What led you to open your own restaurant for the first time in Singapore?
After years of working with some of the world’s most talented chefs, including Tetsuya Wakuda at Tetsuya’s and Peter Gilmore at Quay, I felt it was the right time to start something of my own. I yearned for a change in an equally dynamic and world class gastronomic city. I had the liberty to design the space from scratch, outfit a dream kitchen and build an exceptional team—all to achieve a fun dining experience that doesn’t compromise on quality. This restaurant is a true reflection of who I am as a person and a chef.
What is your brand of ‘mod-Australian food with an Asian touch’?
I now have easy access to a whole range of Asian ingredients that we had a hard time getting in Australia or simply did not have: the flavours are bolder, the fruits are sweeter—I’m fascinated by them as a lot of them are new to me. I hope to introduce surprising ingredient combinations. For example, we serve the Sri Lankan mud crab piped into brick pastry in a quirky, crab-shaped dish that diners have to open up.
Creating layers of textures seems to be a technique that you love to do. How did you come up with the Butter-poached Quail, for instance?
My approach is very instinctive. I’m not simply thinking about flavour, but also how to make the layering of textures work. I love poaching ingredients. Butter-poaching, for example, gives the quail a lovely richness and tenderness that complements the different textures – the gelatinous century egg white, crunchy flax, sunflower and almond seeds and crisp roasted milk.
Apart from jackfruit and century egg, what are other local ingredients are you thinking of incorporating in your dishes?
I’ve been intrigued by soursop, yam beans and Buddha’s hands (fingered citron) during my various market visits these past few weeks. I am particularly interested in their shapes, tastes, as well as the textures that I could play around with.
Why are you inspired by paperbark, and is there an example of another Australian native ingredient you would like to introduce to diners at Whitegrass?
Using moist paperbark from Melaleuca trees to cook meat and vegetables in a ground oven is a very traditional method—it imparts a lovely smoky flavour to the food. I’m trying to get in green tree ants, which taste like lime, to use in the restaurant. I would also like to use Davidson plums, desert limes and lemon aspen, to name a few.