Justin Quek Dishes The Dirt

You’ve been away from Singapore for some time, how does it feel to be back?
I’m really excited, and this is a big project. Opening a restaurant is very exciting, but there are also a lot of challenges. I’ve been working day and night up to 16 hours a day. I lost 3kg because I’ve been so busy setting things up. I want to give people a real dining experience, whether they’re from China or Europe. This isn’t a new concept but I don’t think that there is anyone else who does it at this level. After all, you can buy the product at a hawker but you certainly can’t buy the atmosphere and the view.
What inspires you to craft the dishes that you do?
In my world, there’s only good food or bad food. When I eat, I get inspired. My repertoire of dishes is derived from when I travel around Asia to places like Hong Kong, Taipei and Shanghai. I try my best to promote Southeast Asian flavors, as well as highlight products that are sourced from around the region in places like Malaysia and Indonesia. I really like this Taiwanese soy sauce that I use a lot of, as well as Indonesian gula java, which I use to make my signature macarons. I also prefer subtle spices like anise, cardamom, and citrus for acidity. Because of my training in a classic French kitchen, my palate’s been tuned to look for balance and delicate seasoning.
How do you feel about our local chefs?
Some are very good, but they need recognition. They also need to travel more and try new food and not just hawker food. Copying food is not the same as being able to create a dish. As a chef, it’s only when you understand food, that you can create it. I’ve been in this line for so long, I can tell what’s missing immediately. It’s all about experience. The ability to put together different components such as shark’s head with caviar and combine flavors that work, is unique.