When Jason Tan was doing his National Service, he used to blow his $300 military allowance each month at fancy restaurants. This is not the case of yet another young man who thinks nothing of spoiling himself. Instead, he was doing research.
“It wasn’t for anything else,” says Tan candidly. “I just wanted to experience each restaurant by actually dining there, so I could decide which to apply to work for.”
The 32-year-old, who cuts a robust figure not only in person but as a rising star on Singapore’s culinary scene, is the co-owner and captain of the kitchen in Corner House. He had always dreamed of making a mark on the culinary scene, and by all counts, he has done it. It is a privilege to watch his fleshy fingers work such delicate and precise magic on the plates that are served at this charming restaurant set in a black-andwhite colonial in Botanic Gardens. When he is focusing on his cooking, he leaves his trademark jolliness at the door and lets his 10 years of training in French cuisine do the talking.
“I was reading about Paul Bocuse and learnt that his restaurant was in a village with gardens all around. It’s the same here. The point is, there used to be a wall between me and my customers. But here, I can do what I want to do and I can express myself.”
Corner House is the latest in a path of right turns that characterise Tan’s career. At 22, after his National Service stint was over, Tan aimed to join Les Amis – a wise choice considering the restaurant’s repute. For the first month, he did nothing but prep the veggies and expected to be doing the same for some time. But the chance of a lifetime changed courses for him, when Gunther Hubrechsen, then the restaurant’s chef de cuisine, “lost his right- and left-hand men”, explains Tan. “I was then being trusted to prepare the pigeon, lamb, wagyu beef, suckling pig, all kinds of fish. I even learnt how to handle sauces.”
Thrown i nto the deep end, he soaked up knowledge and experience in the kind of quantity and pace that a young apprentice could only dream of. “The best way to learn is through experience. Mere knowledge is not enough,” he says of his intense eight months at Les Amis.
A stint at Le Saint Julien followed, after which its chef Julien Bompard recommended him to French star chef Joel Robuchon’s three-Michelin-star Robuchon a Galera (later Robuchon au dome) in Macau.
Those Macau days will always remain with him, he says.
“My job every day was to count the pepper seeds and j uniper berries i nside the storage room. The numbers in the recipes were always odd figures like 53, 62 and what have you. I then noticed that everyone else in the kitchen was doing his own thing so I didn’t ask, despite my curiosity. Later on, I realised that a lot of people were like me: They didn’t know the reason behind what they were doing either. They were just following the instructions. There, nobody cared what you’ve accomplished before. You just had to do it the Robuchon way.”
The environment was stressful, he recalls. “Whenever the chef yelled for something, he would send everyone scurrying around. But I l earnt the importance of discipline and precision.”
Tan returned to Singapore when he was recruited by Singapore’s star chef Justin Quek to join Marina Bay Sands’ Sky on 57, as the restaurant’s chef de cuisine. The lease for the location of Corner House came up when Au Jardin closed its doors and Tan seized the chance to run his own show.
Tan offers his own inventive take on gastro-botanica cuisine at Corner House, yet admits in his very open manner that he did not care much for vegetables in the past.
An onion, however, changed his mind. Specifically, it was an onion from France – Cevennes, to be precise.
“Gunther was trained by Alain Passard, so he was really inspired when it came to vegetables,” says Tan. “I tried Cevennes onions for the first time at Les Amis, and today, I can still taste it on the tip of my tongue.”
That onion was his gateway into the world of fresh and delightful vegetables, and he has since honed the ability to treat these seasonal ingredients with a modern and sensitive touch. In fact, at Corner House, he serves Oignon doux des Cevennes, a degustation of Cevennes onions presented in four ways: An onion and parmesan topped biscuit, dehydrated onion chip, onion egg with truffles, and a foamy white onion broth drizzled with onion tea. To make the tea, it takes 500g of onion to brew up 200ml of caramelised onion extract which is then infused with Earl Grey. The result is a fragrance that is out of this world.
“It i s the process I enjoy,” Tan says. “It’s the challenge of extracting all of the infinite possibilities from the most ordinary of vegetables, and to find a way of tasting you’ve never experienced before.”
He enjoys reintroducing vegetables to his diners, everything from roots and tubers like ginger, scallion and beetroot, to vegetables grown above ground like mushrooms, garlic leaves and cauliflower, as well as climbers like tomato, grape and fig.
The menu i s not vegetarian, but i s designed to celebrate the vegetable. Carabinero Prawn, for
The likeable Jason Tan emerges from the shadows of his celebrity mentors for his star turn at Corner House, where gastro-botanica
cuisine is the highlight一直躲在名厨后面的陈日锃，终于在植物园一栋黑白洋房里找到属于自己的天地，他的草本植物系料理，让人吃出