Singapore Michelin Guide

Getting their first star

Head chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive (above) of Iggy's, whose highlights include fish tacos (right).
Chef Ang Song Kang’s dishes are off-menu items based on the freshest ingredients.PHOTO: ST FILE
Head chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive (above) of Iggy's, whose highlights include fish tacos (right).
Head chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive (above) of Iggy's, whose highlights include fish tacos.PHOTO: IGGY'S
Head chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive (above) of Iggy's, whose highlights include fish tacos (right).
Head chef Aitor Jeronimo Orive of Iggy's, whose highlights include fish tacos (above).PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The Straits Times speaks to the owners of two restaurants that were awarded one Michelin star

CHEF KANG'S

Where: 25 Mackenzie Road

Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.45 to 10pm (Tuesdays to Sundays), closed on Mondays

Info: Call 6238-6263

Few restaurant chef-owners toil away in the kitchen. And yet, that is what chef Ang Song Kang, 53, better known as chef Kang, does every day his restaurant, Chef Kang's in Mackenzie Road, is open.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

He does not think it was one particular dish that earned him a star, the Singaporean tells The Straits Times in Mandarin.

Nor did he have any idea when the Michelin inspectors dined at his restaurant.

"Maybe it's because I insist on being the cook in the kitchen to maintain the quality and consistency. That will never change, even after getting a star. It's still me in the kitchen."

Many of his dishes are off-menu items based on the freshest ingredients. Popular dishes include ridged loofah with egg white, simmered rice noodles in superior chowder and braised ee-fu noodles with crayfish.

While other chefs were busy mingling and taking wefies at the launch of the second Singapore Michelin Guide on Thursday, the unassuming chef was having a chat with chef Chan Hon Meng of the one-Michelin-starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Food Complex.

And when The Straits Times approached the duo, Chan immediately patted Ang on the back and says of his peer: "It's his day today."

Ang - who did not know most of the other chefs - soaked in the atmosphere and even helped in lifting chef Haikal Johari of one-Michelin-starred Alma by Juan Amador, who was in a wheelchair, up the stage for a group photograph in the media room.

After all, the chef and restaurateur, who started out working in restaurants such as Lei Garden, knows a lot about overcoming the odds.

The father of a 23-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter opened his first casual restaurant, Canton Wok, in Havelock Road in 2002. It moved to Serangoon, then to Joo Chiat, before closing down in 2009. In that same year, he filed for bankruptcy after a failed business venture in China.

He got back on his feet by working at Five Star Tours' Canton Kitchen in People's Park Complex for one year.

In 2011, he opened Canton Recipes House in Parc Sovereign Hotel in Albert Street. It closed three years later and he took a break before opening his current restaurant in Mackenzie Road in 2015. His Indonesian-Chinese wife Annie Touw, 47, runs the front of the house.

He has also been battling cancer for the past six years.

However, he is upbeat and says: "My situation was less stable a few months ago. I'm much better now."

Given his history, he chuckles when asked about having to deal with Michelin-induced stress now.

"I don't think there's more pressure. Besides, I'm used to it. I grew up under pressure."

IGGY'S

Where: Level 3 Hilton Singapore, 581 Orchard Road

Open: Noon to 1.30pm, 7 to 9.30pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays), closed on Sundays and Mondays

Info: Call 6732-2234/8188-3200 or e-mail info@iggys.com.sg

Within the past year, Iggy's at the Hilton Singapore has gone through major changes - from closure for a month-long renovation to adding a new Spanish-Australian head chef, Aitor Jeronimo Orive, 34.

Mr Ignatius Chan, 53, says: "Chef Orive joined us in August and his dishes were ready only in September. We were still doing a lot of tweaking. There's room to improve, so we weren't confident of getting a Michelin star."

Orive came highly recommended by chef Andoni Luis Aduriz of two- Michelin-starred Mugaritz restaurant in Spain, whom he used to work with. He has also worked at the three-Michelin-starred The Fat Duck in Britain and one-Michelin- starred Nerua Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain.

The latest update to the 42-seat Iggy's is a mini gastrobar in its bar space.

Tapas items include Pintxos ($26 for four) with lightly pickled Japanese kohada (gizzard shad) on escalivada (Catalan-style roasted vegetables) and crunchy housemade toast; and croquette ($16 for four), a take on Orive's grandmother's croquetas, made with beschamel and Jamon Iberico.

Other highlights include capellini ($26 as appetiser, $34 as a main course); and fish tacos ($22 for two), a take on the sambal stingray, in which the fish is served on a spinach corn tortilla, and another taco with Spanish mackerel tempura on pico de gallo with prickly pear and coriander and avocado mousse.

For Mr Chan, it is a strategic move to have a more casual concept catering to his regular diners. He says: "We're a city restaurant, not a destination restaurant where people travel 2,000 miles to dine at. Being in the city, we have a lot of regulars who will not eat from the same menu every month. You cannot expect the chef to change the menu every month either, as it can take weeks or months to develop a recipe."

So, would there ever be an Iggy's Express? "Never say never," says Mr Chan. "But if the casual concept catches on, people like it and there's opportunity, then why not?"

Yet, there have been bumps on the road to that Michelin star. Mr Chan recalls almost calling it quits in 2013 as there was an "exodus of staff".

"Back then, 70 per cent of the kitchen team left and we had to come to our senses quickly. This is our business and livelihood and, no matter how tough the situation, we had to overcome it," says Mr Chan, who runs the restaurant with his wife Janice Wong, 49.

He adds: "It's challenging to contain a team. Core teams of great restaurants in the world don't change for at least five years. In Singapore, you'd be happy for people to stay more than a year."

On earning his first star, he says: "We have always aspired to attain the highest, but one star is already a great achievement. If we ever get two, we'll be over the moon. We're not dreaming of three at all."

Eunice Quek

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2017, with the headline 'Getting their first star'. Print Edition | Subscribe