After more than 15 years away spent developing restaurant concepts in China and elsewhere, Singaporean chef Jereme Leung returns home to launch 藝 yì by Jereme Leung at Raffles Singapore.
For a chef who juggles around nine restaurant concepts around the world, awareness of local context is important. But so is a clear vision of the cuisine he practises. From his days as Chinese executive chef at hotels such as Four Seasons Hotel Singapore to his move to Shanghai in 2002 to start the Whampoa Club at Three on the Bund, chef Jereme Leung has had an unwavering approach to modern Chinese cuisine. He would scour provinces of China to ferret out forgotten ingredients and traditional cooking methods, and use those inspirations to create authentic dishes that have a modern touch. Some of these wisdoms he shares in his various cookbooks; the rest he pours into restaurants such as Puben by Jereme Leung in Shanghai, Jia Yao restaurant on board cruise liner MSC Lirica, Ufaa by Jereme Leung in the Maldives, and now 藝 yì by Jereme Leung at Raffles Singapore, opening on 3 September.
How has modern Chinese cuisine evolved over time?
The perception of modern Chinese cuisine has definitely evolved with time. In the early days, visitors to China were usually introduced to Chinese cuisines through establishments that offered better service and food at a higher price point. This was how Chinese fine dining was initially perceived. Forty years on, as China opened its doors to the world and with globalisation, consumers have become more exposed to Chinese cuisine both in terms of its breadth and depth, contributing to how Chinese fine dining has evolved today delivering rich culinary experiences.
In your explorations across China, which has been the most surprising ingredient or dish you discovered and were immensely inspired by?
It is a constant learning process in which one’s experience will grow as one travels and tries new things. The first time I picked a matsutake mushroom from the jungle, it made me better appreciate Mother Nature. The more you discover, the more interesting it gets—the key to finding inspiration is the drive to constantly learn.
Why did you decide to start a restaurant in Singapore at this point in time?
While I have lived abroad for most of my career, the formative years which I spent working in Singapore and Hong Kong were so important in defining my approach and style of cooking. Opening 藝 yì by Jereme Leung at Raffles Hotel Singapore is a natural choice given the hotel’s iconic status and the wonderful opportunity presented following its recent reopening after a period of restoration. It is an honour and I am excited to be able to work with some of the best minds in the Singapore industry and present my personal take on Chinese cuisine. These dishes reflect what I believe the future of Chinese cuisine should be 20 years from today. It is not fusion, not ‘East-meets-West’; rather, it is about capturing the essence of provincial ethnic Chinese cuisines. With careful focus being placed on healthy and seasonal food produce, it will create authentic taste profiles that are enhanced by modern culinary techniques.
Could you give some examples of dishes at 藝 yì by Jereme Leung that are enhanced by modern culinary techniques?
When I arrived in Shanghai in 2002, Shanghai-style smoked fish was a dish that was made of fried carp dipped into a sweet soy brine and stored in the chiller until it was ready to be served. I did not enjoy eating it as it tended to take up the scents of other ingredients in the chiller. It also had a lot of tiny bones. For my interpretation of the dish—the honey soy smoked mackerel, savoury pickled cabbage—I retained the original brine but used deboned fish fillets which were only deep fried a la minute upon order. This new version was so well received that it was gradually adopted throughout China and abroad. It is now the industry standard of a typical Shanghai-style smoked fish.
Another example is the brined duck breast, beef tripe and ox tongue, Sichuan chilli dressing. This dish is inspired by a snack made of beef offal. Since the latter part of the Qing dynasty, the snack has been one of the most common street food dishes in Chengdu, Sichuan. Due to diners’ increasing health consciousness, I adjusted some of the dish’s ingredients and added duck breast, cooked sous vide, and ox tongue, and dramatically changed the presentation while retaining its original flavours.
Tell us more about Taiwanese head chef Vincent Chen who will be helming the kitchen at 藝 yì.
I have worked with Vincent for more than seven years now. He first joined me at my high-end restaurant in Taipei before moving on to work at several of my restaurants in Hangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai. I believe in having my key head chefs work at my restaurants across the globe to enable them to fully understand my brand’s philosophy.
Why did you feel the need to implement details such as serving piping hot rice table-side at 藝 yì?
As one of the pioneers of the development of modern Chinese cuisine, I feel that many chefs have gone on a path where too much attention is focused on gimmicks and presentation of the dish. Fundamentals such as serving good food at the right temperature should still be as important.
At this stage of your culinary journey, what do you still hope to learn?
There are so many things in this wonderful world that I have not been exposed to yet and I am always reading to learn. My current reads are The Noma Guide to Fermentation and Shake Shack’s cookbook. The interesting thing about the Food & Beverage industry is that there is always something new to learn about the different market segments and places.
Any plans to move back to Singapore eventually?
I currently do not have plans of moving back yet. Nonetheless, Singapore will always be a place that is like home to me. I have family, many close friends and associates here.
Other new or refreshed F&B venues at Raffles Singapore: