might surmise that, for Chiang, continual self-improvement is not a chore, but a responsibility to be embraced wholeheartedly.

Chiang’s eatery – eponymously named Restaurant André – is housed in a modest 19th-century townhouse in Singapore’s historic Chinatown. Step inside and it becomes apparent that the Taiwan-born chef’s food is characterised by decades of polish and dedication. Dishes are engineered to extract the most delectable flavours from the finest ingredients, and presented in ways to inspire awe and curiosity.

Restaurant André’s menu explores Chiang’s concept of “octaphilosophy” whereby each dish exhibits any of eight elements (unique, texture, memory, pure, terroir, salt, south and artisan) that he has defined as integral to his cooking. Above all, dishes hint at the chef as artist; more specifically, as a painter or a sculptor, though Chiang is reticent to embrace such an impressive title. “I don’t think what I do is art,” the 36-year-old says, though he admits to making personally every plate and dish, the ceramic canvas for his creations, himself. “I simply like beautiful things.”

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Chiang says his family always believed strongly in the idea of eating well. “We were not that rich, but my mum insisted that eating was important,” he says, recalling how his school lunches were “not normal” because his mother was committed to making fresh food for him every morning. “Even my instant noodles had to come with a slice of pork, some leeks, a bit of garlic oil and vegetables. You can cook very simple things, but you have got to cook them well.”

After a short stint spent in Tokyo with his family as a teenager, Chiang lived and breathed France between the ages of 15 and 31, before returning to Asia – this time to the Lion City – five years ago. The chef explains that while French technique shaped his culinary skills, contemporary cuisine like his should not be tied to traditional cultural indicators. “Nowadays, cuisine doesn’t have this boundary anymore,” he says. “Asian cuisine can be very Westernised; Western cuisine can use Asian ingredients. It becomes more personal. You will look at a dish and say it reminds you of a certain chef. It’s like fashion – you see a look and think, that’s Karl Lagerfeld, or Paul Smith. My cuisine doesn’t represent the past or the future.” Which brings us back to Chiang’s question of who he is, and what his cuisine represents.

“I always ask myself, ‘Why are you doing this? What is your inspiration?’” the chef says. “It helps me to find the essence of each dish.” This, Chiang believes, was the biggest lesson he took away from his time in France, training under the tutelage of culinary greats such as Pierre Gagnaire and Joel Robuchon. “It’s not the technique or the particular style of cuisine that I learned,” he says, “but rather the reason for why I do all this. They all taught me that you must know your identity. I’m not a talented person. I’m not a smart person. I like what I do, and simply do what I know.”

And that is cooking, and Chiang is clearly passionate and dedicated to his craft. So much so that Restaurant André, in fact, closes whenever he is travelling. If he is not there to manage the kitchen, his doors remain shut. This simple idea, he says, seems to bemuse journalists. “They should be asking chefs why they are not in the kitchen.”

Art Appreciation

Recently, Chiang designed a limited edition continuum hob for high-end French kitchenware specialists De Dietrich. Aptly named The Philosopher, the kitchen appliance is very much a Chiang creation in that it resembles a work of art. The hob is decorated with Chiang’s signature, a depiction of an olive tree (representing the south of France) and the eight elements of his octaphilosophy spelled out in full. The hob also features zone-less cooking and tracking technology, so that chefs are able to freely move cookware across hob’s surface. Two of the 18 hobs worldwide are available from Gilman Home Appliances, priced at HK$50,000 each. 

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