SINGAPORE - The Singaporean head chef of award-winning restaurant Iggy's has left to take on a job overseas and is succeeded by a Japanese chef.
Chef Akmal Anuar, 32, who started at the 10-year-old modern European restaurant in 2006, was Iggy's head chef for about two years. He left last month and will be moving to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates later this month to collaborate on a new restaurant.
Taking over as head chef is Masahiro Isono, 34, who joined Iggy's in 2012. Prior to that, he had worked for seven years with chef-owner Yasuhiro Sasajima at Japanese-influenced Italian restaurant Il Ghiottone in Kyoto, known as one of the city's most prized restaurants.
Iggy's co-owner Ignatius Chan, 50, says: "We wish Akmal every success. We see his move as a positive one for him.
"We have always had a succession plan in place. Isono, who is a very talented and creative chef, has been with us since 2012 and has become accustomed to the culture here."
Isono was appointed head chef on Dec 23 and is also in charge of the ordering and purchasing of Japanese ingredients, liaising directly with suppliers from Tokyo's Tsukiji Market to fly in produce twice a week.
Akmal joined Iggy's as a chef de partie and rose through the ranks to become a junior sous chef and later, an acting head chef.
He had worked at French restaurants Les Amis and Saint Pierre, and at the Pacific Casino Hotel in the Solomon Islands.
The Institute of Technical Education graduate, who has a diploma in culinary skills from hospitality school Shatec, will be collaborating with Mexican-born chef-restaurateur Richard Sandoval to open Zengo, an Asian-meets-Latin American restaurant. It will be located at Le Royal Meridien hotel in Dubai.
The 350-seat, dinner-only restaurant, which will also feature a dining counter and a cigar bar, opens in April. It will also offer grilled items and sharing plates, among other things.
Sandoval, known for elevating the level of Latin American cuisine, has more than 30 restaurants to his name. These include La Bilioteca, Maya and Toro Toro in cities such as New York, Denver, Miami and Dubai.
He also participated in the fifth season of Top Chef Masters, a reality television show where renowned chefs compete against one another.
Akmal met Sandoval in Singapore last September through a mutual chef friend.
He says: "We just clicked. We shared similar ideas on food even though we are from different cultural backgrounds."
His decision to leave Iggy's last year was "a matter of opportunity", he says.
Sandoval had given him an opportunity to collaborate on the opening of a new-concept restaurant.
Akmal says: "It is a chance for me to see new things, work with new people and work in a new environment. It will be a much bigger restaurant and it will be a new challenge for me."
The most number of covers he has done is about 80. Iggy's usually does about 30 to 40 covers a night, he says.
He admits that at first, he was daunted by the thought of having to run a new restaurant which seats 350 people. But he has done research and is inspired by Sandoval, who runs many large and successful restaurants.
As the restaurant is open only for dinner, he hopes to have a little more time to spend with his family. His wife, Inez, 27, who is pregnant with their second child, and their four-year-old daughter will move to Dubai with him.
He says: "In Singapore, I leave in the morning while my wife and child are still asleep and after work, when I get home, they would also be asleep."
He started helping out at his parents' nasi padang and Malay food stall Harummanis in Teck Whye Lane when he was a child, forgoing football games with his friends to help prepare the ingredients. But as he grew up, he developed a liking for the kitchen.
The eldest of four children, he decided to go into the culinary trade, a passion ignited by his parents.
He says: "This new restaurant in Dubai will be my own platform to develop a new concept. And if it becomes a success, I would be very happy."
He adds that he is thankful for the many opportunities he has had while working at Iggy's, which include attending congresses and food events such as the San Sebastian Gastronomika and Aspen Food & Wine Classic.
Although he is moving to Dubai, he is still very much a Singapore boy at heart.
"I'm Singaporean and I would definitely want to do something here one day. But when? I don't know."
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