Working for two decades in formidable kitchens has a way of shaping a chef—with the habits and passions of mentors seeping into your bones. But the world’s greatest chefs do more than absorb technique and a mastery of flavor. They emerge with a perspective all their own, ready to share their food with the world and a new generation of cooks.
Such is the trajectory of Taiwan-born Chef André Chiang, whose chef mother recognized in him an early culinary spark and sent him to the south of France at 15 to hone his skills. While in France he worked at La Maison Troisgros in Roanne; Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier; and Pierre Gagnaire, L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon, and L’Astrance in Paris. (If you’re counting, that’s 12 Michelin stars).
Before returning to Asia and opening his first restaurant in Singapore, Chiang took time to reflect on that experience and crystallize a personal, powerful, and practical cooking philosophy. “It’s something I started right before my restaurant opened. I asked, ‘What is André’s cuisine? How am I going to tell people it’s André’s cuisine?’” said Chiang. “So I started to research everything I did for the past 20 years and studied things I created and liked.”
The Garden: Porcini Mushroom Chip, Porcini Meringue, Fried Potato-wrapped Fish and Chips, Chicken Marsala Chip, Patatas Bravas, Garlic, and Chocolate
Snickers: Salt, Caramel, Nougat, Chocolate, Roasted Peanuts, Coffee-Caramel Jelly, Milk Ice Cream, Beurre Noisette Ice Cream, and Cocoa Powder Ice Cream
From that inventory, Chiang extracted the essence of his cooking. “I realized there are eight elements that constantly appear in every creation. I realized this is André. I don’t have a signature dish. I have a signature style and creative process,” he says. The eight elements that form his “Octaphilosophy” are Texture, Memory, Pure, Terroir, Unique, Salt, South, and Artisan. And at Chiang’s intimate, 30-seat restaurant, each course represents one of the elements.
Texture: Chiang strives not only for textural contrast, but also to present foods in unfamiliar formats and textures. He revels in exposing the varied and nuanced dimensions of a vegetable or protein. In a recent dish, he made gnocchi with 100 percent potato (cooking and mashing potatoes, reducing potato water to starch, mixing the two, and dipping the gnocchi in a caustic bath to seal the pouches). Without flour, egg, or cheese, the gnocchi are pure potato silk. Chiang finishes the unadulterated gnocchi with a scallop crème Anglaise made simply by cooking puréed scallops and milk. In another dish he dices squid into rice grain-sized pieces to make baby squid risotto.
Memory: Chiang believes that with every new flavor you eat, a deposit is made in your food memory bank. And if you eat a similar flavor or creation later on, a connection is formed. For his Memory dishes, the chef recreates and modernizes familiar dishes—fish and chips, baked beans, French onion soup, and his remarkably accurate Snickers that took months to develop.
Pure: Chiang’s Pure dishes use zero electricity or seasoning. They take pristine products and highlight their natural flavors, as in his salad of tomato-infused strawberry.
Terroir: Chiang doesn’t approach terroir à la Rene Redzepi, recreating a moment in time on the plate. Instead he works to recreate the feeling and flavors of a place (often the south of France). He serves traditional seafood stew and spikes it with rough pastis as only they would do in Provence. For another dish, Chiang was inspired by a cook from Japan’s Myagi prefecture (hard-hit by earthquakes in 2011). The spare dish combined little more than rice, miso, and edamame to pay tribute to their struggles.
Unique: Admitting that “some flavors we think are modern were done 200 years ago,” Chiang nonetheless tries to create wild, unfamiliar flavor pairings.
Salt: Salt is a universal flavor, and Chiang pays homage to the seasoning and the sea at every service. He creates a dish made from the ocean with seafood, sea salts, sea vegetables, and product cured in sea water. He served StarChefs.com a dish of prawns, seawater emulsion, seaweeds, and confit potatoes.
South: After living in the south of France for nine years, the sunshine and bright foods of the region stole a piece of Chiang’s heart. His South dishes don’t necessarily replicate the foods he cooked and ate there, but Chiang uses the seafood, acidity, product, and freshness as a springboard for inspiration.
Artisan: Chiang’s Artisan dishes give voice to the fishermen, farmers, ranchers, and producers who make his work possible. “We let our farmers and fishermen pick the best on market. I don’t mind if I get in eel, abalone, rockfish, or giant clam. We work according to what we have,” says Chiang. He often asks producers how they would like to see their product cooked. The Artisan dishes are simple and rustic, letting the product sing. Chiang recently served 14-day-old baby corn from Taiwan that was lightly grilled on charcoal and served with the tender, sweet raw husk.
Zimbabwe Gwheli Prawn, Seaweed Spaghetti, Cured Egg Yolk, Noirmoutier Potato, Mushroom Couscous, and Sea Water Emulsion
Needle Fish, Artichoke Barigoule, Granny Smith Apple, Burnt Onion, and Tomato Confit
Since opening Restaurant Andre in 2010, Chiang and his seven-person kitchen crew have transformed the lofty sounding Octaphilosphy into reality and, in the process, have transformed the way they see and think about product.
When a piece of produce or a slab of meat crosses the Restaurant Andre threshold, Chiang doesn’t think about the technique he’ll use to cook it or the flavors he’ll pair with it. “When I see product, the first thing that comes to mind is one of the eight elements,” says Chiang. “When I look at produce, I know that it’s Artisan. We don’t think of pan-frying or grilling it.” After choosing one of the eight elements a product will follow, Chiang chooses a number of ingredients to pair it with, and his small brigade begins work on technique, texture, and cooking temperatures.
Using the Octaphilosophy makes the path to dish creation clearer. And after three years in business, Chiang’s kitchen runs and thrives on the routine: product followed by element, flavor combination, and technique. “I say something like watermelon, vanilla, and anchovy. From there [the cooks] are inspired by the combination and work on different techniques and textures.” This process frees up valuable time and invaluable brain space. “I keep my mind completely open,” says Chiang.
That’s not to say that Chiang isn’t elbow deep in dish development at any given time. Some of his dishes take a few minutes to craft while others require months to hammer out. And he loves nothing more than being in the middle of the kitchen night after night, pounding through service and cooking his heart out (something he learned in the four-man, three-Michelin star kitchen of Pascal Barbot). He wants his stamp on every dish and guest experience.
Dinner at Restaurant Andre is a deeply personal affair, by host Chiang’s own design. His guests dine in the living room, library, or bedroom of a 1920s house—Chiang’s culinary home and creative laboratory. For the foreseeable future, his only other project is an organic farm in Taiwan (run by Sous Chef Adam Ritter) that will supply the restaurant with produce. Without world domination or even restaurant number two on his mind, Chiang’s focus rests squarely on the next product to enter his kitchen and element he’ll present to those fortunate few who dine in the presence of a generation-shaping, visionary chef.