Some ambitious contemporary chefs attach highfalutin “philosophies” to their cooking, only to create a certain amount of froth – and not the edible kind. And when we first heard about Taipei-born chef Mr André Chiang’s “Octaphilosophy” – and his new Phaidon book dedicated to it – we cannot say that our salivary glands were immediately stimulated. But after a little bit of reading, tasting and talking – we learnt that Mr Chiang’s philosophy is a logical blueprint for his cooking, and something that might inspire us to change our approach to food and creativity.
The book explains eight key words or ideas that represent everything that comes out of the kitchen at Restaurant André – the restaurant Mr Chiang owns in Singapore – which is one of the most respected in Asia, and currently sits at number 32 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. These are categorised by conceptual adjectives such as “unique” (“Explore an ingredient with curiosity. Forget about habitual rituals…”) and “pure” (“allow an ingredient to unfold and evolve to its full potential…”). But there are also some more straightforward references in the mix, such as “south” – which represents Mr Chiang’s respect for southern French cooking (he spent his formative years in the kitchens of legends such as Mr Pierre Gagnaire). Also, “salt” – something we can all comprehend.
This balance of these philosophical influences shines through clearly in Mr Chiang’s food. How do we know? Because we were lucky enough to be invited to his residency at The Guest Series – a collaborative cooking event hosted by British chef Mr James Lowe at Lyle’s in Shoreditch. There is certainly a playful creativity to what he serves up – his “charcoal”, prawn and red pepper dish, for example, (in which the “charcoal” turns out to be bread, when you bite into it). Or the “duck heart, liver and tongue” dish which benefited from the surprising addition of tangy sweet potato artfully arranged in tubes… But, beyond the trickery, each plate demonstrates a series of honest techniques and well-balanced ingredients.