INTERVIEW: Chef Jason Tan of Restaurant Euphoria — “I believe in elevating the humblest of ingredients into something extraordinary”

Chef Jason Tan. (PHOTO: Euphoria)
Chef Jason Tan. (PHOTO: Restaurant Euphoria)

SINGAPORE — My biggest regret as a food writer is in not having tasted Chef Jason Tan’s cooking back when he was in Corner House. I could only sit in silence as I hear other food writers wax lyrical about how poetically beautiful his menu was and his brilliant coinage of Gastro-Botanico to accurately describe his culinary philosophy.

During his tenure as Executive Chef, Corner House has attained and sustained their one Michelin star award in 2016, 2017, and 2018 and earned a place in Asia’s 50 best restaurants in 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Naturally, the culinary world was set abuzz when Chef Jason left his post at Corner House to open Restaurant Euphoria, a fine-dining establishment at Tras Street that serves not only as a passion project birthed but as a house dedicated to the fine art of Gastro-Botanico Essences.

It’s an opening that has had many loyal customers clamouring for a highly coveted place in the 26-seater mise-en-scene. A few days before my dinner appointment at Restaurant Euphoria, I had the honour to speak to Chef Jason Tan about his new culinary venture and what success means to a chef who has achieved so much in such a short amount of time.

Interior (PHOTO: Restaurant Euphoria)
Interior (PHOTO: Restaurant Euphoria)

How do you describe what you do to someone you’re meeting for the first time?

I am a Singaporean chef trained in classical French cuisine.

In 2014, as chef and co-owner of Corner House, I launched my culinary philosophy of Gastro-Botanica – a cuisine based on Contemporary French techniques with global ingredients and influences - where I present a gastronomic experience of carefully sourced and prepared premium vegetables, meats and seafood; with botanical elements of vegetables, tubers, herbs, spices and fruits given prominence and special elaboration on the plate. The restaurant was awarded both the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant, as well as one-Michelin star in 2016-2020 while I was at the helm.

At the start of November, I launched my very own restaurant, Restaurant Euphoria with my partner Arissa Wang, and have introduced Gastro-Botanica 2.0—which is based on my original cuisine while elevating the role of botanicals.

Here I introduced GastroBotanica Essences—La Symphonie de Légumes; comprising meatless base sauces made from pure botanical extractions and reductions that serve the purpose of flavouring the dishes. This marks a radical departure from the foundational ‘mother sauces’ of French haute cuisine and paves the way for further innovation.

My favourite vegetable is onions, and my signature dish features Cévennes onion celebrated four ways, ‘My Favourite Vegetable’, and recently at Restaurant Euphoria, I have introduced a new dish featuring five different onions in one creation, the Oignon Jamboree. I also believe in elevating the humblest of ingredients into something extraordinary – such as presenting onions, carrots, and corn prominently on the fine dining plate.

Oignon Jamboree (PHOTO: Restaurant Euphoria)
Oignon Jamboree (PHOTO: Restaurant Euphoria)

What does success in the F&B industry mean to you, and where do you place your progress within this definition?

One of the key successes is to be able to fulfil what we set out to achieve at Restaurant Euphoria—like its namesake, to give happiness, joy and create indelible memories for our diners. Delightful and memorable meals over the years have given me immeasurable pleasure, and I hope to create a restaurant in the industry that allows me to provide that same kind of joy and happiness to my guests.

My team and I work hard towards running a busy and profitable restaurant, and to be able to be recognised for our efforts in time with industry accolades would be cherry on the cake.

What are two valuable lessons you’ve learned from your time at Corner House that you’ve brought over to Euphoria?

One of my key learnings is that many of us can cook a good meal or menu. However, it takes experience, effort and hard work to achieve consistency – not just day to day, but also evolving from one menu to another in order to please diners and entice them to return regularly. This also means to be able to manage dietary restrictions and preferences on a day to day basis.

I also value the opportunity where I am able to form my own vision and execute my own goals. With Restaurant Euphoria, my partner Arissa Wang and I have full control of the restaurant operations without external investors, which allows us to express our vision for the restaurant in full.

What is the most underrated cooking method a chef should have in their arsenal, and why is this method often overlooked?

I would have to say pan-roasting. Often, what is seemingly the most straightforward technique proves to be the hardest to achieve. When it comes to pan-roasting, it is vital to roast evenly. This requires even temperature control, as well as not over-crowding the pan so that the ingredients are roasted or browned evenly, to yield deep flavours without burning, or under roasting.

As an example, to achieve my Légumes Demi-Glace which starts with pan-roasting of vegetables such as carrots, celery, celeriac, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, each vegetable is roasted individually in a pan before further oven-roasting and continuous stirring. This tedious process ensures all vegetables are browned evenly in order to extract the right level of caramelisation. Mixing or over-crowding the vegetables will yield uneven cooking results, and make it difficult to ensure adequate control of temperature.

It is easy to rush this process when faced with time pressures or workforce shortage.

And what is the most underrated ingredient you feel chefs need to use more often?

I would say carrot. Carrot is a very flexible ingredient. Besides the obvious of juicing as a drink or as a quick healthy snack, the natural sweetness of carrots makes them essential for flavour creation, such as, as part of a puree, mirepoix, or stock.

Sweet Corn (PHOTO: Restaurant Euphoria)
Sweet Corn (PHOTO: Restaurant Euphoria)

The Singapore dining scene is often shaped largely by food trends. 2019 was all about plant-based meats, while 2020 is about mostly vegetable-forward menus. What do you predict would be the leading trend of dining in 2021, and why?

I believe that especially post-lockdowns, diners will continue to look at living and eating well seeking lighter but flavourful meals, where they can achieve a good sense of well-being.

When you look at the state of dining in Singapore today, what is the one thing that gives you hope?

Despite the challenges of 2020, we continue to see new restaurants, new initiatives or concepts in Singapore and elsewhere, as well as the enthusiasm of diners seeking exciting dining experiences.

The increased activity and competition mean that diners are more discerning, which will help to boost the overall quality of the industry. I look forward to when international travel will be allowed again, as global competition and experiences will only help drive everyone to push towards the next level of results.

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