Both young chefs are 32, and already making waves in their respective countries. Last month, they came together to curate a menu showcasing their cuisines over a two-day event. "We’ve actually never met before this collaboration,” says chef Han. “Two weeks ago when he came to Singapore for a holiday, a mutual friend introduced us over email as she thought that our styles were quite similar and we were both the same age, 32.” “Yes, this event was put together very fast... like three days,” laughs chef Ton.
Chef Han (left) set up Restaurant Labyrinth on Neil Road in 2013 before moving to larger premises at the iconic Esplanade Mall as business picked up. The same year, chef Ton opened Le Du, the Thai word for “seasons”, in the Bang Rak suburb of Bangkok, and later, a second restaurant Baan showcasing more traditional Thai cuisine. He says: “The fine dining scene in Bangkok is quite young, I would say that it really started to grow five years ago. My restaurant is 4 years old, so I was really lucky with the timing.” Chef Han agrees: “It was the same here in Singapore, we came in at the right time, when people were more open to fine dining and starting to explore.”
“Maybe I’m being diplomatic, but I think every chef deserves an award!” says chef Han, laughing. “Labyrinth may have gotten a star, and another restaurant might not, but that doesn’t mean the other chef has not worked as hard. Le Du is on Asia’s 50 Best list, and Labyrinth is not, but the bottom line is we don’t cook because of the awards, but it is nice to receive the recognition.”
“We both look at our cuisines from a similar angle, and we want to change mindsets about what local cuisine can be”, says chef Han. “It’s the same for me as well, but it’s getting better though,” says chef Ton. “Now when I tell diners this fish is from this local fisherman from a certain region, they get excited. Before, it would be like: ‘Do you have salmon?’”
5. They are entrepreneurs and business owners.
That’s also the reason why they could put together their four-hands collaboration in record time. “Chef Ton is also the owner of his restaurant like me, we call the shots and don’t have to get approval to get things done,” says chef Han. “It’s like you okay? I’m okay. Let’s go!” laughs chef Ton. But being the owners of their own businesses come with drawbacks as well. “Being a chef is hard enough, but being a business owner on top of that? I always tell people I can create even more with my food and train faster, if I didn’t have to deal with the business side of things!” says chef Han.