SINGAPORE (The Business Times) - For Miami-based restaurateur John Kunkel, opening a restaurant somewhere in South-east Asia was always something he wanted to do. After all, he had spent some time living in places like Hong Kong, Thailand and Taiwan in his 20s and during that time "fell in love with the region".
Now at age 46, he is finally venturing to this part of the world, with an extension of his popular comfort food restaurant, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, which he first opened in Miami Beach, Florida. A sister outlet also exists at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas.
"It's one of the most popular restaurants at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, so when the concept proved successful we made plans to come to its sister property in Singapore. We just needed to find the right space so I started making trips here a year and a half ago to look at spaces and try to understand how we fit into this market," he explains.
Enter The Bird Southern Table & Bar - renamed from Yardbird to avoid clashing with the modern izakaya of the same name in Hong Kong - which will open its doors at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands on Monday (July 3).
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On its menu, you'll find their signature Lewellyn's Fine Fried Chicken that's made with a 100-year-old family recipe, as well as other classic dishes like the Shrimp 'N' Grits, Buttermilk Biscuits and Butter Lettuce and Grilled Mango Salad.
Eventually, the idea is to incorporate more local and seasonal ingredients into their menu, and even offer dishes exclusive to the Singapore restaurant. Some sneak peeks are a tribute to chicken rice, and a version of crab cakes inspired by local black pepper and chilli crab dishes.
Mr Kunkel started out in the F&B industry when he was 15 years old, and worked his way up from a dishwasher to a line cook. Now, he runs 50 Eggs, Inc, the company behind the award-winning Yardbird, as well as a few other concepts.
It was his grandmother who was "the inspiration and architect" however, says Mr Kunkel.
He began cooking alongside her in the kitchen from the age of 10, to help prepare family dinners and learnt a number of recipes that he still uses in his restaurants.
"Like so many other grandmothers, she took a lot of pride in serving her family and friends her food. We still make her biscuits, and jam, but most popular of her recipes is the fried chicken. It's a long process where it's brined for almost 27 hours, but we handle it with care because it's a special recipe," he says.
Once this restaurant in Singapore is stable, Mr Kunkel hopes it will open doors towards expanding into other parts of the region. For now, he has his eye on Hong Kong, Japan, and maybe even Australia.
"Fried chicken is something so approachable and so known everywhere," says Mr Kunkel. "But it's one of the things that's messy to make at home, that's why people come to Yardbird where we take those same flavours, put in modern techniques and beautiful plating, and elevate the cuisine."
The Bird Southern Table & Bar, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 11am to 11pm daily.