Michelin Guide

Michelin-starred Singaporean chefs face up to mounting expectations

Three Singaporean chefs who were awarded one Michelin star look forward to new challenges

The one Michelin star that Peranakan restaurant Candlenut was awarded in the debut Michelin Guide for Singapore comes at a turning point in the culinary career of its chef, Malcolm Lee.

In September, the three-year-old restaurant at Dorsett Residences moves to the new Como Dempsey cluster, which comes under Como Lifestyle, a subsidiary of Singapore fashion doyenne Christina Ong's Club 21.

At the new location, he will get more visiblity as others opening there include renowned French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Lee will also have a larger space to showcase his culinary talent. The new restaurant, with an area of 4,200 sq ft, can seat 94 diners indoors and outdoors, compared to 55 at its current location.

All of this could help the graduate of culinary school At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy retain his star, or get another one.

The 32-year-old is one of three Singaporean chefs helming their own restaurants who were awarded one-star status in the Michelin Guide.

The others are Jason Tan of Corner House at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and Sam Leong of Forest at Resorts World Sentosa.

And just a day after receiving the Michelin accolade, the chefs report a surge in interest in their restaurants.

Lee says: "The coming week is already filling up, usually it's not so fast. The early reservations will help us to plan better."

With the move, he says that if prices change, it "will not be because of Michelin".

He adds: "We won't go crazy and start charging fine-dining prices. After all, we rely on our regular diners."

Tan of Corner House says helming a Michelin-starred restaurant is "a dream come true". It is an aspiration he had harboured since starting his culinary career as a cook in French fine-dining restaurant Les Amis at Shaw Centre 11 years ago. Les Amis has two Michelin stars.

Tan is confident that his restaurant can keep its one-star rating and will be "pushing forward" to get two stars next year.

The number of reservations the restaurant has been fielding since the Michelin announcement has been "overwhelming" and he plans to accept about 45 people each for lunch and dinner in the 60-seat restaurant from tomorrow to "give diners the best experience".

The chef also trusts his team so much that he will be in Australia for the next two weeks. It is a longplanned trip and his first holiday since he started the restaurant two years ago. During his break, he will be charting the restaurant's next steps.

"I will be sourcing for unique vegetables and fruit there and will look for ways to refine the menu."

On the mounting expectations from diners, he says: "I am not worried as my team has done the best it can from day one and we have gotten only better and more mature."

Forest's Leong says that for a Chinese restaurant to be recognised by the Michelin Guide is an achievement, one that he has been waiting for for more than two decades, since he started his culinary career.

The 50-year-old says: "I am so proud to be included in the Michelin Guide alongside my chef-idols from Europe such as Joel Robuchon. It is a big thing that Chinese cuisine is recognised alongside more well known ones."

He says his Michelin honour shows that home-grown Chinese restaurants are capable of providing a well-rounded dining experience, with high quality food, service, ambience and a good wine list.

It also helps that the Michelin Guide arrived in Singapore at the "right time".

He says: "Things were so different 20 years ago. Chinese restaurants catered to 200 to 500 people in one seating, so it was so difficult to control the quality of food then. They were more focused on getting higher turnovers to make more money."

More well-travelled diners now have as high expectations about a restaurant's ambience as they do for the food.

The restaurant has received an influx of calls from regulars calling to congratulate the team and tourists making reservations and inquiries.

While there has not been a spike in business, he is confident that it will pick up in the coming weeks.

Although Forest is known for serving contemporary Chinese cuisine with Thai influences, Leong hopes to go back to the basics of Chinese cooking.

He says: "Once you get to the top, it is natural to look back to see if you have forgotten something along the way, such as refining the key elements of a Chinese restaurant. One example is getting a strong wok hei in dishes."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 24, 2016, with the headline Michelin-starred Singaporean chefs face up to mounting expectations . Subscribe