On The Pass

For Sin­ga­porean chef Ja­son Tan, taste tri­umphs above all else

T. Dining by Singapore Tatler - - Content -

It all comes down to de­liv­er­ing de­li­cious food says Sin­ga­pore’s Ja­son Tan of Cor­ner House

De­li­cious, tasty food. That’s all it boils down to for Ja­son Tan. Ev­ery­thing else, as the old trope goes, is just gravy. The gen­tle­man­nered chef/pa­tron and co-owner of Cor­ner House says that, like a good sauce, his culi­nary phi­los­o­phy can be re­duced to those three words. It’s not the an­swer you’d ex­pect when look­ing at the exquisitely plated, com­plex com­po­si­tions that Tan and his team dish out— each one a sym­phony of colours, tex­tures, im­pec­ca­ble pro­duce and flavours that or­bit around the “gas­tro-botan­ica” theme.

It’s been four years since Cor­ner House trans­formed what was once the home of the as­sis­tant direc­tor of the Botanic Gar­dens, EJH Cor­ner, into a restau­rant that pays homage to its ver­dant UN­ESCO Her­itageen­dorsed lo­ca­tion. In that time, Tan has earned him­self not only the ad­mi­ra­tion of his peers and fans, but also a coveted star from Miche­lin’s in­spec­tors.

Though the evo­lu­tion of his cui­sine and restau­rant has been ob­vi­ous to those who have paid at­ten­tion, Tan says that it’s com­pletely un­planned. “My culi­nary phi­los­o­phy here has al­ways been, and will al­ways re­main, about gas­tro-botan­ica,” he af­firms. “Yes, we’re al­ways evolv­ing the cui­sine, but when you work with it daily, you re­ally don’t think about chart­ing its course. It’s more about ex­plor­ing var­i­ous ways with the theme. Like right now, I’m think­ing about do­ing a dish us­ing dif­fer­ent parts of a plant.”

While many dishes change, there are some peren­nial sig­na­tures such as Tan’s In­ter­pre­ta­tion of My Favourite Veg­etable. This four-part dish, cen­tred on the Cévennes onion, com­prises a soft egg served with caramelised onion purée in a baked onion cup, a pa­per-thin onion chip, an equally frag­ile onion tart and an onion broth in­fused with Earl Grey tea.

“Peo­ple say the dish tastes bet­ter to­day than it did two years ago,” says Tan. “And I would hope so. When you work with the same dish over time and pour your heart into it, you re­alise that lit­tle things like a change

“My culi­nary phi­los­o­phy here has al­ways been, and will al­ways re­main, about gas­tro-botan­ica”

of tem­per­a­ture or the size of a pot makes a dif­fer­ence. Over the years, I’ve re­alised that cook­ing the onion con­fit in a small pot de­liv­ers bet­ter tex­ture. We’ve also made slight changes to the onion tea by adding lemon zest to brighten the flavours.”

PLEA­SURE IN PURITY

An onion is hardly an in­gre­di­ent you’d ex­pect a chef to use for his sig­na­ture of­fer­ing, but Tan ar­gues that there’s no rea­son why an onion or a beet should be less pre­cious than, say, wagyu beef or lob­ster. “Cre­at­ing a good dish isn’t about us­ing truf­fles to el­e­vate it; it’s about ap­ply­ing the best treat­ment to make the in­gre­di­ent shine on its own,” he says.

The same goes for the hum­ble tomato, which Tan show­cases in his new Vari­a­tion of Tomato dish (now called Tomato “Les-jardin de Ra­belais”) that re­cently de­buted on the menu. “The first ver­sion was on the menu for more than two years,” he ex­plains. “I’d wanted to change it, but ev­ery time I tried some­thing new, it was never as good as the orig­i­nal. So, I took the dish off the menu for more than a year. Re­cently, we were work­ing on some­thing else, and we made a yuzu and basil sor­bet. It just hap­pened that we had all the el­e­ments of a tomato dish on the ta­ble, so we played around with it and re­alised that it was re­ally good.”

Like all his other dishes, this tomato cre­ation looks el­e­gantly twee on the plate, yet it’s rooted in sim­plic­ity and good taste. The kitchen blanches French cherry toma­toes to re­move their skins, dresses the fruit with basil oil and serves them with straw­ber­ries, berry con­sommé jelly, yuzu-basil sor­bet, basil seeds and olive-oil caviar. “It’s a riff on a clas­sic com­bi­na­tion,” says Tan. “I think it’s good not to be too clever. The im­por­tant thing is that it tastes good.”

In a re­gion and an era where the cam­era eats first, Tan main­tains that the least of his in­ter­ests is how a dish looks. “The thought process be­hind ev­ery dish here is to first source the right in­gre­di­ents—the best we can find—and then cre­ate the best taste pos­si­ble. If it tastes good, but doesn’t look good or doesn’t seem gim­micky enough, we’ll still launch the dish. But if it doesn’t taste good, I won’t launch it. It’s al­ways about real, de­li­cious food for our guests. To look pretty for In­sta­gram is easy—just buy a lot of mi­cro­cress and flow­ers, and ar­range them on the plate. But the in­gre­di­ents must be there for a rea­son: to taste good. That’s all.”

“The thought process be­hind ev­ery dish here is to first source the right in­gre­di­ents—the best we can find— and then cre­ate the best taste pos­si­ble”

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FLAVOUR FIRST (Clock­wise from top) A4 Toriyama wagyu with shine mus­cat, Ja­panese ginkgo, Fourme d’am­bert cheese, sherry and en­dive; Vari­a­tion of Tomato ver­sion two; Tan prefers to keep his fo­cus on flavour and not gim­micky treat­ments

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