I think a lot about restaurant reservations these days. But only because it’s so hard to secure a coveted seat at a restaurant for four friends for lunch—or dinner for that matter. My Facebook feed is filled with opposing views: on the one hand, there are the penny pinchers who worry about their next paycheck, and on the other, a select group of diners who are eagerly waiting to splurge locally, especially now that funds allocated for travel have all but been rendered pointless.
So, when news reached my ears that the gilded doors of Jaan are reopening and once again welcoming patrons, my interest and curiosity was duly piqued. In such a challenging economy, are there patrons willing to shell out top dollars for one of the country’s finest dining experiences? Was Jaan motivated by an unending barrage of polite requests by loyal customers craving for a slice of top-notch service?
And most importantly, what role does fine dining play in a COVID-19 F&B universe where establishments shutter faster than you can say ‘vaccine’? Fortunately, I was given the rare opportunity to speak to the man himself, Executive Chef of Jaan, Kirk Westaway, and have all these burning questions duly answered.
Jaan had to be temporarily closed for five months, and the road to reopening was not without challenges. Thankfully, there has not been pay cuts or any layoffs in our team.
How do you describe what you do to someone you’re meeting for the first time?
I am the Executive Chef of Jaan Restaurant in Swissôtel The Stamford Singapore, home to one of the most iconic views over the country. My style of food is modern British. I’m hoping to put my mark on British cuisine with a reinvention of British classics through new, innovative, and refined interpretation so that more people come to experience and appreciate what it can and should be moving forward.
What excites you the most about being in the food industry?
That every single day is different with challenges and changes to keep you on your toes, that in itself is exciting and motivating! Whether it’s the ingredients, staff, the guests, the operations, or the location, there are always things that can be tweaked and improved. Naturally, there are high points and low points, and it can be a rollercoaster of a ride each and every day, but the spirit to have is to embrace it all.
Something else that really gets me going is my team—they are very passionate and hardworking. I believe we strive for each other as we stand shoulder to shoulder for 16 hours a day, every single day, trying to perform and create the best of the best for our guests. It’s a joy to receive the acknowledgement and appreciation from everyone who comes through our doors.
One of the high points of being in this industry is working with the ingredients I have the luxury of access to in Singapore, especially for a restaurant like Jaan that focus on produce and seasonality. I never had the opportunity to experiment with the ingredients of this quality when I was younger, and to have access to the best seasonal options from around the world right here in this restaurant, is truly a dream come true.
What is the most underrated ingredient a chef should have in their arsenal, and why is this ingredient often overlooked?
I really enjoy experimenting with Garum, a little-known fermented fish condiment. It develops seasoning on a different level and intensifies whatever ingredient you put it on, whether it be vegetables, meat or fish. We make our own here in the Jaan kitchen, but it takes a few months to mature. You can also purchase high-quality batches from Iceland.
How has the role of fine dining changed in the time of a pandemic?
The changes have impacted not just fine dining, but casual dining and hawker centres as well as all types of food service, which have all been hit by hardship during the pandemic.
Jaan had to be temporarily closed for five months, and the road to reopening was not without challenges. Thankfully, there has not been pay cuts or any layoffs in our team. We had the opportunity to utilise them in other areas of the hotel, so we were very lucky in that way.
That said, the team cannot be happier to be reunited with the reopening of Jaan—we quickly put together the menu and hit the ground running. It was a challenge, but I’m very happy to see that it has been a successful endeavour. During the lockdown, I also created a casual pop-up, A Casual British Summer, in Anti:dote. Based upon a British gastropub concept, it serves casual food that holds the same philosophies and recipes of what we use in Jaan, but in a simpler and more accessible style.
What is the biggest lesson the F&B industry should take away from the impact of COVID-19?
The biggest lesson we can take away is to value and respect your staff as they’re the people that make the machine work all day and every day. They are essential in holding up your operations, and ultimately are the ones putting in the time and hard work, so we need to look after them and appreciate each of them accordingly.
I always keep in mind that it’s not necessarily their dream to open this restaurant and receive the awards and accolades. It is my dream, and they’re putting in their heart and soul to help me achieve it.
When you look at the dining scene in Singapore today, what is the one thing that gives you hope?
One thing that gives me hope in the dining scene of Singapore is the locals and their ardent levels of support. Obviously, many people have realised that they are not travelling. So the only thing to do instead is to support the restaurants, the community, and local businesses. The restaurant industry as a whole has been busy and buzzing since many resumed operations. It’s encouraging to see that the locals are as passionate as ever in their habits of dining out and enjoying the experience, and it’s no doubt helping the industry tremendously.
Balancing the New Normal: