First Day I Got My Michelin Stars: Sam Aisbett of Whitegrass restaurant

We get the world's most celebrated chefs to spill what it was like when they got their first Michelin stars.
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Whitegrass has become chef Sam Aisbett’s celebration of firsts. First time owning a restaurant, first time outfitting his own place, first time cooking with local produce such as century egg, and now — first time receiving a Michelin star. Just this year, the modern Australian restaurant received one Michelin star since it opened in early 2016, a sure nod to the cuisine that is on the up here in Singapore.

To be sure, Aisbett is no stranger to fine-dining. He took on the role of head chef at the celebrated Quay in Sydney at just 23, which has been consistently rated 3-hats from The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide, and he also counts acclaimed chefs such as Tetsuya Wakuda of two-Michelin-starred Waku Ghin and Peter Gilmore as mentors. Peek into his kitchen and you'll see cheeky slogans plastered on the wall, though tucked away in a corner are the words from his mentor Wakuda: "You gotta think."

"(Wakuda) used to say that to us all the time when he was angry. He never shouted or anything like that, but he'll just say 'you gotta think', and that made me feel even worse!" exclaims Aisbett. Here, we sit down with him to find out more.
The interior of Whitegrass restaurant
The interior of Whitegrass restaurant
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My first encounter with the MICHELIN guide was… I’ve read cook books when I was a young apprentice — I’m still young! — at about age 17 and it’s all about Michelin stars when you’re growing up, even in Australia. I have all the Marco Pierre White old cookbooks, and I used to read about chefs from a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, and all the stories that come with it. Australia didn't have Michelin stars, but I understood that to have three stars back then is the ultimate goal as a chef – it’s everything. 

The first time our team earned a star... was in 2017, at the recent Singapore awards! It’s our first time earning a star. We use a different award systen in Australia, and I’ve worked with chefs who have come from starred restaurants, but never in a restaurant with a star.

How did you celebrate when your restaurant received one Michelin star?

We got wasted! I really wanted to celebrate with my staff. I’m the face but they do all the work. I came back and we had a little champagne and some fun in the restaurant.
Red braised Challans duck, eggplant cream, kanten noodles, water chestnut, Chinese jelly mushrooms.
Red braised Challans duck, eggplant cream, kanten noodles, water chestnut, Chinese jelly mushrooms.
How will having a Michelin star change the direction of your restaurant? 

It’s amazing to get, though it doesn’t really change anything. You still have to keep your head on track, because if the restaurant is empty it’s pointless. You almost have no choice to go to the next level, because people come in with expectations. For example, we use Echire butter; I didn’t change the butter, but now I focus on the temperature and texture of it to make sure that it's served just right.

To you, what does a Michelin star symbolise? 

It’s amazing to achieve, and so many chefs work so hard to get one. To have three stars is the ultimate goal as a chef – it’s everything. The food, the service, (The star) is all about quality.

My advice for young chefs aiming for Michelin stars is... you just work very hard and stick to your goals and plans, and if it comes, amazing, and if it doesn’t, it’s not the end of the world. Keep focused, and eventually, it will all come.
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Recommended Reading: View more stories in the First Day I Got My Michelin Stars series here. 
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