Delicious, tasty food. That’s all it boils down to for Jason Tan. Everything else, as the old trope goes, is just gravy. The gentle-mannered chef/patron and co-owner of Corner House says that, like a good sauce, his culinary philosophy can be reduced to those three words. It’s not the answer you’d expect when looking at the exquisitely plated, complex compositions that Tan and his team dish out—each one a symphony of colours, textures, impeccable produce and flavours that orbit around the “gastro-botanica” theme.
It’s been four years since Corner House transformed what was once the home of the assistant director of the Botanic Gardens, EJH Corner, into a restaurant that pays homage to its verdant UNESCO Heritage-endorsed location. In that time, Tan has earned himself not only the admiration of his peers and fans, but also a coveted star from Michelin’s inspectors.
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“My culinary philosophy here has always been, and will always remain, about gastro-botanica”
Though the evolution of his cuisine and restaurant has been obvious to those who have paid attention, Tan says that it’s completely unplanned. “My culinary philosophy here has always been, and will always remain, about gastro-botanica,” he affirms. “Yes, we’re always evolving the cuisine, but when you work with it daily, you really don’t think about charting its course. It’s more about exploring various ways with the theme. Like right now, I’m thinking about doing a dish using different parts of a plant.”
While many dishes change, there are some perennial signatures such as Tan’s Interpretation of My Favourite Vegetable. This four-part dish, centred on the Cévennes onion, comprises a soft egg served with caramelised onion purée in a baked onion cup, a paper-thin onion chip, an equally fragile onion tart and an onion broth infused with Earl Grey tea.
“People say the dish tastes better today than it did two years ago,” says Tan. “And I would hope so. When you work with the same dish over time and pour your heart into it, you realise that little things like a change of temperature or the size of a pot makes a difference. Over the years, I’ve realised that cooking the onion confit in a small pot delivers better texture. We’ve also made slight changes to the onion tea by adding lemon zest to brighten the flavours.”