Seize the kitchen: Restaurant takeovers catching on in local dining scene

Restaurant takeovers, in which a guest chef commandeers a kitchen for one night or two, are catching on in the dining scene

Cooking collaborations with guest chefs have become par for the course in restaurants over the past two years.

These one-off dining events see guest chefs team up with the restaurants' chefs to put together a menu that comprises their signature dishes and new dishes.

Restaurants are now taking collaborations one step further - by ceding total control of their kitchens to guest chefs in what is known as a restaurant takeover.

In a takeover, guest chefs steer the kitchen for a night or two and get almost free rein of everything, from the kitchen staff to coming up with their own menus to deciding the music played in the restaurants.

Over the past six months, at least five restaurants have hosted takeovers by guest chefs, who can be local or from overseas.

Modern Australian barbecue restaurant Burnt Ends launched a monthly takeover series called 12 Chefs, 12 Months. It started in January and will run for a year.

Guest chefs include pastry chef Will Goldfarb from Bali's Room4Dessert. He was at Burnt Ends last week.

Mediterranean restaurant Maggie Joan's also has a guest chef series, which kicked off in September last year.

It invites guest chefs every two months and has hosted chefs from Australia, Finland and Turkey.

Tapas restaurant Esquina is holding its 5th Anniversary Guest Chef Series, which runs until April 26.

Besides four-hands dinners with four local chefs, it also invited chef Nacho Baucells of El Celler de Can Roca in Spain to take over the kitchen for two nights in January.

These takeovers are anything but hostile.

Instead, they are fun-filled networking sessions for chefs as well as restaurant insiders.

Most of the hosts have dined or cooked at the guest chefs' restaurants.

Burnt Ends' chef-owner Dave Pynt reached out to about 20 of his overseas chef friends to do takeovers and "whoever replied first got in".

Anther plus point of takeovers, say restaurant owners, is that it helps their staff expand their culinary horizons.

When Turkish chef Maksut Askar from Neolokal restaurant in Istanbul came here to cook at Maggie Joan's last month, he brought suitcases of ingredients rarely seen in Singapore such as uveyik wheat and gambilya fava beans as well as house-made baklava to create "an authentic representation" of his food here.

Maggie Joan's owner Daniel Ballis, 29, says: "It is exciting for our staff as these takeovers are a break from what they regularly cook; they learn about new flavours, ingredients and cooking techniques."

For chef Pynt, the takeovers allow his team to explore barbecue styles from around the world.

He says: "American chef Blaine Wetzel used ash to grill local produce and salt-baked bread when he was here in January."

Contemporary Australian restaurant Salted & Hung hosted a takeover by food consultant Vivian Pei and chef Kathleen Wong of 28 HongKong Street bar in September last year.

The duo whipped up food such as peanut butter and ham noodles, philly cheese steaks and boozy milkshakes for a one-day event.

Executive chef Drew Nocente, 35, says: "With kitchen takeovers, my staff learn to adapt to a different personality and management style."

These arrangements come at a cost, though.

Host restaurants have to cover expenses such as flights and accommodation for their guests. They also help to source for ingredients and arrange the logistics, a process which can stretch up to six months.

And when the guests are in town, they would be taken to popular eating places and markets here.

Esquina's head chef Carlos Montobbio, 29, says: "Kitchen takeovers are acts of goodwill. They build friendship among chefs, but we're lucky if we can break even with these dinners."

For guest chefs, the challenge comes in adapting to a new kitchen while shaking off jetlag.

Tippling Club's head chef, Ryan Clift, 40, who goes to four restaurant takeovers a year overseas, says: "There is more pressure than running your own restaurant as you're working with new staff and unfamiliar equipment.

"But when I see diners whom I've met overseas come visit my restaurant in Singapore, I feel the stint has paid off."

Takeovers also work out well for diners, who get to taste new dishes cooked with ingredients that may not be found here.

For its takeovers, Japanese steakhouse Fat Cow brings in produce from a different Japanese prefecture each time.

Last October, it flew in chef Seiichi Shinbo, who helms Ginza Tochigi Chalte in Tokyo, to cook with ingredients from his hometown in Tochigi Prefecture, such as wagyu beef, strawberries and nashi pear.

Fat Cow's head chef Isaac Tan, 45, says: "Our diners can get a better understanding of produce from less known regions of Japan.

" It also helps me decide on new ingredients to include in the regular menu."

It plans to organise two kitchen takeovers a year.

Gourmands relish these takeovers as they offer a taste of restaurants from other countries without the trek overseas.

Businessman George Kypraios, 45, who attended the Turkish takeover dinner at Maggie Joan's last month, says: "When choosing a dinner, I look for the reputation of the guest chef and whether the dishes are made with ingredients not found here."

Food and beverage consultant Mika Tomiyama, 50, who attends guest chef dinners twice a month and has been to those at Esquina and Osia restaurant, says: "These dinners are a good way of getting to know more chefs and experience their specialities and cooking philosophy."


Upcoming collaborations

BURNT ENDS


Pastry chef Will Goldfarb (left) of Bali’s Room4Dessert cooking with Burnt Ends’ chef Dave Pynt (centre) at a kitchen takeover last week. PHOTO: MAX VEENHUYZEN

What: The modern Australian barbecue restaurant started a year- long 12 Chefs, 12 Months dining programme in January, with acclaimed chefs from dining hotbeds such as New York and Tokyo taking over the kitchen for one night each month.

