On October 11, Singapore foodies woke up to one of the darkest culinary announcements the vibrant dining city has witnessed in recent times.
Andre Chiang, chef-patron of Restaurant Andre, Singapore’s highest ranked restaurant on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 list at number two – second only to Gaggan (Bangkok) – is returning his restaurant’s two stars to the Michelin Guide.
“I wish to kindly return my Michelin stars and also request not to be included in the 2018 edition of the Michelin Guide,” says Chiang in a letter to the press, in which he announced his decision to “prioritize” his “professional life”.
Chiang sent this email at 3:44 a.m., just hours after he celebrated his restaurant’s seventh anniversary.
As if that alone was not enough, the feted chef also announced that February 14, 2018, would be the last day of service at Restaurant Andre.
Chiang’s surprise move sent shockwaves through the world of gastronomy.
Culinary world shocked
“When Andre told me about his intentions, I was in shock,” says Massimo Bottura, chef-owner of Osteria Francescana (number two on World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017).
“In his house, I had one of the best meals in recent years, it is a sad day for the gastronomic world but we love him and support him.”
Over in Bangkok, Gaggan Anand of Gaggan (No. 1 on Asia’s 50 Best 2017) expressed disappointment.
“Honestly, I want him to stay, it’s a big loss to the culinary scene in Singapore,” he says.
Chiang, famed for creating the eight-spoked Octaphilosophy-guided menu at Restaurant Andre, trained in France with chefs like Pierre Gagnaire and Joel Robuchon.
“I’m a perfectionist and for the past 30 years of my career, I’ve been looking for that unrealistic moment of perfection; three Michelin stars, World’s 50 Best Restaurants,” says Chiang, whose restaurant at Bukit Pasoh garnered two stars in Michelin’s inaugural Singapore edition last year and again this year.
“Until now, I realized at this moment that it is as perfect as it is now,” says the 41-year-old Taiwan native.
Chiang says everything – from his team and the starched table linens to the height of the candle glow at every table – is as immaculate as he has hoped for.
Beneath this picture of perfection, however, the industry has been abuzz with chatter about Chiang’s disappointment at not clinching the third Michelin star that he’s been widely tipped to earn this year.
But the chef disputes it.
“My decision to close Restaurant Andre is not related to any awards,” says Chiang, who owns one of the most extensive collections of the Michelin Guide France (from 1960 to the most recent edition) in Singapore.
“I do not have to prove anything to anyone.”
“Exploring my Taiwanese roots”
In his letter to media announcing his decision to close, Chiang says he will focus on education, developing others and cooking at his RAW (Taipei) restaurant after his retirement from Restaurant Andre.
He also respectfully requested that RAW not be included in Michelin’s future guide for Taipei.
“It is my duty to pass on everything I have to the next generation in Taiwan and China,” he says in the address. “It is an urgent priority for me to provide young chefs with a better education and culinary culture.”
When prodded about how he could contribute to the next generation of chefs in China and Taiwan, Chiang was tight-lipped about an upcoming project.
“In recent years, I have been spending a lot of time on restaurant management,” says a distinctly relaxed and happier Chiang during our meeting at his shop house 12 hours after his announcement.
His business portfolio now includes ownership interests in restaurants including Burnt Ends and Bincho in Singapore, Raw in Taipei and Porte 12 in Paris.
“When Restaurant Andre closes, I want to spend more time exploring my Taiwanese roots and understanding Taiwanese produce,” he says. “The 16 to 18 hours a day I put in at Restaurant Andre restricts the time available for these.”
“There are also many things I want to do apart from cooking,” adds the chef, who has been dabbling in visual arts.
Unbeknownst to most people, Chiang is also a sculptor and a potter and he has been quietly working on launching a range of copper, wood and ceramic objects designed for chefs with applications ranging from decoration to vessels.
Having spent most of his working life in France and Singapore, Chiang is also looking forward to spending more time with his aging parents, who are based in Taipei.
Fears that Chiang is making a clean break from his adopted hometown of Singapore are unfounded, given he’s a permanent resident and will retain his business interests and apartment in the Lion City.
“The current three-story shop house Restaurant Andre occupies will be redeveloped and rebranded into a more relaxed F&B concept,” Chiang tells CNN, emphasizing that while he would be a stakeholder in the new eatery, it would not be branded after him.
“Although Restaurant Andre’s legacy will soon become a fond memory to the world’s gourmets, I have no regrets,” says Chiang with a warm smile as he sends us off at his wood-decked entrance.
Evelyn Chen is a food and travel writer and the regional academy chair for World’s 50 Best Restaurants and Asia’s 50 Best. In between dinners and writing assignments, the former Zagat editor blogs about food at bibikgourmand.