This is what chef Han Liguang does at one-Michelin-starred restaurant Labyrinth. In his hands, familiar flavours are given a different spin. The spicy savoury notes of chilli crab, for instance, are tempered down into a cold ice cream. And what you think is a bowl of century egg porridge is in fact a sweet dessert of soya beancurd and grass jelly.
To be sure, the 32-year-old Singaporean was hesitant to take a big pay-cut to venture into the world of F&B. Instead, he kept his day job as a banker at Citibank and worked for free in the kitchen of one-Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Garibaldi over the weekends. To date, he has also worked with chef Mauro Colagreco of two-Michelin-starred Mirazur in France and Alvin Leung of three-Michelin-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong.
We sit down to speak to the chef shining the spotlight on Singapore food.
The first time our restaurant earned a star... We were in a state of disbelief and excitement, and in need for a good strong tipple. Labyrinth's kitchen team has only four chefs and three staff on the front of house. To be able to earn the star with such a small team is just amazing and unbelievable and the pride that this is the team that earned Labyrinth its first star is a milestone in the restaurant's history.
The entire team at Labyrinth popped a bottle of Cristal champagne that I have been keeping in my chiller for a special occasion (at that point, it had been kept for over three years already; thank goodness it did not go flat!). After the ceremony, I went straight back to my restaurant to celebrate with my team and business partners because the star belongs to everyone. We went to the bar upstairs to celebrate and cut a cake together! The following week, the team was given a treat at our favourite tze char restaurant, Keng Eng Kee.
Considering that Labyrinth opened three and a half years ago, and the Guide was not in Singapore back then, it never dawned upon me that my restaurant could one day win a Michelin star. The Guide, however, has influenced me in a way that every top chef in the world holds the Guide in high esteem. As a chef myself, of course I wanted to scale the pinnacle of my industry to stand shoulder to shoulder with all my hero chefs one day. As such, whilst winning a star was not a target when I opened Labyrinth; rather, it was about attaining the quality and consistency for a complete dining experience set by chefs from Michelin-starred establishments around the world became the standard of Labyrinth.
To me, a Michelin star is an amazing recognition of the entire team's hard work, on an international scale. It is also affirmation that the style of cuisine that I have embarked on (authentic modern Singaporean) and have been championing is moving in the right direction,
It also shows that with innovation and creativity, we can deliver quality and consistency on par with the best restaurants around the world.
The star does not change the direction of the restaurant. I'd like to believe that the star was awarded based on the quality and consistency that we demonstrated in the past prior to the star and as such, we will not change the base fundamentals and philosophy of the restaurant. We will always look to improve ourselves day on day be it service, food, ambience, etc and innovation has always been a key cornerstone for Labyrinth and we will still continue what we are strong at and become even stronger.
My advice for young chefs aiming for Michelin stars is...
It is ok to be enamoured by the Michelin Guide or stars but do not work with the sole objective of winning them. Do what you are passionate about, do it well, do it with pride and integrity, treat the people around you with kindness and respect, cook your heart out and do not give up in the worst of times and do not be arrogant in the best of times. The star will be a validation of your passion and hard work and perseverance.