Young, Talented and Willing to Risk It All.
If not a chef, he would have wanted to be a policeman, specifically a plainclothes policeman in the Central Narcotics Bureau or the Secret Society Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department. Instead he studied engineering, dipped his foot into the heady waters of F&B, then went on a grand culinary tour of the world via Singapore Airlines as a steward. But the kitchen is where his heart and soul are. It took about four years, but Jeremmy Chiam eventually made it back.
Today, the 32-year-old is the chef-owner of Le Binchotan, a stylish 36-seater tucked away in Gemmill Lane. The restaurant was first opened in 2016, and Chiam had come onboard as head chef. Over a year into the operation, the owner dropped a bombshell. She was migrating and was planning to sell out or shut down. With the help of some friends, Chiam stepped in and bought over. “Le Binchotan was my baby too,” he says.
He hasn’t looked back since. At Le Binchotan, he continues to refine his Japanese-French dishes and menu, blending techniques, ingredients and inspirations from both traditions, although Chiam admits that he spends less time in the kitchen these days. His signature dishes include Uni & Caviar, where Japanese corn is cooked in bacon broth, then made into an umami-laden custard and mousse, and paired with creamy tongues of wild-caught bafun uni and shoyu pearls; and Smoked Chocolate, a rich, heady dessert featuring Valrhona chocolate cold-smoked with apple wood then melted with butter.
Describe your approach to cuisine.
I believe in creating something that has an everyday familiarity, yet still has a touch of the extraordinary. I’m most inspired by my mentor who can make something simple taste incredible.
Why Japanese-French cuisine?
Marrying French techniques and ingredients to the Japanese penchant for grilling on binchotan was the concept behind Le Binchotan when it first opened. I had to bear that in mind when I took over.
Throughout my career, I have also worked in kitchens helmed by Japanese chefs, whether it was a Modern-European, French or Italian restaurant. These chefs have left a deep impression on me with their talent and dedication.
One chef in particular really influenced me, and I consider him my mentor. His name is Hiroki Yoshitake. I met him when I worked in the former The Jewel Box on Mount Faber. He’s now the chef-owner of one-Michelin-starred Sola in Paris. I admire him very much, both as a person and as a chef. As a person, he’s a determined, disciplined man. As a chef, his cuisine is inspiring. Hiroki has worked in French cuisine and in France since he was 17 years old. His passion, talent and dedication to French cuisine have shaped my own direction. Of course, his fastidious tastebuds have influenced my own—I love both French and Japanese food.
What’s your favourite ingredient from each of the respective cuisines?
For French cuisine, I have to say it’s French butter. French butter is one of the best butters out there in terms of flavour and fat content. I also love the versatility of butter; it’s magnificent. For Japanese cuisine, it’s kombu. In terms of flavour, it’s full of umami without being overwhelming and as a bonus, it’s rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals and amino acids.
Who do you find most inspiring in the industry?
Daniel Boulud. Not only is he an amazing chef, he is also a successful businessman. Also, my mentor, Hiroki Yoshitake. When he opened Sola, he earned his first Michelin star within a year!
Share your thoughts Singapore’s F&B scene.
My pet peeves are two. Firstly, diners who spend more time on their phone than enjoying the dishes and the company they’re with. Secondly, the reluctance of fellow Singaporeans to work in F&B—there are so many vacancies and opportunities, and yet there aren’t many Singaporeans seizing these opportunities. This is probably due to the nature of the industry and the long working hours, but I still find it a real pity. I hope more Singaporeans will find it in them to explore the opportunities that are out there in F&B. Who knows? They might find hidden talents or passions!
From chef to chef-owner, describe your transition.
I find managing a business much more stressful than running the kitchen. I am still working hard to smoothly transition into becoming a business owner, in addition to being a chef.
What new challenges do you face as chef-owner?
I love to cook, but I cook much less nowadays, so that’s been slightly painful. It’s been a challenge—actually it’s remained a challenge—to learn the ropes of managing a business successfully. There are so many different components that I need to take into consideration.
I’m doing much more planning, coordination and administrative work—and it took me quite a while to get used to it, in addition to the endless meetings needed to ensure everyone is properly updated. I am still the most comfortable inside my kitchen.
I am also very concerned about keeping the quality of my food and service consistently high. I am lucky to have a very good team, who are very close-knit—but I still wish I was the one with my hands on the pan, so to speak.
Where do you see yourself in the next five to 10 years?
I see myself still cooking and serving my guests personally, because this is what I love to do. In 10 years, I hope to have added another two concepts to create a family of restaurants—not a group, but a family. I may have to take more of a back end role in managing them, but I hope that I will still be able to schedule time to do what I love: personally cooking and serving my guests.
Any advice you would like to share with other young chefs who are looking to start / run their own restaurants?
Do not start unless you are willing to risk everything to the point of losing it all. Do not look only at the glamorous side of being an owner. “Owner” is just a title that indicates heavier responsibilities.
Remember that behind the glamour, there’s so much more to lose, and it’s not just about your loss. You’ll have to take care of your staff too. In fact, your staff? They’ll be the people closest to you besides your family. You might even see them more often than your family.
#01-04, 115 Amoy Street (entrance via Gemmill Lane). Tel: 6224 1045