In May of 2018, Tan Ken Loon, owner of Singapore seafood eatery Naked Finn, initiated Magic Square, a 12-month-long incubation project to, in Loon’s words, “nurture future talents in the [food and beverage] industry”. For each month, one of the three under-30 chefs – namely Abel Su, Desmond Shen and Marcus Leow – would take the lead, aided by the other two, in steering the nine-course menu of locally inspired dishes, sometimes using local ingredients. In need of an ultra-luxe Hong Kong staycation? We have you covered In May, there was an awe-inspiring Malay-accented petai (stinky beans) miso by Shen. The next month, it was an eye-opening Peranakan-style Brussels sprouts in buah keluak (Indonesian black nut) emulsion by Leow that stole the show. And last June, Su doled out a local duck liver pate rounded with Hua Tiao wine and topped with a black citrus powder of yuzu and lime, a Chinese take on a decidedly French delicacy. In the wooded reaches of Portsdown Road, the makeshift restaurant catering to 18 guests at a communal table roars to life at 6pm each night, and again at 8.30pm for the second seating. In a city known for costly cars and expensive housing, Magic Square’s SG$78++ (US$56) per head price tag was a breath of fresh air. Perceived as a steal, the seats sold out fast. But more importantly, the year-long project sent out a message loud and clear – that we, Singapore’s foodies, as a community need to groom our pool of young cooking talents. Perhaps a testimony to the success of Magic Square, Su, a former junior sous chef at Odette, wasted no time in landing a sous chef position at Christopher Kostow’s newly opened Ensue in Futian, China, hot on the heels of Magic Square’s cessation. While the pop-up has come and gone, the city’s obsession with young chefs continues to simmer. Which are the top 10 luxury wellness retreats in the Maldives? Like Magic Square, Mustard Seed started as a pop-up in June 2017 from the home of its chef-owner, Gan Ming Kiat, who turns 30 this November. Despite his relative youth, Gan has chalked up credible kitchen experiences including three and a half years at the now-defunct kaiseki eatery, Goto, and two years at one Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant in Singapore, Candlenut, before he packed his bags and took off to Canberra to cook at the Singapore High Commission. They are receptive to new flavours, produce and techniques that they are not familiar with and have a certain curiosity to discover and the drive to succeed Ignatius Chan “After I came back, I started the Mustard Seed Pop Up from home and ran it for about one and a half years before I opened the restaurant this June”, says Gan, who adds he chose to start the pop-up because he had a clear idea about the kind of food he wanted to cook. “I thought that it was a productive way to grow as opposed to joining another restaurant”. Today, seats at Mustard Seed, which serves Japanese-inflected Singapore cuisine, are sold out almost every day. Even if it seems so from recent examples, pop-up restaurants are not the only setting where young chefs with bright potential thrive. Existing restaurants and F&B groups are also joining the fray, and are recruiting fresh blood into the brood. For proof, look no further than the Les Amis Group. In this year alone, the group under Chairman Desmond Lim opened a cadre of three new restaurants at Shaw Centre, of which two – Indigo Blue Kitchen and Kausmo – are helmed by young chefs. Face masks: protest gear or fashion symbol? Peranakan restaurant Indigo Blue Kitchen debuted in May with 29-year-old head chef, Chong Jun Xiang at the helm. Trained in European gastronomy, Chong cut his teeth at Eurocentric restaurants like Gattopardo Ristorante di Mare, Alma Alma by Juan Amador as well as 1880. He is not a Straits Chinese, yet he was picked to bring to fruition the hearty flavours that Lim, a Peranakan, grew up with and to scale them to a bigger audience. “I was looking for a young chef, preferably without a Peranakan background, to helm this heritage project”, says Lim, adding the candidate had to be prepared to be guided by his palate and “vivid memories” of his paternal grandmother’s dishes that he grew up with in the 1960s. Lim, who was “looking for that spark and willingness to learn”, says that Chong came “highly recommended” as a young chef who was “hungry to learn Peranakan food”. This strategy, he says, has the added advantage of drawing and attracting younger staff to the group, with an added bonus of attracting younger clientele – something, he admits, they “would not have been able to attract in the past”. Lim admits that the young chefs’ lack of operational and business experiences could be a drawback, but that is negated if the chefs are willing to be “guided by older hands”. Inside the new private club Soho House in Sheung Wan At Iggy’s, which turns 15 years old this September, Ignatius Chan, culinary director and owner, proudly declares his longest serving head chef, who spent seven years with Iggy’s, was a young Singaporean who joined the fine-dining stalwart as a demi chef and was promoted through the years. “When he left as head chef in 2013, he was all of 29 years old”, says Chan. “It was during the tenure of this young chef that our restaurant garnered the most accolades, including Best Restaurant in Asia in 2012, awarded by the World’s 50 Best.” Young chefs who have the right attitude and aptitude, Chan says, are open to explore new ideas and more adaptable to changes. “They are receptive to new flavours, produce and techniques that they are not familiar with and have a certain curiosity to discover and the drive to succeed”, he adds. “What these young chefs lack [is] experience, exposure [travel, eating widely across all cuisines] and product knowledge. This is where I can step in to offer [that] to them.” While Iggy’s has had a string of older chefs from Japan and Europe in recent years, Chan decided to promote his young sous chef, 29-year-old Jake Lee from Perak, Malaysia, to the position of head chef this July when his Portuguese chef left. Lee joined Iggy’s as chef de partie in 2017 and rose through the ranks. What 4 celebrity chefs would cook if stranded indoors by a typhoon When we visited in July, Lee served us his deft take on two livers – a silky ambrosia of foie gras in a surprisingly light and fragrant yun cheong (Chinese-style liver sausage) consomme, a French-meets-Cantonese dish his team developed in conjunction with Chan as the curator In terms of work experience, Chan says, Lee has clocked in many more years than many of the résumés they get from local and foreign applicants. “He is disciplined, organised and commands the respect of his team; he also works well with our front of the house team and is very supportive of what needs to be done in terms of special requests”. Echoing Chan’s passion for working with young chefs, Lim says that the “enthusiasm and open-mindedness” of young chefs could be a way to grow the talent pool and launch new concepts so the Les Amis Group, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, would remain relevant for the next 25 years. 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