Upcoming guest chefs include Aaron Turner of modern Australian restaurant Igni in Melbourne, who will visit on April 17; Clayton Wells of Automata in Sydney, who cooks on May 22; and Jowett Yu of Ho Lee Fook in Hong Kong who will be here on June 19.

The menus and ticket prices will be released on the day of each dinner.

When: Till December

Where: 20 Teck Lim Road

Info: Call 6224-3933 or go to www.burntends.com.sg

MAGGIE JOAN'S

What: Coming next for its kitchen takeover series is Japanese chef Taku Sekine of Dersou in Paris, France.

Diners can expect a menu of French cuisine with Japanese influences. The food will be paired with cocktails, a Dersou signature.

When: April 21 (lunch & dinner), April 22 (dinner)

Where: 01-01 110 Amoy Street (Enter from Gemmill Lane)

Info: Call 6221-5564 or go to www.maggiejoans.com

MEATSMITH @ COCOTTE


Meatsmith @ Cocotte’s three-month pop-up includes a fusion of Indian and American barbecue flavours such as its Banana Leaf Platter. PHOTO: MEATSMITH @ COCOTTE

What: American smokehouse Meatsmith has taken over the now- defunct French restaurant Cocotte for a three-month pop-up.

Expect a fusion of Indian and American barbecue flavours.

Dishes include the Banana Leaf Platter ($180 for four people), which consists of beef rib, dry coconut chutney ribs, masala chicken and lamb vindaloo, served with assorted pickles and mango chutney and chapati; onion bajji with smoked yogurt ($6); Indian nachos ($14), papadums topped with dry beef curry, raita, mango chutney and raita, and crab and uni biryani ($25).

When: Till April 30

Where: Wanderlust Hotel , 2 Dickson Road

Info: Call 6298-1188 or go to meatsmith.com.sg/meatsmith-cocotte

ESQUINA

What: In celebration of its fifth anniversary, the tapas restaurant has rolled out an Amigos de Esquina Dinner series, which sees head chef Carlos Montobbio pair up with five guest chefs over five months.

Upcoming guest chefs are Diego Jacquet of Bochinche in Amoy Street and Zolio restaurant in London (on March 23) and chef Julien Royer of Odette at National Gallery Singapore (on April 26).

For these four-hands dinners, each chef will come up with dishes that incorporate elements of the other chef's cuisine.

Outside this series, chef Alvar Ayuso from Alvart restaurant in Barcelona will take part in a four-hands dinner in August, giving diners a taste of his modern Spanish cuisine with an Asian touch.

When: Till April 26

Where: 16 Jiak Chuan Road

Info: Call 6222-1616 or go to esquina.com.sg

SALTED & HUNG


Salted & Hung’s executive chef Drew Nocente and chef Ming Tan of Park Bench Deli will cook an 11-course feast which includes suckling pig with duck, coppa and black garlic stuffing. PHOTO: SALTED & HUNG

What: Executive chef Drew Nocente will team up with chef Ming Tan of Park Bench Deli for an 11-course feast inspired by mediaeval times. Dishes include pigeon pie, suckling pig with duck, coppa and black garlic stuffing and Elizabethan lemon cakes with lemon curd.

When: March 19, 7.30pm Price: $98++ a person (food only), or $148++ a person with free-flow beer and wine

Where: 12 Purvis Street

Info: Call 6358-3130 or go to saltedandhung.com.sg

MOOSEHEAD

What: Love your satay? Here is a meat skewer-centric dining event featuring a satay vendor in Tiong Bahru. The casual one-night-only event will also feature other snacks and skewers that are jointly whipped up with head chef Seumas Smith.

When: April 7

Where: 110 Telok Ayer Street

Info: Call 6636-8055 or go to www.facebook.com/pg/MooseheadKitchenBar

POTATO HEAD SINGAPORE/ TIPPLING CLUB

What: Renowned pastry chef Will Goldfarb of Room4Dessert in Bali will headline two cooking collaborations in these two restaurants.

First, he is presenting a five-course dessert menu ($85) that features ingredients from Bali, such as chocolate and wild herbs.

The desserts will be paired with cocktails concocted by head mixologist Kamil Foltan at Studio 1939 in Potato Head Singapore and are available till Saturday.

On March 21, chef Goldfarb will collaborate with Ryan Clift, chef-owner of Tippling Club, for a four-hands dinner with cocktails ($175++).

Desserts at both dining events include Bitter Grandpa (mangosteen bitters, ginger flower, Pelawan mushroom and mango) and Whiskey Torture Turgenev (pineapple, frozen whiskey mousse, vanilla gelato and lime meringue).

When: Till March 18 (Studio 1939); March 21 (Tippling Club)

Where: 36 Keong Saik Road (Potato Head Singapore); 38 Tanjong Pagar Road (Tippling Club)

Info: Call 6327-1939 (Potato Head Singapore) or 6475-2217 (Tippling Club)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 12, 2017, with the headline 'Seize the kitchen'. Print Edition | Subscribe