Sam Aisbett is one of a stable of celebrated overseas-based Australian chefs who are determined to make a mark in Singapore.
The one-star Michelin chef has made two bold decisions in Singapore. He picked the Lion City to be home for his first restaurant business, Whitegrass. He then took a step backward to depart the role in 2018 in order to take a big jump forward and take on more challenges.
Advance last caught up with Sam in 2018. With change comes opportunity, so we got in touch to chat about his culinary journey, latest moves and experience in Singapore.
Interview by Tammy Lee, Marketing & Communications & Digital Manager, Advance.
How long have you been in Singapore?
I have been living in Singapore now for a little over four years.
Was Singapore your first choice? What made you pick Singapore over other Asian cities?
I was tossing up between Singapore and Hong Kong. Ultimately I chose Singapore because I love the mix of cultures in the city that bring such diversity to the food scene.
Whitegrass was a favourite with Aussies in Singapore. How do you see that experience translating to your next project?
Whitegrass was my first entry into owning my own restaurant. It gave me a great foundation to create and introduce people to my food while also offering a unique dining experience within the luxe design of the restaurant. Whitegrass will always be special to me. Having said that I like to constantly challenge myself and push boundaries and while my style of food may carry to a new project, the concept and philosophy will be very different from what I created at Whitegrass.
What have you been up to since leaving Whitegrass?
Since I moved on from Whitegrass, I have taken some time away from the kitchen to spend with family, travel and get inspiration. I look forward to getting back into the kitchen soon on a new project.
What’s the most challenging dish have you made?
One dish that comes to mind is a dessert I created using a whole confit Japanese Mikan orange. This dish was technically challenging because it had so many elements that had to be absolutely perfect. It was time consuming as it took 18 days to confit the orange before even starting the process. Much went into this dish to get it on the plate. It also challenged me creativity to get the balance right of sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
Plant-based meat is a huge international trend in the food and ingredients world right now. What are your thoughts on the trend of plant based meat?
To be honest I don’t really know too much about it, I have seen it and tried it. I respect why it has been created, but I don’t really have much of an opinion on it. Would I serve it in my restaurant? No.
Besides being a one-star Michelin chef, what’s the most rewarding moment in your career?
It’s not a particular moment, but to me what is rewarding is having people come into my restaurant and have an amazing experience and enjoy what I’ve cooked and return to the restaurant again and again. As a young chef opening my own restaurant where I am in complete creative control, it can be very daunting and scary, what if no one likes what I’m doing? So seeing and talking to guests that are enjoying their experience is rewarding enough for me.
How do you keep up with cooking trends?
I try not to keep up with cooking trends. A big part of why my restaurant was successful was because we didn’t follow trends. We tried to be very creative and innovative and do something completely different to every other restaurant.
What’s the most difficult part of working in a fine dining restaurant?
The most difficult part is most probably keeping the standard. A fine dining restaurant, particularly one that has started to win accolades, you have a lot of pressure on you to ensure that the standards never drop and you are consistently ahead of the game.
Have you always wanted to cook?
I was always surrounded by food. My dad was a butcher and my mum is an unbelievable cook. I think growing up in that environment, the love for food just came naturally and it made sense for me to follow this passion into a career.
What’s the most unexpected thing that has happened to you in Singapore?
Getting a Michelin star and making it on to Asia’s 50 best restaurant list were both completely unexpected. It was never the plan to open a restaurant and win all these awards, but it was great to get the recognition for the hard work everyone put into the restaurant.
Your thoughts on the most and least interesting parts about living in the Lion City?
Least interesting definitely the weather, merely because it basically never changes and is the same temperature all year round. Most interesting would be the great diversity of cultures in the city. It makes for a very interesting and inspirational place when it comes to food.
Where do you eat in Singapore?
I eat everywhere. The best thing about Singapore is the options when it comes to dining. From $1 noodles to a fine dining experience, the choices are endless. One of my absolute favourites is visiting Tekka Market located in Little India and having Roti Prata from Prata Saga Sambal Berlada. He makes his roti dough from scratch and it’s always crispy and delicious. I’m there at least once a week.
What’s your go-to food?
Something I can eat everyday is fruit, any fruit. Singapore has great little fruit stalls; I often grab something before or after work.
You worked in Europe before moving to Singapore, what’s your favourite city there and why?
I lived in London for two years many years back, and to this day it’s my absolute favourite. When I visit I just feel at home and like I’ve never left.
What do you miss most about Australia?
One of the big things I miss about Australia is the freshly grown produce and speaking direct to the farmers. Unfortunately Singapore doesn’t have much of an agriculture industry so most produce has to be imported.