Restaurant André closes when you're not there. Why don't you leave your sous chefs in charge? "I don't want to miss any service. It's important for the guests who booked months ahead and expect to see the chef. I've been there since the first day - almost six years. It's also important for my team to know the chef is around. It's a very small team and I plate every dish."
What kind of experience do you try to give diners? "Our restaurant is in a three-storey building that's nearly 100 years old. I want [guests] to feel like it's a home, so it's an intimate space. When they enter, they see the kitchen and can say hi to me. It's like being invited to André's house."
How did you get into cooking? "I started to work in kitchens when I was 13. My mom was a chef. She cooked home-style Taiwanese food and helped at her friend's restaurant in Japan for 10 years, until her friend left and Mom took over. My older brother and sister aren't into food and thought I would take over the business. I went to Japan for two years to work with my mom. When I was 15, too young to take over, I wanted to see something different - new ideas, new systems of doing things - so I went to France."
What did you learn there? "Once I arrived, I realised this was what I wanted to do and stayed for 16 years. Chinese cuisine is all about technique - cutting, making things crispy - with no emotion, and my mom didn't want me to change any of her recipes. In France, it's the opposite - it's all emotional. You go to the market, smell the produce, meet the farmers, breathe the seasonality. Everything is so connected. Chefs would ask me, 'What do you feel?' That triggered my artistic senses. I grew up in an artistic family, my dad is a calligrapher, my brother an actor, my sister a clothing designer, and I am into sculpture and ceramics. I designed all the pottery in my restaurant.
"In French culture, everything has a story, every technique has a name, and you can apply your imagination, your creativity, to your food, which is almost impossible in Chinese cuisine."
What does the name of your book, Octaphilosophy, mean? "Before I opened my restaurant, I started thinking of how to tell people what my food is about. I looked at the dishes I had created and I realised I didn't have a signature technique or seasoning, but eight elements kept repeating: pure, salt, artisan, south, texture, unique, memory, terroir.
"Dining is like a movie. You sit for two and a half hours and a good guy comes out, a bad guy comes out, later there's something exciting happening. In my cooking there are eight characters that come out at different times and, in the end, it's a good movie because of these eight characters.
"'Memory' is the only dish [I created] that hasn't changed, since 1997. It's the first dish I can call my own. It reminds me where I come from and how I started. Not every dish uses technique; some dishes have a story or nostalgic flavours. Each dish has some of the eight elements of the octagon, so by the time you have finished all eight dishes [in the meal], the octagon should be full up."
Your menu is determined by whatever's fresh that day. Do you find that stressful? "I never force myself to create; it has to come naturally. It's like a muscle - the more you train it, the more you get used to it, the stronger you get."
André Chiang, whose Restaurant André is No3 on the list of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants, was in Hong Kong to cook a "four hands" dinner with chef Richard Ekkebus, at Amber in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, which is No4 on the list.