Words to live by

Singapore top chef Andre Chiang produces first English-language cookbook to inspire other artists.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Singapore top chef Andre Chiang produces first English-language cookbook to inspire other artists.

Text Christopher Tan Photographer Winston Chuang
Text Christopher Tan Photographer Winston Chuang

In April, chef Andre Chiang celebrated his 40th birthday with the publication of his first English-language cookbook, Octaphilosophy: The Eight Elements of Restaurant Andre (Phaidon), which also marks Chiang’s 25 years in the industry, and five years of his eponymous Singapore restaurant. The lavishly bound tome is named and organised after the aspects of his creative rubric and culinary world view: Artisan, Memory, Pure, Salt, South, Terroir, Texture and Unique.

Chiang intends it to inspire artists of all stripes. “Ninety per cent of the creative process is the same, whatever medium you work in,” he says and, in echo, the book’s Taiwan launch was heralded by a special exhibition of Octaphilosophy-inspired works by eight artists from fields such as pottery, perfumery, floristry and graphic design. Here is our take on Chiang’s magnum opus.

Octaphilosophy records 365 days in the creative life of Restaurant Andre, documenting every dish served to diners there in 2015.

The text breathes with Chiang’s meditations on food and life, and a touching foreword was penned by Chiang’s mother, a chef herself. “She not only taught me basic cooking techniques, but she also trained my palate,” he relates. “Her teaching method was uncomplicated: Learn one thing at a time, impeccably, or leave the kitchen.” In true Chinese maternal fashion, Mama Chiang also thanks her daughter-in- law, her other children and her son’s brigade and friends for supporting Chiang, and reminds him to stay humble and look after his health.

Noted lensman Edmond Ho took 650 photographs during the year-long shoot, which were painstakingly winnowed to 200 for the final book. His images of raw ingredients, recipe steps and finished compositions are sleekly aligned with Chiang’s serene but sensuous aesthetic, a visual luxuriation in textures and colours.

Six-footer Chiang crafts dishes of diminutive delicacy – for example, his Oyster, Baby Mushroom, Green Apple creation is garnished with caviar eggs and golden enoki. His Faberge-like miniaturisation is most humorously referenced by photos of a tiny “sandwich” dwarfed by the chef’s hands cradling it.

Unexpectedly for a fine-dining monograph, several recipes could be essayed in a home kitchen, requiring nothing fancier than focused attention: earl grey tea jellies, for example, and sliced papaya dried in the sun and dressed with hazelnut oil.

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