Top Singaporean chefs, where are you?

Top Singaporean chefs, where are you?

There has never been a better time to be a chef in Singapore.

The restaurant scene is booming, with figures from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority showing that about 52 restaurants opened each month last year, on average.

With tighter rules on hiring foreign workers, Singaporean chefs, especially competent ones, are practically worth their weight in gold.

Culinary school options for students wanting to pursue careers in the food and beverage industry have also widened.

Aside from Shatec, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, students can now enrol in culinary programmes offered by polytechnics, and by the Institute of Technical Education, which has a tie-up with prestigious French culinary school Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon.

For those wanting more than diplomas, the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) collaborates with the renowned Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to offer a bachelor of professional studies degree in culinary arts management.

They can also enrol in At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy, which offers diploma qualifications and degree programmes through tie-ups with Johnson & Wales University in the United States, University of West London in the United Kingdom and William Angliss Institute in Australia.

The perception that only no-hopers end up in the food and beverage industry is changing too, with the phenomenal success, and media and business savvy of international chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Heston Blumenthal from the UK, Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz from the US, and Rene Redzepi, whose restaurant Noma in Copenhagen recently topped British trade publication Restaurant magazine's annual list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants.

Yet, aside from Justin Quek (right), who headed the kitchen at Les Amis when it opened 20 years ago and then found success in Shanghai and Taipei, and lawyer- turned-chef Willin Low, whose restaurant Wild Rocket has attracted international attention after being written about in publications such as The New York Times, it is hard to name a Singaporean chef who is in the big league.

Michael Han was touted as the most exciting Singapore chef since Quek, when he opened his Armenian Street restaurant FiftyThree in 2009 with the Les Amis group. Trained in law, he switched to a culinary career and worked in restaurants such as The Fat Duck in the UK, Mugaritz in Spain and Noma.

His spare, elegant restaurant, serving food inspired by the places he had worked in, was the hottest reservation for a time but closed in 2012. Plans to re-open on Tras Street have come to nought. Attempts to contact him have also failed.

Last week, when the World's 50 Best Restaurants list was unveiled, two Singapore restaurants made it to the top 50 - Restaurant Andre, headed by Taiwan-born, Singapore permanent resident Andre Chiang, and Waku Ghin by Japan-born, Australia-based chef Tetsuya Wakuda.

Three other Singapore restaurants are in the 51 to 100 list: Iggy's, Les Amis and Jaan. None of their kitchens is headed by Singaporean chefs.

There is no question that Singapore's dining scene is more vibrant with the influx of foreign chefs, who bring with them new techniques and flavours, and provide training for those wanting to get into the industry.

However, in a city obsessed with food, what is holding home-grown chefs back from aiming high?

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