A chat with chefs from Singapore’s Top Restaurants 2019/2020’s award-winning restaurants.
In conjunction with the launch of Singapore’s Top Restaurants 2019/2020, we caught up with chefs from some of our award-winning restaurants to learn more about their culinary philosophies and views on the restaurant scene. Here, head chef Tristin Farmer of Restaurant Zén shares his thoughts on creating guest journeys, non-alcoholic pairings, and more.
Chef Tristin Farmer of Restaurant Zén
Scottish chef Tristin Farmer began his culinary career in Scotland and has since worked in various countries around the world—his professional background includes stints at Maze by Gordon Ramsay in London, Aberdeen Street Social in Hong Kong and Marina Social in Dubai. Farmer now helms Restaurant Zén, a newly minted two-Michelin-starred restaurant and the Singapore outpost of three-Michelin-starred Frantzén in Stockholm.
In today’s rapidly-evolving dining scene, what do diners seek when they visit a fine dining restaurant?
These days, diners are not simply looking for a good meal when they visit a fine dining restaurant. They are looking for an experience that will make their dinner memorable and worthy to talk about the next day.
How much do accolades such as World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Michelin stars matter to you?
I would be dishonest to say that these awards don’t matter. In my opinion, they are an industry recognition for hard work and commitment, they help raise the profile of the restaurant locally and internationally. However, every chef should always count more on their guests’ feedback as the first point of recognition.
Does Frantzén’s re-entry into the World’s 50 Best List this year spur you to take Zén to greater heights?
Yes, definitely. It is such a privilege to be part of the Frantzén family and it makes me very proud. There is so much inspiration coming from the team, we all work towards a common goal and of course the team at Zén is working hard to emulate the success of our ‘big brother’ in Stockholm.
Your concept of moving a diner from foyer to the third floor in the course of the night is quite novel in Singapore.
We wanted to create a ‘guest journey’ that replicates the experience of visiting someone’s house, in this case, Bjorn Frantzén’s house. This concept is an evolution of Frantzén in Stockholm where guests also journey through the restaurant. This is why we start in the kitchen for snacks. Then, guests enter into a high energy room to have a few bites, aperitif and meet the team. They then move to the second floor dining room for eight courses, where food is plated tableside. Then relax at the end of the meal in the living room to have coffee, tea and petit fours, or ‘fika’ as they call it in Sweden. Our staff are the hosts that take you on your journey throughout your dinner and that is what we want our customers to experience.
How do you foster a culture where every team member understands that service is as important as the food and drink?
At Zén there are no barriers between the front and the back of house. We train everybody the same way when it comes to the guest experience that we offer. That is why we have chefs and waiters, serving tableside. Our philosophy has always been “I can, I do”, where we foster the mentality that we are all in this together—everyone in the team is always willing to do what is required regardless of their role. We also place a lot of emphasis on training and are constantly pushing each other to learn more. I am very happy with everything that we have achieved so far and the way the team has learnt to work together despite differences in background and culture makes me feel proud.
Taste is subjective, so what do you think are the qualities that make a restaurant ‘the best restaurant’ in the world?
As a customer, I look at a few things: the experience I get, is the food style connected with what the restaurant is trying to achieve, and I also take the location into consideration, the team—everything needs to melt into a perfect symbiosis.
The non-alcoholic pairings at your restaurant are quite a hit with diners. What inspired it?
The non-alcoholic beverage pairing is a very popular concept in Stockholm and becoming quite a trend globally within the fine-dining scene. Frantzén, our sister property, has the same within their menu. The non-alcohol pairing stemmed from our desire to offer guests who cannot or don’t want to drink alcohol the same kind of experience.
What are some upcoming trends you foresee in the dining scene?
More relaxed service, open kitchens, more homegrown chefs and the last but not least, a greater emphasis on sustainability.
What is your response to diners who question your price point?
To really understand what we’ve created, diners have to experience it for themselves. So far all our guests leave the restaurant feeling satisfied and happy, and we have a high percentage of returning guests.
A version of this interview was first published in the Sep/Oct 2019 Celebrating Singapore’s Top Restaurants issue of Wine & Dine.
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