The Culinary Maestro
Chef Jason Tan further elevates the role of botanicals with his recently unveiled Gastro-botanica 2.0 at his newly opened Restaurant Euphoria. Once again, the culinary maestro seamlessly melds classic, traditional flavours with cutting-edge innovation for botanicals re-imagined.
Jason Tan took the culinary world by storm in 2014 with his gastro-botanica cuisine, an innovative avant-garde philosophy that celebrated botanicals in their own right, shining the spotlight on the infinite possibilities of humble vegetables and elevating them to an equal status as that of proteins - a definite first for diners and chefs alike.
Trained in classical French cooking and having worked in several Michelin-starred restaurants throughout his career, Jason is the first and only Singaporean chef to be awarded the Michelin star four years in a row, as well as being ranked for five consecutive years (2016-2020) on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants during his tenure as chef and co-owner of the Corner House at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It was in the lush environs of the UNESCO heritage gardens that Tan invented his famed gastro-botanica cuisine.
And now with the recent opening of Restaurant Euphoria in November 2020, Tan unveils Gastro-botanica 2.0, which not only builds on the original classic role and significance of botanicals, but takes them further. He marks his evolution from chef-owner to restaurateur and entrepreneur as he sets the stage for an elevated version of his original culinary vision, complete from concept and design to cuisine and tableware by drawing on his local roots, Asian insights and extensive international travel experiences. Even the restaurant’s lush indoor garden interiors subtly pay homage to the onion and its pliant luminous layers, which have become a metaphor for his own personal quest to always ‘peel away’ to new discoveries and breakthroughs.
Coming full circle, the edible Dancing Orchid, one of the first Oncidium hybrids developed by the Singapore Botanic Gardens in 1939, is now a varietal exclusively grown for Jason to showcase his gastro-botanica cuisine. His amuse bouche of a wave-shaped feuille de brick studded with vegetable purée and Baerii caviar, garnished with the orchid makes it the star.
With this 2.0 version, Tan reinvents pure vegetable extraction and reduction meatless sauces, shattering the boundaries of haute French cuisine by moving away from its pillars of heavy mother sauces and jus. Collectively named Gastro-botanica Essences-la Symphonie de Légumes, his four pure botanical essences comprise Légumes Demi-glace (brown), Légumes Vin Blanc (white), Légumes Emulsion (emulsion), and Légumes Essence (pure and clear).
What inspired you to create gastro-botanica in 2014?
In 2014, as chef and co-owner of Corner House, I launched my culinary philosophy of gastro-botanica, a cuisine based on contemporary French techniques with global ingredients and influences, where I present a gastronomic experience of carefully sourced and prepared premium vegetables, meats and seafood; with botanical elements of vegetables, tubers, herbs, spices and fruits given prominence and special elaboration on the plate.
Looking back, no one would believe I used to dislike vegetables, until I tasted a Cévennes onion for the first time while working in a fine-dining restaurant. I was amazed how sweet and delicate it was and it singularly changed my mind about vegetables, kickstarting the gastro-botanica journey. From that moment, I wanted to elevate onions (and vegetables) from being the sidekick to becoming the protagonist on a plate. They made me realise that vegetables, like the metaphorical onion, can unlock amazing flavours and create gastronomic wonders if you take the time to ‘peel them layer by layer’.
How did the Cévennes onion spark your passion for edible botanicals?
Besides the fact that Cévennes onions are sweet and less pungent, I also appreciate that onions are unassuming, humble, versatile, and adaptable to all cuisines. I would like to see myself embody the values of an onion!
How do you balance classics while further elevating the role and significance of botanicals?
In order to evolve, we must first develop a strong foundation of the classics and understand flavour creations. By introducing Gastrobotanica Essences – La Symphonie de Légumes, layers of flavours and nuances are extracted by the roasting, steaming, boiling and dripping of over 30 different vegetables, with the addition of select herbs, spices, seeds, olive oil, white wine, red wine, fruit zest, salt and butter. 30kg of whole vegetables go daily into extracting 2L of essence, which forms the backbone of Gastro-botanica 2.0 cuisine creation.
Name a memorable discovery on your journey to developing Gastro-botanica Essences
Actually the Gastro-botanica essences was a relatively quick and organic process. When I was creating my first few dishes with the team, we had naturally created sauces that were botanically-focused, I realised this natural progression and decided to pursue and push towards this direction in more depth. We realised we were able to create a series of botanical sauces with great flavours, hence the apt name Gastro-botanica Essences – La Symphonie de Légumes, as the flavours came together like a symphony of flavours.
What’s your inspiration behind the stunning Oignon Jamboree creation?
Onions are my favourite vegetable, and my 2014 signature dish, ‘My favourite Vegetable,’ featured Cévennes onions in 4 ways – in an onion cup with a 62 degree egg and black truffles, on a tart, in a chip and infused in a tea. When I conceptualised the new menu for Restaurant Euphoria, I wanted to create a new onion dish, and challenged myself to create one using five different varieties this time. Hence, the Cévennes onions in the parfait, yellow onions in the onion and lemon purée, pickled pearl onions, spring onion sprigs, spring onion oil, as well as red onions in the Légumes Essence. The dish is also presented in a handmade, onion-inspired ceramic plate designed by my partner Arissa Wang. The Légumes Essence is the ‘purest’ of all the four essences, created using a base of red onions and kombu. Incorporated into this dish is caviar from Kaviari, the Oscietra Prestige which I love very much because of its pop sensation and the flavours from the shorter four-month aging process. Only three restaurants in the world serve the Kaviari Oscietra Prestige, of which Restaurant Euphoria is the only one in Singapore.
What has been your most challenging creation till date?
Carrot and Lobster. How do we elevate a simple ingredient, like a carrot on a plate, for it to outshine the protein, such as a perfectly cooked lobster? We wanted to create a spectacular carrot that could hold its own on a fine-dining plate; the R&D for it took a while. The actual daily preparation of this dish is very laborious too, given the amount of time needed to clean, peel, ‘ribbon’, handtwirl the carrots into perfectly round discs, and developing our own five-spice powder to confit the carrots to perfection. We currently use 35kg of carrots daily to prepare this dish, finishing it off with Legumes Vin Blanc and candied orange zest.
Likewise, what has been your most satisfying creation?
Probably the Oignon Jamboree dish. To be able to create another uniquely different dish using onions, challenging myself and the team to use five different varieties to create a new onion dish that can stand against my first onion signature dish, with a completely different identity and profile. With this dish, we create various subtle flavour layers, each using a different variety of onions, and bound together by one of our Gastro-botanica Essences, Legumes Essence, and topped with Kaviari Oscietra Prestige caviar.
Unsurprisingly, Restaurant Euphoria is already a huge success. What’s your next milestone?
We opened our restaurant on 3 November 2020 and we are still at the very start of our journey. It is important for us to continue to fine-tune and refine every aspect of our customer experience, from food and service to ambience. I’m taking it a day at a time, and I continue to strive to offer the best experience for every guest who chooses to dine at Restaurant Euphoria.