| SINGAPORE, March 4
SINGAPORE, March 4 Modern fusion is the hallmark
of Singaporean chef Justin Quek but tradition and technique are
his unshakable foundation as he reinvents Asian favourites with
French flavours and flair.
Quek, principal chef at the tony Sky on 57 restaurant atop
the Marina Bay Sands casino resort in Singapore, fell into his
career by accident. Wanting to travel as a young man, he took a
job on a merchant ship and ended up as a steward in the galley.
His passion ignited, he went to catering school back at home
and worked in hotel kitchens in Bangkok and Singapore before
spending his life savings on a year-long stay in France to
sharpen his skills. That expertise paid off when he became the
personal chef to two French ambassadors in Singapore.
Quek, 51, has also had his hand in restaurants in China and
Taiwan, including Justin Signature and Just in Bistro & Wine Bar
Talking at breakneck speed on the panoramic terrace of Sky
on 57, Quek spoke to Reuters about fusing culinary cultures,
inspiring the next generation of chefs and finding pleasure in
food - from the sophisticated to the simple.
Q: What is it about French cooking that you love so much?
A: I just like the French art, the presentation, the
complexity of preparing the dishes. That inspires me. I've been
in this career for 30 years and have not changed my path from
French cuisine. That was my foundation.
Of course, the cuisine has changed. The old style becomes
the new style. And of course, being Singaporean and travelling
around the world, my palate tells me I'm in Asia. So I take that
foundation but I put my own creativity and our Asian culture
into the food.
That's why the food is very light. That's why I call it
Franco-Asian cuisine. Not a lot of cream and a lot of butter and
two cheeses. Nothing against cheese. I like cheese but I'll
choose one. Some of my favourite cheese is aged Beaufort. Wow!
That is a great cheese. But just one piece.
Q: In your vision of Franco-Asian cuisine, where do they
A: The difference between a Chinese chef and me is because
of my background. I use the French base and then I elevate the
flavour. In French cuisine, we are very particular about the
ingredients, good ingredients. The Chinese are very good with
the marinades, the wok flavours, the steaming, the precision.
So I take both and combine. Chinese like to use live fish
for steaming but the sauce is a soy sauce base. Some even use
MSG. But in European cuisine, we don't use enhancers. We use
roasted bone. The sauce is a balance of acidity, savouriness,
sweetness, creaminess. You go by the layers of flavors.
Technique is very important. That's why my cuisine has a
traditional base - because I like the real thing. A piece of
fish is a piece of fish. I don't like to do a jelly or a mousse
or go too molecular. That's not my style.
Q: You're a chef, a restaurant owner, a restaurant
A: No, no. I'm a passionate chef, that's all. I love good
food and lifestyle, the well-being of people, going to a
restaurant. I like to feel good ...
Every restaurant has got its own concept and price point -
first class, business class, economy class or budget. Even wine
- table wine, village, premier cru, grand cru. What I'm doing,
because of the experience I have, being that I travel around, I
see something and say "Oh, this is good".
Q: You had a cookbook ("Passion & Inspiration") come out in
A: It's about my stories in France, my training, everything
about the journey of a chef ... The food is actually real food
from the restaurant, not just for picture-taking. It's more for
families. The foundations, the basics, the sauces are all very
good. You read that, you'll find that you can be a cook.
Q: Is it time to bring that up to date?
A: I want to do another book on fusion food, French-Asian,
but I need time. I took one year to write the book. It's a lot
of detail. Hopefully, the next one I do will be a smaller book
which will inspire more people to see the different cultures.
Q: What kind of boss are you in the kitchen?
A: I will teach you. Once I teach you, if you repeatedly
make mistakes or take shortcuts - pow - I'll kill you. No
shortcuts. That's the way to do it every day. This is being a
You must understand the whole kitchen. In some kitchens,
they just buy, buy, buy everything. They don't cook. I say no. A
chef must understand how to make chicken stock ...
For the younger chefs, we teach them the foundation. We
encourage them to go in and we say "Why don't you create
something? We'll try it".
Q: What's your favourite food?
A: I like simple and good food. It can be Cantonese,
Japanese, a good steakhouse - as long as it's well prepared. It
can be a hawker centre. If it's good, I take a taxi that costs
$10 and a bowl of noodles costs me $4. It doesn't matter. It's
Q: What's next on your plate?
A: As I grow older, I appreciate the importance of spending
quality time with loved ones, so I got started on developing
quality but affordable kitchen products to help the home chef.
We are also developing JQ food products for the home.
Seared Pacific Bluefin Tuna Belly a la Nicoise
(Serves 4 as a starter)
320 grams (11 oz) fresh tuna belly, cut into eight pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 new potato, boiled
60 grams pepper compote (see below)
50 grams broccoli florets, blanched
40 grams French green beans, blanched
2 cherry tomatoes, halved
8 pitted black olives, quartered
1 hardboiled egg, peeled and quartered
4 tablespoons anchovy vinaigrette (see below)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 red peppers
1 yellow pepper
1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
1/4 onion, peeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste
(Peel the peppers with a vegetable peeler, remove the seeds
and julienne. Finely slice the onion. Gently heat the peppers
and onion in the olive oil so they soften without turning brown.
Season with salt and set aside.)
40 grams shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped chives
6 fillets of salt-packed anchovies, chopped
20 ml (0.7 U.S. fluid oz) white wine vinegar
60 ml extra virgin olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 175 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit)
2. Season the pieces of tuna with salt and pepper and
marinate with the olive oil
3. Quarter the potato and then cut each quarter into two or
three slices per serving
4. Heat a cast-iron grill pan on the stove and quickly sear
the tuna. Put the pan with the tuna in the oven for 1 minute
5. Gently heat the pepper compote. Plate the pepper compote,
broccoli florets, potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, olives and
6. Place the tuna on the pepper compote and dress with
anchovy vinaigrette. Serve immediately
(Editing by Patricia Reaney)