They may not be household names yet, but we reckon these emerging chefs, who impressed us plenty in 2015, will surely leave their mark in the new year. Keep a close eye on them. By Tan Min Yan
Photo of Martin Wong 2015 remy martin
Carlos Montobbio, 28, executive chef at Esquina (16 Jiak Chuan Road, tel: 6222-1616, www.esquina.com.sg)
We first became fans of chef Carlos Montobbio’s highly innovative culinary style in 2014 when he helmed the kitchen at Fairmont’s Anti:dote bar. It was the creative bar snacks, like a wafer-thin mini Parmesan “pizza” with olive oil caviar, and caramelised foie gras on crisp puff pastries, that left us more than spellbound.
In September 2015, however, the Barcelona native made a switch from the avantgarde to something closer to his heart when he took the reins at popular tapas bar Esquina – and it’s clear that this is where he’s most in his element. Esquina’s new menu focuses on more authentic Catalonian tastes and ingredients (“more starch, more proteins, and sweeter flavours”, he says), but all with a deft modern touch. The openkitchen concept also means that Carlos’ preference for more interaction with diners and immediate feedback is finally realised.
While he may not have the gregarious personality you’d expect of a chef helming a boisterous Spanish tapas bar, his quiet, earnest charm makes the dining experience all the more charming and enjoyable. There could only be even better things to come from him and Esquina.
Must-tries: A fork-tender Spanish octopus, FIrst done sous vide then grilled in the Josper oven for a heady smoky-sweetness ($28), as well as the savoury Sardines with Samfaina ($16), which have a dollop of bell-pepper sorbet adding bright, surprising flavours to the dish.
Drew Nocente, 34, executive chef at 5th Quarter (39 Syed Alwi Road, tel: 6291-1936, www.5thquarter.com.sg)
You could say that chef Drew Nocente was born to do what he does. Growing up in Brisbane in an Italian family meant he had his first brushes with charcuterie, fresh produce and the joys of cooking at a young age – and he channelled his enthusiasm into helping out in the kitchen.
His keen interest eventually translated into stints at Australian restaurants before his big break in 2008, when he was offered a chance to work under chef Jason Atherton (who was Gordon Ramsay’s protege at that time) at the Maze Grill in London – and later, at Jason’s popular Table No. 1 in Shanghai. It would take another three years at steakhouse Skirt before he ended up at 5th Quarter with what he grew up with (charcuterie and the grill), except that he was now armed with a repertoire of modern culinary techniques and tricks. A full-circle kind of moment, if you will.
Naturally, this isn’t just it for Drew. “We’re constantly sourcing for unique ingredients and uncommon premium cuts, but we also have plans to work on pop-ups and collaborations with overseas chefs, just to spice things up a little.”
Must-tries: The impressive Pork Collar, Radishes and Praline ($32), where the pork collar is brined before being done sous vide for astoundingly flavourful meat. The Chocolate Salami, Salt Caramel Ice Cream ($16) is chef Drew’s cheeky chocolate tribute to the restaurant’s grill concept, and a fun, delicious way to end off a meal.
Martin Wong, 34, head chef/ owner at Tess Bar & Kitchen (38 Seah Street, tel: 6337-7355, www.tessbar.com)
Despite a pedigreed culinary background (he cut his teeth at the now-defunct Au Petit Salut, and was part of the opening team at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon), chef Martin Wong knew the traditional fine-dining route wasn’t one he’d stay on forever. “It’s tough for a local chef to stand out – and I wanted to work somewhere casual where diners could still enjoy good food, and linger after eating dinner.”
At Tess, he’s found the ideal platform to fully deliver this ethos. The kitchen showcases confidently executed, impressive dishes that span various cuisines and flavours. Already, the year-old establishment has gone stellar – earlier last year, Tess represented Singapore in the Dilmah Real High Tea Global Challenge in Sri Lanka after beating the local competition here, and was awarded a gold medal for its contemporary take on a high-tea menu. Next up, Martin hopes to emulate the shrewd business acumen of visionary chef Joel Robuchon as he builds Tess’ brand name. “My dream is to expand the restaurant to somewhere in Europe, Australia or New Zealand. It’ll be a little place that – just like Tess – focuses on local produce and talent in a casual setting.” You heard it here first!
Must-tries: The indulgent wagyu cubes served on luscious bone marrow ($26), as well as the addictive baby octopus ($10) with mangalica salami and sun-dried cherry tomatoes.