Chef-owner of Restaurant Labyrinth
If 20 people come to visit my restaurant, and only one person leaves with a change in perception, that’s enough for me.
Tell us your story, how did you get here?
I was in the finance industry before deciding to pursue a career in F&B. I’d always enjoyed cooking, even when I was working in the bank. I was cooking on weekends, apprenticing at fine dining restaurants and learning the craft. I really liked the life of a chef – being a chef isn’t just about liking to cook. It’s not just about passion; you really have to like that kind of life.
I went on to culinary school and learned from different chefs before I opened Restaurant Labyrinth in 2014. When we first opened, we focused more on mod-Singaporean cuisine, using modern techniques to reconstruct or deconstruct Singaporean dishes. It was a style that served us well until 2018. We even picked up a few awards along the way (including a Michelin Star in 2017, which we’ve maintained).
In 2018, I decided to change the direction of the restaurant to focus more on local produce. I was inspired after taking a trip to Ah Hua Kelong. I discovered a lot of unique high quality local produce like blue-lipped mussels, flower crab, XL clams and fish. I did more research on farms in Singapore and met up with local farmers. I decided I wanted to spend more time on the ingredients rather than just the techniques – while still maintaining the component of Singapore flavours.
So the restaurant evolved and underwent renovations in 2018, and emerged with the aim to promote local produce, local culture and local flavours. We also imbued a bit of a storytelling component in our menus. I come from a family of restaurateurs. My grandfather used to own a famous steakhouse in the 1960s to 1980s, so a segment of my menu is dedicated to recreating some of his dishes to pay homage to him. The chicken rice-inspired dish is also based on my grandmother’s recipe.
The cuisine at Restaurant Labyrinth since has changed from mod-Singaporean to new-Singaporean. It’s a new way to express Singapore cuisine that isn’t necessarily modern but aimed toward refining traditional recipes. We also showcase the work of local artists and support the use of sustainable recycled materials. Our wooden coffee table and chopsticks, for example, are made from recycled wood in Singapore.
What impact have you made in Singapore?
Restaurant Labyrinth is a project that exists for me to showcase Singaporean cuisine and be proud of what Singapore is: from our flavours to our ingredients to our craftsmen. It’s given value to Singapore cuisine and flavours.
We want to change the perception that imported ingredients are better than local produce. We want to set a benchmark for the value of Singaporean cuisine in the fine dining world, especially when people are willing to pay so much more for other cuisines than they would Singaporean cuisine.
If 20 people come to visit my restaurant, and only one person leaves with a change in perception, that’s enough for me.LORD
What does 2022 look like for you?
Restaurant Labyrinth will continue to innovate and evolve. We’ve been around for almost 10 years, and we hope to be around for another 10 years. We will continue to improve our operations and service our customers better.
Right now we’re focusing on our staff. A lot of them have been with us throughout the pandemic; there were no pay cuts and no one was let go. We treat our staff like family, and we want to look at how we can reward and motivate them to build a strong company culture and environment.
What do you love most about Singapore?
The food, of course. I was in the UK for 3 years to study for my undergraduate degree. I loved living there, and I loved its rich culture and history. But I just couldn’t get authentic Singaporean cuisine. Being away from home makes you realise what you take for granted, and that got me cooking local food.
Singapore will always be home to me; my family is here. It’s a society that almost anyone can assimilate into easily if you have an open mind. I love travelling, but now that I’ve been stuck in Singapore for two-and-a-half years because of Covid-19, I realised it’s not that bad. We have a vibrant dining scene to keep us engaged, great food, hawkers, and all our friends and family.
If you could choose your last meal, what would it be?
Stir-fried instant noodles and eggs with luncheon meat and garlic, topped with another sunny side up. And lots of MSG powder.
Who is your Local Legend, and why?
My local legend is my late grandmother. She’s the one who taught me how to cook. When she passed away, I filled a wall in the restaurant with her pots, bowls and pans in memory of her.
She stood for a lot of what I believe in; she was hardworking, tenacious, strong and stubborn. She was a great cook. She cooked for me every Saturday when I was growing up. She used to make her own bak zhang and chicken rice; she wouldn’t want anyone to help her, and she was the fiercest chef I learned from. She was amazing.