How did you get into the food business? 'I started out in Schoenberg im Stubaital, a little town 10 kilometres from Innsbruck, Austria, where I'm from. It's very touristy, with lots of hotels and resorts, so there are lots of restaurants. During the last year of [secondary] school, there are two weeks in which you can try [jobs]. For the first week, I tried fixing cars, and for the other week I wanted to try out the service side of a restaurant, working front of house. I was too young for that but was told I could try the kitchen. I was amazed by how it worked.'
Who are your mentors? 'Hans Haas from Restaurant Tantris, in Munich [Germany], and Thomas Keller from The French Laundry [in California, the United States]. Hans basically taught me to cook in his restaurant. Going straight from an apprenticeship to a Michelin two-star restaurant at such a young age was very good for me. There, I really learned to cook - to touch the products, to know the products. And from Keller, I learned the whole package. Not only the dishes and ingredients that California has to offer, but also the whole philosophy behind serving people. You can learn a lot from this kind of personality - you listen while he makes a phone call to a supplier, and watch how he handles problems and organises a kitchen.'
How does working abroad inspire you? 'I've worked in Austria, Germany, France, California and now Singapore. I've always done French-based cuisine. But I'm not doing pure French anymore. It's more central European - a little bit more open-minded than purely French. Your repertoire is expanded by what you see in different countries. If you only stay in France or Austria, you'll only have a certain [number] of products to work with. But when you visit different countries and cultures, your horizons are expanded tremendously.'
Where did you get the biggest culture shock? 'In Asia for sure, because it's so different from where I grew up. California is different as well, but it's easier to adapt and the people eat similar to Europeans. Before I became head chef at Les Amis, I was lucky to have worked at Raffles Hotel for 18 months. I didn't cook at Raffles - I managed and organised 16 restaurants and 180 chefs, which helped me understand the people I was working with. It also gave me an understanding of the local palate, so I was prepared when I took over Les Amis. I knew how to [adjust] European food to suit the Asian palate.'
What's your philosophy when creating dishes? 'To make people happy - that's the main thing. I don't go for fancy things. I want people to know the products, maybe know the combinations or flavours, but served in a way they've probably never tasted. I'm not going to do molecular cuisine or put too many items on the plate. I'm just trying to use my experience to make solid dishes and add a touch of modernity.'