Chef Jean-Georges on his love for Singapore and his best dishes from The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar
Unless you've been living under a rock, you would surely have seen or heard about the buzz and adoration surrounding the casual fine-dining restaurant up on the hills of Dempsey — aptly situated right next to the spiffy Dover Street Market, The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar is the hottest place to secure your seats.
Why so? Mainly because it is one of the 30 eateries around the world, opened by 3-Michelin-starred Chef Jean-Georges. The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar is the first Jean-Georges establishment in Singapore. Assuming what used to be the cookhouse for the British military's barracks on Dempsey Hill (which explains the eponymous name), The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar is a stunning sight to behold — think high ceilings, white filigree wicker chairs, and an eclectic mix of huge lanterns and glittering crystal lights. The menu? Chef Jean-Georges calls the table fare "the best of" — comprising of signatures from his other restaurants, namely ABC Kitchen and the esteemed Jean-Georges in New York; as well as a mix of the best foods from Singapore.
Now having turned 60, and with a slew of critically-acclaimed restaurants under his belt, Chef Jean-Georges still thinks he is just getting started. We sat down with him to find out about his journey as a chef and restauranteur and what he loves most about Singapore.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
On my 16th birthday. My parents took me to a restaurant and I ended up getting a job as an apprentice — scrubbing parts and peeling vegetables. The beginning for me was really about leaving home. Since I liked food, and I could get my own independence, I took the opportunity to work for the restaurant and fell in love with it. There are many components to being a chef, and that really suited my personality. From buying the food, coming up with a dish, and cooking for the people, pleasing the people — you have to be an active person as a chef. It then became my life for the last 44 years. I turn 60 this year and I started when I was 16. I'm just warming up.
What attracted you to Singapore in the first place?
I travelled to Asia for my training and worked in the Meridien Hotel here for a bit, and then came back a couple times for the food. 10 years ago, I was here for the Formula 1 and cooked at the Paddock, and we served 10,000 plates a day. Many would say, "Oh I love this, you should move to Singapore." So by popular demand, we finally did something here. There's nothing like Singapore. No matter where you go, you have the best Malay food, best Indonesian food, best Peranakan food, best Indian food and best Chinese food. It's really about the diversity that is so special.
What is the difference between establishing a restaurant in Asia compared to New York?
Singapore is a foodie town. You have to be particular about ensuring that everything is fresh and very precise, because people will tell you if the food isn't up to standard. So in a big foodie town, you have to be really good here. It's challenging to make sure that every dish is balanced properly. Service too, I think people are very keen to get good service. We have a good team here so we pay attention to that aspect.
What are your favourite Singaporean dishes?
I always have to have chicken rice, black pepper crab, and pork rib soup. Laksa is my ultimate favourite. Sometimes we also go to Chinatown to have claypot rice. There's so much flavour in everything, it's amazing.
What's your favourite dish from The Dempsey Cookhouse & Bar?
Probably the crispy sushi. It's like sushi rice but crispy, with chipotle, mayo, a little raw salmon, and ponzu on top. There's also the black truffle pizza. We also did a twist on Singapore's black pepper crab — a crab dumpling with a black pepper sauce. You don't have to get your hands dirty, you can just pick it up and eat it. Although I do like getting my hands dirty (laughs) — the other day we went to Jumbo Seafood and just went for it.
Besides Singapore, where is your favourite food destination in the world? Or one that more should know about?
I would say the region where I came from — Alsace, France. It's not as known as it should be. The food is very good, usually rich like foie gras, pickled cabbage. People go there but I wish more would.
Is there a secret to being a successful restauranteur?
You have to be demanding, but you have to be kind at the same time; hospitable and take care of people. Not just your customers but your staff as well. Without them, you're nothing.
What is the one piece of advice you give to your chefs in the kitchen or any aspiring chef?
Keep it simple. Ingredients are everything. Finding the right organic, sustainable ingredients; whether it's a beautiful avocado, carrots, shrimp, or fish. The fresher it is, the better — keep it seasonal. You also have to add your own personal touch, which is the sauce and the condiments. I always tell my chefs, imagine steak and mustard. The sauce is ten times stronger than the steak, so every sauce that you do, it has to be relevant.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
Everyday is a proud moment. But probably when I got the 3-star Michelin for Jean-Georges in New York. It's for the team more than anything else. It's a reward for the hard moments in the kitchen.
Jean-Georges in 3 words?
Delicious, intriguing, affordable.
17D Dempsey Rd
Opening hours: 12pm-1am
Reservations: Online or call 1800 304 5588