SINGAPORE - Shockwaves have rippled through the food industry after the announcement by Taiwan-born chef Andre Chiang that he will close his two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Andre in Bukit Pasoh Road on Feb 14 next year.
In an e-mail to the media sent at 3.39am on Wednesday (Oct 11), Chiang, 41, said that he is preparing for a "significant transformation" by that date. He intends to "return" his Michelin stars, and asks not be included in next year's Michelin Guide Singapore.
Pointing out that Michelin is likely to launch a Taiwan edition soon, he also requested that his Raw restaurant in Taipei, is not included.
On his Facebook page on Tuesday night, he posted a black and white photo of himself with an accompanying caption, saying: "Today is an important day and a special day; a beginning of a nation, a beginning of a restaurant, a beginning of a relationship and a beginning of a new life."
Tuesday not only marked Restaurant Andre's seventh anniversary, but it is also his 13th wedding anniversary, and Taiwan's national day.
On Wednesday, in another Facebook post, he said: "Please don't be sad, because I'm happy that I could phisically (sic) do more than before; I'm still around and Andre is still cooking, I simply realised I have bigger responsibility to leverage chef's social status and environment for Asia."
Restaurateur Loh Lik Peng, 45, Chiang's business partner and founder of the Unlisted Collection group of restaurants and hotels, supported Chiang's decision to close and is "glad to have been part of the ride for the past eight years".
He added: "It will be a pity for me but running a restaurant is brutal and requires a chef to be at the top of his game. It is good that he is leaving at the top of his game.
"Michelin stars have never been a motivation to me. They are a bonus to have but the business needs to be sustainable, with food that the market likes."
Another restaurant will take over the Bukit Pasoh premises that houses Restaurant Andre, which Mr Loh owns, and details will be announced before the closure next year. The new restaurant will be part of Unlisted Collection.
Other food industry people were less sanguine about the news.
Mr Ignatius Chan, 53, owner of the one-Michelin-starred Iggy's at the Hilton Singapore, thought that "everything was going well" at Restaurant Andre: "After all, no news is good news. So this announcement is pretty shocking. It is Singapore's loss to lose such a talented chef.
"Fine dining in Singapore is not just the most challenging in South-east Asia, but in the world. He has been successful, and I'm proud of his achievements."
Mr Francis Poulose, 49, managing director of food and beverage consultancy Poulose Associates, was similarly surprised by the announcement: "I really didn't expect this. I don't want to speculate but I suppose Andre has his reasons, which he is not ready to share in detail. Regardless of his reasons, I will remember Andre for the culinary excitement that he brought to this city, even from his days at Jaan. In his own way, he helped this city stand out for its culinary strength. I wish him well."
Mr Aun Koh, 45, chairman of the Straits Clan club, noted that Chiang has set new standards for the fine dining scene in Singapore: "But to run a restaurant at that level is incredibly draining as you need perfection at all times. Great chefs like Joel Robuchon have taken a break to refresh their creativity.
"I hope chef Chiang and his wife can take the time to take care of themselves as they have done groundbreaking work."
One food industry veteran, however, was not particularly shocked by Chiang's action.
Mr Andrew Tjioe, 58, president of the TungLok Group, pointed out: “As chefs in Europe are returning their stars, I won’t be surprised if this continues to happen here, and worldwide. Chefs are artists, sometimes they want to pursue their own passion without being judged. Managing a restaurant is so tough, they don’t need additional pressure.”
Mr Peter Knipp, 62, organiser of the World Gourmet Summit, agreed that chefs returning stars have become a trend, and while Restaurant Andre's closure is "sad news for Singapore", he noted: "The question to ask is: Why are more chefs choosing to leave the Michelin Guide - not just in Singapore, but on a global scale?"
Indeed, acclaimed chefs worldwide have also made similar announcements to return their Michelin stars.
One of them is French chef Sebastien Bras, chef-owner of restaurant Le Suquet in the southern Frenchtown of Laguiole, who wanted to surrender his restaurant's three stars.
Another chef, Karen Keyngaert of Flanders in Belgium, also wanted to return the star she had held for five years, calling the star "more of a curse" than a blessing.
But while chefs may express their intention to return stars, they cannot do so because the stars are awarded to restaurants, not individual chefs.
Additional reporting by Kenneth Goh