An Interview With Chef Kirk Westaway, The New Face Of Modern Cuisine
How did your passion for cooking start?
My interest in culinary began at a young age, when I often harvested home-grown, organic fruits and vegetables with my parents. This aroused in me a natural love for quality products and subsequently, a keen interest in how such products are transformed in the kitchen. With the encouragement of my former Head Chef of the restaurant where I held a summer job, I eventually enrolled in a culinary college and completed a three year culinary course in the city of Exeter. During my third year of college, I also worked on a three month stint in a one Michelin starred restaurant in Brittany. This stint further piqued my interest in the culinary scene.
Can you remember a favorite dish from your childhood?
There are actually two of them which I still regard as favorites today. One, an English roast dinner; and the other, a cottage pie with mash potato.
You come from Devon originally. How did this heritage influence your style? And why did you decide to move to Singapore?
Growing up in a region famous for fresh ingredients developed in me a deep regard for premium produce and how they can be an essential part in transforming a dining experience. From harvesting home grown organic fruits and vegetables, my interest in the culinary world was gradually shaped and formed in me a passion for quality produce – the exact philosophy we pride ourselves on, here at JAAN. I’ve also introduced certain touches from home such as the Devon tea biscuit in our Petit Fours. Filled with clotted cream and jam, it is an after meal delight for many of our guests.
My move to Singapore was seeded when this career opportunity at JAAN came. Ever the keen traveler, I saw this as an adventure, and so far, it has been a truly rewarding experience.
Do you have any favorite ingredients to cook with?
My favorite ingredient has got to be the heirloom tomato. Heirloom tomatoes release an incredibly intoxicating aroma, so much so that you can almost smell the sun, the grass and the beautiful gardens they were grown in.
Where do you find inspiration to create new recipes?
Where I grew up in England, I often spent time harvesting home grown organic fruits and vegetables with my parents. Whilst this sparked off my interest in the culinary scene eventually, it has also kept me very focused on maintaining nature’s perfection with the use of different produce. Amazing produce, therefore, is always the starting point of my inspirations, and we’re truly fortunate to have ease of access to. With the different quality ingredients, we seek to create a harmonious interplay of tastes and textures, while also making sure the unique character of each ingredient shines on its own.
Do you have a dish that you are particularly proud of?
I am especially fond of a dish we recently introduced. Scallops, winter leaves and seaweed hollandaise sauce. A complementary combination of the best seasonal vegetables comprising savoy cabbage, Romanesco, broccolini and Cevennes onions, cooked and blanched in an olive oil emulsion. These are served with a roasted Scottish scallop glazed in lime vinaigrette, after which, more Cevennes onions are roasted and peeled into petals before being individually burnt to create ‘Black Lips.’ The finishing touch to this dish is a fragrantly smooth seaweed hollandaise sauce made from seaweed butter.
How would you define your cuisine in three words?
Simple yet complex.
JAAN has won an impressive series of awards. How do you feel when you think back about your early days as a chef?
Starting out as a young chef, I have always aspired to work in the top restaurants. Together with the team, we strive to be the best, and to keep the standards consistently high. Everyday in the kitchen is a new learning experience, from discovering different ways of cooking meat and vegetables, to getting practical insights to hone one’s leadership skills.
Prior to my foray into Asia, I developed a good foundation for my culinary career amidst a fast paced kitchen environment in London. That in itself was a breakthrough for me before I had the opportunity to further refine my fine dining culinary skills in a Michelin-star restaurant. All these earlier learning experiences culminated into this moment as Chef de Cuisine in one of the world’s top 100 restaurants.
How important is a fresh, seasonal menu to you?
At JAAN, we believe in produce driven cuisine that captures each premium seasonal ingredient at its finest. As I build my menu around fresh produce, this menu is very important and key to bringing nature’s finest from source to the dining table.
Can you tell us a bit about the Singaporean food scene? Has it influenced your menu in any way?
The Singaporean food scene has progressed tremendously. Even with the massive number of restaurants opening, almost every restaurant sees brisk business. The local dining scene is such a buzz right now and it is almost impossible to miss the excitement of dining in the city. Clearly, as Singapore establishes its dining scene, there has also been an increased interest amongst both locals and tourists in trying out the various cuisines available locally, and this will no doubt further fuel growth in the industry.
A new menu item I am working on now is a frog leg dish inspired by my love for frog leg porridge here in Singapore. It will however, be prepared using modern French cooking techniques.
What can we expect from JAAN in the future?
As a restaurant known for its quality dining experience, fine food created with premium ingredients and sophisticated techniques is understandably a focus and expectation. I hope to achieve this through highly relatable and memorable creations that engage rather than alienate.
Building on JAAN’s existing recognition as one of the top Modern French fine dining restaurants in the country and the region, is also something I look forward to achieve; and of course, to take the restaurant to greater heights in an ever-changing food and beverage landscape. By injecting my own personality and contemporary approach to fine dining, I hope to present a unique dining experience that showcases an interplay of my personal inspirations, my French culinary techniques and the very best seasonal ingredients.
Which city in the world has the best restaurants, in your opinion?
San Sebastián in Spain, which is known as one of the food capitals in the world and the stage for innovative gastronomy. Together with its surrounding area, it is home to the highest concentration of Michelin-star restaurants. The city’s chefs continually embrace modern ideas and techniques in the preparation of their produce, to make gastronomy an art and feature that sets San Sebastián apart from other culinary destinations.
How do you imagine the world’s cuisine to be in 20 years’ time?
I foresee a rising trend towards quality and fresh produce from hardworking local farmers in organic locations. Along with this would be a greater emphasis on organic, production-driven cuisine, and the need to explore healthier ways of cooking. Consumers are becoming more health-conscious and mindful of their diets and what they consume. Methods such as poaching, steaming and sous vide will also become more popular.
Where would you tell culture lovers to visit in Singapore?
I would suggest them to visit Geylang, located in the east of Singapore. It is a visual spectacle with great architectural heritage and some of the best local food, including the No Signboard seafood restaurant and the many varieties of frog leg porridge.
Do you have a favorite hawker you could recommend? What would you advise foodies to eat there?
A favorite hawker centre for me is Newton Food Centre where one can savor an indulgent selection of local delights. I definitely recommend the oyster omelette and the indulgent selections of barbecued seafood eateries offered there. It is a place with a great variety of food and a unique convivial atmosphere – the setting for an enjoyable night out with family and friends amidst Singaporean cuisine.
JAAN is one of the winners of The Culture Trip’s Singapore Local Favorite 2015 Award. The Local Favorite badge is awarded to our favorite local towns, restaurants, artists, galleries, and everything in between. We are passionate about showcasing popular local talents on a global scale, so we have cultivated a carefully selected, but growing community.