I first visited Singapore about eight years ago, doing a guest stint at the Fullerton Hotel. I think Singapore has always been synonymous with hospitality, even back then.
There’s always a local food ritual I go through when I visit. I have my favourites. The [sambal] stingray is really quite beautiful, and of course the chili crab and black pepper crab. I like roti prata as well.
The food scene here keeps growing and evolving. There is a good mix of local talent and global talent and I think that’s exciting.
There are a couple of chefs here who used to work with me, so I’ll be visiting them. I’ll be going to Ma Cuisine, Baroque Grill, and also to Jaan for lunch.
Michelin [Guide] and the World’s 50 Best Restaurants have definitely helped to stimulate the local talent. Hotels as well – for a long time they used to dominate the restaurant scene but today more and more independent restaurants are opening and that’s a very good sign for local restaurant life.
Service is also very important. Food, service and value are very important. So is location – people have to have convenience. You go to certain restaurants because you trust the consistency and the experience.
Hospitality shouldn’t be something forced; [it should be] soothing, very natural, genuine, honest and knowledgeable. Confidence comes with knowledge, especially in a country like this where there are a lot of different cultures in one place. That’s why education, motivation, support and respect are very important. Just look at Singapore Airlines – I can see the attention to detail in the way people work [at the airline] and in the small things.
I think the hospitality and food industry has opened up so much more now. There are so many opportunities for chefs. You can cook on television or you can be a private chef, or you can run a fast-casual restaurant or a fine diner. [It doesn’t matter] what you choose, as long as you do it well.
I don’t consider [non-traditional ways of working] as selling out or “diluting” my [brand]. For me, if it’s interesting, it’s still an experience and that is valuable to me.
Technology is inevitable in the food world – [and it’s a good thing] as long as it makes food better, more affordable, and with better ingredients. Technology can help you create better food at a better cost – but you would still need a lot of people in the field to make it happen so it’s not going to take away jobs really.
There’s always been an evolution of technology of food in the kitchen. We used to have ovens where it would take five different temperatures and five different techniques to apply. With technology there is high precision with each step and it’s faster. I think we benefit from that.
A good chef knows how to recycle everything. In New York we’ve developed a farming programme with a supplier – so all our clean vegetable waste (trimmings of carrots, peels, lettuce) all goes into a bin – which he then uses to feed the chickens on his farm. Is it cost effective? I don’t know. But the purpose isn’t so much about the money as much as it is about how to recycle waste – because they’re not the cheapest chickens. At our restaurants we don’t use straws, we only use recyclable and compostable items, even for takeout. We’ve taken a lot of steps in creating a green programme.