Octaphilosophy: A day with Andre Chiang

One afternoon in March I received a phone call from a dear friend. “Are your standing?”, she said. “It might be a better to sit down for the news I am about to bring you.” Completely unaware of what she was about to tell me, I sat down and listened. “You won a cooking workshop with  Maste chef André Chiang!!!” In full astonishment I replied that I have no recollection of entering any such contest. “Correct!”, she shrieked, “I did it for you”.

On March 11th at 08:00 I was on my way to the Amsterdam-based restaurant ‘Het Bosch’ by Ferry van Houten, for what was one of the most unusual gastronomy encounters I have ever experienced, meeting and cooking with a Master chef in person!

My passion for cultural food experiences has led me to start this blog, sharing my own culinary discoveries. My first culinary memories date back to my childhood in Curaçao. My mother would start preparing the warm lunch in the morning and I often watched her make the most mouth-watering food, that brings me great memories. While cooking we would chat and mostly I would ask here about today’s ingredients and why she did what in the pan at what time. As her own little sous-chef, stirring in the pan while she reminded me to stir gently to not break up or mash-up the ingredients because that would ruin the flavor.

When I met André Chiang for the first time he immediately struck me as an intriguing person; I was even more amazed when I heard him speak flawless French to co-host of the event and TV-personality Alain Carron. During the first part of the workshop we watched a video from André’s restaurant after which he took the time to personally elaborate on his vision of what I would later call culinary magic! I was truly able to catch a glimpse of the artist, the chef, and the  person Andre Chiang. He describes his work as an ode to art and dedication to craftsmanship. His passion for food came naturally, born in Taiwan where his mother had a restaurant. At the age of 13 he was sent to France to learn all the intricacies of the great Cuisine Francais. Through the years he developed a unique and original philosophy: Octaphilosophy. No Wikipedia search will give you the explanation of this interesting word, but when extending my search the following definition was found, on Andre’s website…

Octa.phi.los.o.phy [ok-ta-fi-los-uh-fee]
–noun Gastronomic

The hypothesis of eight characteristics that attempt to discover through cuisine; the nature and significance of ordinary and scientific beliefs while investigating the simplicity of concepts by means of rational argument concerning their presumptions, implications, and interrelationships. The pure and unique hues of nature’s gifts from the land together with scientific research are juxtaposed alongside with the intuitions of the South, where primal aromas and texture evoke the endless trail of memories.

The simple thought that he has managed to so eloquently formulate his vision, gives me goose bumps. Octaphilosophy, André’s gastronomical vision, is based on the corner stones: Unique, Pure, Texture, Memory, Salt, South, Artisan and Terroir. At first I wasn’t sure what the combination of these elements meant to food. And then he starts to explain that every dish is more emotional to him than technical, he aims to give his dishes a story a message to us who eagerly take place at a table in his restaurant. In the process of making the dish the story behind the creation of the dish is as important. He values ideas and suggestions from his suppliers on how produce is best savored, dedicating the dish to the artisan. He also likes to fool you, by changing the flavor of the dish or make combinations that will make your taste buds tremble, such as tomato infused with strawberry. In his work, a health conscious vision also plays an important role, connecting back to the memory of the dish, making you remember the real flavor of the ingredients by using as little seasoning as possible. In the process of doing so,  your memory awakens, making you remember flavors that connect to the past, last summer in Paris, winter in Istanbul,  all about different stories of yours, about different parts of each of us. While he speaks, I hold my breath and at the same time, think of 1 million questions I must ask him. If I would be able to add 2 components to Andre’s Octaphilosophy adding to his personality I would add Nostalgia, Humility, Creative.  Where the word creative not nearly describes how unique and well-thought the Andre Chiang philosophy is…

André has expressed its curiosity for the Dutch and our land and sea produce. During the workshop he demonstrated two dishes: Terroir, made with Dutch Herring and Texture, reverse squid risotto.

Andre Chiang Dutch Herring with 'Korenwijn' graniteAndré choose to make this Terroir dish, because when he first got acquainted with the Netherlands, Ferry van Houten sent him a can of Dutch herring. Herring is, in my opinion one of the most special Dutch culinary traditions. Herring has been eaten since the early 14th century and is until today often eaten in one piece, accompanied with a pickle and a glass of ‘Korenwijn’, which is a Dutch gin. In this Terroir dish André captures the tradition of the herring and prepares it in its most purest form, however adjusting the texture. The herring filet is glazed with a Kappa vinegar, its nice fatty texture is what makes it so tasty, curing it would change the texture of the fish and therefore changing the fish. The herring is dipped in Kappa vinegar,  which is made with champagne vinegar and shallots. Kappa is a gelling agent made from algae and is an excellent ingredient for making aspic-like dishes since it jellyfies at a higher temperature. The dish is completed with ‘Korenwijn’ granite and decorated with river water plants, seaweed adding to the natural mineral flavors and pickled chrysanthemum flowers.

I have seen Swiss master chef Dennis Martin, use the same technique to reverse a dish while maintaining its original taste. In the Reverse Squid Risotto the dish that André prepared next, he basically used the squid as the risotto, adding some purée of cauliflower to add flavor and make the creamy texture. Sounds easy, so where do we find the arborio rice? And this is where you may think that your mind is playing tricks on you! The arborio rice is cooked, blackened with charcoal and pureed. The puree is then dried, made into crisps and fried. Voila Reverse Squid Risotto! Even though this dish seems so much easier than the previous dish, don’t be fooled by the complexity of heating and mixing, and the careful seasoning to maintain its original flavor and subtlety. The amazing thing is that the squid indeed tastes as ‘al dente’ as normal risotto would, and the cauliflower purée serves excellent adding to the rich creamy texture.

Now I can grasp a little what André Chiang has accomplished: Restaurant worth a plane ride, while he is famed as one of the Best Young Chef’s in the world, and simply Best of the Best!

At the end of the workshop he signed my recipe booklet with the words: “Enjoy life, moments and passion for food”, and I added André Chiang to my list of 1000 places to visit before I die. Selamat makan!

André Chiang | 41 Bukit Pasoh Road, Singapore 089855 | Reservations +65 6534 8880 | reserve@restaurantandre.com | http://www.restaurantandre.com

Opening Hours
Lunch: Tuesday – Friday / $128++
Dinner: Tuesday – Sunday / $288++
Closed on Mondays and Public Holidays


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