In Greek mythology, Achilles was one of the greatest of warriors, seemingly invincible until a shot to the heel felled him. For chef André Chiang, it was also a ruptured Achilles tendon that has slowed him down. Currently wheelchair-bound, the Taiwanese chef-restaurateur tells us that it will be a year before he can run or jump. Unlike Achilles who never rose from his fall, Chiang’s heel is a mere speed bump. A private person who speaks deliberately and listens intently, the 44-year-old multi-hyphenate is still moving fast, creating trends instead of following them.
Chiang’s ventures are always highly anticipated, and his painstakingly built-up reputation has much to do with it. As a chef who boasts work experience under the likes of Alain Ducasse, Pierre Gagnaire and the late Joël Robuchon, he has been called a culinary prodigy. At age 18, he was invited to apprentice at chefs Jacques and Laurent Pourcel’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier, France. Seven years later, he rose to become the chef de cuisine for La Compagnie des Comptoirs, an iconic bistro run by the Pourcel brothers. It was the beginning of a culinary career that has taken myriad interesting twists and turns.
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It was at the helm of the eponymous Restaurant André in Singapore, which operated from 2010 to 2018 in a converted 1930s shophouse decorated in the style of a plush home, that Chiang truly made his mark in Asia and the world. He offered guests a dining experience centred on “Octaphilosophy”, a term he coined to describe his culinary ethos and encapsulate the elements that shape his past and his inspirations. Through a mastery of classic and modern cooking techniques, he served seasonal degustation menus, each item a different interpretation of his philosophy’s eight elements: pure, salt, artisan, south, texture, unique, memory and terroir.
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While “Memory”, a whipped foie custard topped with a coulis of wild mushrooms and Perigord black truffles (the first creation Chiang could call his own while work-ing as a commis at Le Jardin des Sens) was a constant in the Octaphilosophy menu, every other element changed with the seasons. Salt could be a briny composition of Brittany brown prawns, oysters, caviar and porcini in one season; in another, it could take the form of a plate of squid ribbons with seaweed coulis and toasted wheat and barley grains. All of the dishes were always artistic in presentation, the execution precise, and the flavours pure and presented in surprising combinations.
Yet what made the restaurant different from other fine dining outlets was how it seemed to offer a peek into Chiang’s life beyond that as a chef, with diners enjoying a meal surrounded with ceramic ornaments handcrafted by him. Such a level of intimacy was not the norm in Asia at that point in time. Restaurant André was bestowed two Michelin stars when the red book launched in Singapore in 2016, and retained these two stars the next year. It was also ranked second on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 list.