Three culinary pros dissect their fondness for fine watches.
TEXT KOH YUEN LIN PHOTOGRAPHY FRENCHESCAR LIM ART DIRECTION FAZLIE HASHIM
BELL & ROSS BR 03-92 IN BLACK PVD STEEL
The man behind one-Michelin-star restaurant Saint Pierre, Emmanuel Stroobant has long been revered internationally as a grand chef of Relais & Chateaux. Known also for his passion for holistic wellness, the certified yoga instructor lives a disciplined lifestyle and is vegetarian by choice. Under his guidance, the cuisine at his modern French restaurant is as indulgent as it is sublime. His company – Emmanuel Stroobant Group – also collaborated with three-Michelin-star Sushi Shikon from Hong Kong to open fine-dining sushi restaurant Shoukouwa. The restaurant would become the only Japanese restaurant to be awarded two stars in Singapore, just four months into its opening in 2016. The accomplished chef, entrepreneur, husband and father recently celebrated his 50th birthday – and some might say his biggest achievement is to look like he has managed to stop time.
“EDINA (MY WIFE) AND I SHARE MOST OF OUR WATCHES, BUT THIS BELL & ROSS IS JUST FOR ME.”
WHAT MAKES ME TICK
THE WATCH MAKETH THE LOOK Watches are the only “branded” item I wear. I have no interest in clothes, bags or shoes – only nice timepieces.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE I started my watch collection about a decade ago and now have around five timepieces (including an Omega diver for diving trips, a Panerai, and an Apple Watch). I like large pieces and have a personal preference for square bodies. My taste for watches has not changed much – I have always preferred the contemporary to the classic. Also, I don’t need a lot of functions on my watch, so I prefer the design to be simple.
ROUGH AND TUMBLE This Bell & Ross watch was a 40th-birthday present from my wife, Edina, and it is what I wear most often. Work in the kitchen is rough, so I require something of a solid make to take me through day-to-day operations. I’m not worried about it getting dirty either, as I can just give the fabric strap a rinse.
THE WATCHMAN There are clocks and timers in the kitchen, but I use my watch as a reference time. I don’t often work at the stove now; I’m usually the caller. I refer to my watch so I know when an order was placed to the kitchen, and how long guests have been waiting. I also use it to keep track of the times between courses. I feel lost without my watch. On days when I forget to wear it, you might catch me glancing at my bare wrist constantly.
SLOW LIVING I like to take it free and easy, when I am not working. However, I also teach yoga as a hobby and, again, time is essential – be it the few seconds to hold a pose or the perfect timing of a full class. I also really dislike being late, so keeping time remains an important part of my life even when I am off duty.
H. MOSER ENDEAVOUR CONCEPT COSMIC GREEN IN PALLADIUM
He orchestrates cocktail parties for some of the biggest luxury brands in the market, sells beautifully packaged convenience spice pastes to millennials and society ladies alike, and is now designing the food programme for the Straits Clan. Considering the many sexy offerings coming from the hands of food entrepreneur Jeremy Nguee, it is not that surprising that his are pretty well-dressed wrists, too. But his love for a beautiful timepiece goes beyond his sensibilities as a dandy dresser. “Time is a universal concept, while time-keeping is a man-made construct… What watchmakers do is, in this respect, similar to what chefs do. We both work to create physical manifestations of an abstract ideal.”
“I APPRECIATE CRAFTSMANSHIP AND LIKE WATCHES THAT TELL A STORY; PIECES WITH LOTS OF SPECIAL FEATURES TO BE DISCOVERED.”
WHAT MAKES ME TICK
BEYOND BRANDING I tend to seek out obscure watches, and I love pieces from manufactures that try to do new things. The H. Moser is daring, because the maker is confident that the level of craftsmanship is so distinctively high that he doesn’t even need to put his name on it to be recognisable. As somebody who creates things by hand and strives to leave his mark in every dish, this resonates with me.
