A Millennial Has Conquered Asia's Dining Scene
One of the leading chefs in Southeast Asia is a millennial Briton who started by washing dishes in a pub during summers off as a schoolboy in the west of England.
Kirk Westaway, 30, is the latest chef de cuisine at Jaan, the French restaurant in Singapore that ranks No. 29 in Asia's 50 Best Restaurants awards 2016. He also beat culinary rivals to represent Southeast Asia in the S. Pellegrino Young Chef finals in Milan last year.
So how does a cook from the seaside town of Exmouth make it to the top in Asia? For someone who has achieved success so early, his career path has been circuitous, to say the least, with years in Australia and Latin America.
"My mother is a good cook and I always helped her in the kitchen as a boy," Westaway says. "She's a vegetarian and used to create dishes with vegetables from the family garden. I was vegetarian, too, until I was old enough to make a choice: Then, the dinner ladies at school used to slip me a few sausages."
Westaway went on to Exeter Catering College from 2001 to 2004, taking time to spend three months at Le Manoir de Lan Kerellec, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Brittany, where each morning he would take buckets to the beach to collect seaweed and water in which to cook lobsters and langoustines.
That experience in France was just the start of travels that saw him work in restaurants around the world, including Tutto Benne during a year in Melbourne and - during a year in South America - a stage at D.O.M. in Sao Paulo, which ranks No. 9 in the World's 50 Best Restaurants.
He also spent about four years in London, including some 18 months at the Greenhouse, a two-Michelin-star restaurant in Mayfair. Julien Royer, the sous chef there, went on to head the kitchen at Jaan, and invited Westaway to join him. Westaway took over last year when Royer left to open his own restaurant.
So how is it working in Singapore?
"It's an amazing place and the food scene is growing every day," Westaway says. "You can come to my place and spend hundreds of dollars on food or you can eat fantastic chicken rice for almost nothing. I love Asian food but I don't cook it at Jaan: People don't come to a French restaurant for that."
The dish that makes him proudest is one of his own creations: Heirloom Tomato "Burrata Artigiana." It's on the seven-course Menu Prestige, which costs S$238 (U.S.$177). It's a vine tomato hollowed out and then stuffed with a semi-dried ox-heart tomato, with cornichons, smoked olive oil, capers and parmesan. "Everyone who tastes it, loves it," he says.
If your budget doesn't extend to S$238, or even to the five-course Jardin Gourmand menu at S$168, where does Westaway recommend you try?
For visitors wanting to enjoy local cuisine, he recommends No SignBoard Seafood, in Geylang, for chilli crab. "It burns you all over. It burns your hands, burns your lips, burns your belly. The taste is amazing and it's addictive."
Some afternoons, after lunch service, he goes with his kitchen team to Sin Swee Kee, on Seah Street, for chicken and rice. He's also a fan of Red House, on Robertson Quay, for seafood; and Lorong 9 Beef Kway Teow for beef noodles.
Jaan, Level 70, Equinox Complex, Swissôtel The Stamford, 2 Stamford Road, Singapore 178882; +65-6837-3322 or jaan.com.sg
Article by Richard Vines, chief food critic for Bloomberg