A TIMELESS GIFT The Rolex Datejust Precision 6466 from my dad when I went to university, when I was 23, ignited my love for watches. It is not just an heirloom piece, but represents how good work can transcend time and space. The watchmaker made something that a young adult enjoyed four decades later – it is a reminder that you never know where your efforts will take you, or who will be touched and inspired by what you do.
SMART CHOICE I love “tool watches” – stainless steel pieces that can take a daily beating. I wear the Rolex Milgauss often for work, though, these days, I wear a Samsung Gear S3 smartwatch for very practical reasons. A smartwatch allows me to pick up a call, even when I’m up to my elbows in lobster head juice.
AN EYE FOR QUALITY When I bought a Montblanc Nicolas Rieussec several years ago, my friends mocked me. But I felt it was worth it, for the amount of work that had gone into the watch – it has an in-house monopusher chronograph movement and a high level of finishing, as well as a lot of cool components such as a vertical clutch, an AM/ PM indicator and date aperture, and a hidden GMT hand. Two or three years later (after it had received a good deal of critical praise), those guys came around.
TWO TIMES THE FUN I convinced my wife to let me buy the Louis Vuitton Escale Time Zone 39 in steel – which was sold exclusively at the brand’s Place Vendome global flagship – because the strap is in her favourite colour, green. After this purchase about two years back, we realised that we should start exploring this hobby together. We now usually buy watches that we can both wear
AUDEMARS PIGUET ROYAL OAK OFFSHORE SELFWINDING CHRONOGRAPH 44MM IN ROSE GOLD
On the surface, he appears to be your Singlish-speaking Hokkien boy next door, with a taste for his mum’s dark soya-sauce chicken and late-night hor fun at Geylang zichar restaurant JB Ah Meng. But Jason Tan is also the chef behind the delicate, modernist cuisine that has earned Corner House a Michelin star for two consecutive years. The head chef and co-owner of the acclaimed restaurant does not just have a fi ne taste for food and wine; he also has a taste for fine timepieces, and would source a special watch with the same zeal with which he seeks out rare ingredients.
“MY CUISINE IS AL WAYS CHANGING – AS IS MY TASTE FOR WATCHES. IT REFLECTS MY PERSONALITY.”
WHAT MAKES ME TICK
TIME TO CELEBRATE The AP Royal Oak Offshore Selfwinding Chronograph 44mm Rose Gold, launched around 2008, has been my dream watch for a long time. The hue of the rose gold is different from that of the carbon or forged carbon pieces that I usually wear. In terms of size, this also appeals to me, because AP Royal Oak Offshores are usually 42mm. I had a few of those, which I have sold over the years, but this is a very expensive piece that needs a special occasion to warrant its purchase, and I finally bought it for myself when we opened Corner House in 2014. It was also a gift to myself for my 32nd birthday, and marks a new chapter in my life and career.
BIG BOYS’ TOY While I wear the 44mm only on days off and special occasions, my daily watch is the AP Royal Oak Offshore Arnold Schwarzenegger The Legacy, which is 48mm. AP didn’t make many big watches until these recent 10 years, and its watches were either 30, 40 or 42mm. I believe there are only two 48mm pieces – one made for Arnold Schwarzenegger and the other for Shaquille O’Neal. They are hard to find but I got hold of the one for Arnie about two years ago.
FORM AND FUNCTION I am usually drawn to watches by their design, and really love the geometry of the Royal Oak Offshore’s bezel design with its rivets. However, I only collect automatic watches. I have about eight watches now, including three AP pieces and a Rolex Deepsea.
WORK ON. WATCH OFF Time keeping is very important in my kitchen: Every component of the dish has to be precise, with exact timing. However, my watches are too precious to wear in the kitchen. I easily wear the Arnie watch two or three times a week to work, but take it off when I reach the restaurant.
DREAM BIG On my wishlist now: a Richard Mille RM 11.