Restaurant Andre, located in Singapore, has been one of the highest rated and most desired reservations for much of the past ten years. On February 14, 2018 they served their last menu. The founder, Chef Andre Chiang, plans to move back to his birthplace, Taiwan, and will pursue the next stage in his life, which at this point remains something of a mystery. His interviews would indicate he plans to pursue educating young Asian chef wannabes but no concrete plans were let known. One thing is for sure and that is that Chef Andre will be active in the food world for many years to come.
I was fortunate enough to get to spend several days at Restaurant Andre during their final days. His final menu consisted of 28 dishes. Many of which I photographed and will share in a future post. His original plan was to have 40 dishes but then realized that it may not be humanly possible to consume that much food in one sitting.
The final day of service began like any other day. Staff arrived in the morning and began preparations for that day’s service. The front of house team set out preparing the dining room while the kitchen crew began their food prep. Like a well oiled machine everyone knew their role and what they needed to do.
As the front of house team went about their tasks the kitchen crew was hard at work as well. The kitchen was a surprisingly quiet place. There was no yelling, no heavy clanging of pots and pans and very little talk. When team members did speak it was in a volume just loud enough to hear. It was not a somber environment but one of great concentration. Everyone knew what he or she needed to do and they just set about to complete each task. No one made a big deal about my presence and although I did my best to stay out of the way I always seemed to be in the way. The kitchen was small so anyone there that doesn’t belong there is going to disrupt the work flow. And despite my constant dodging and weaving and expressions like “pardon me” or “sorry” or “let me get out of your way” the team never outwardly showed any anger towards my presence. I suppose they knew that this was the last service and understood why I was there and simply considered me part of the final service.
On this final day of operation they did not have a lunch service but instead had a staff lunch party in which the entire team stopped what they were doing and joined together for a nice big lunch. In addition to the Restaurant Andre team there were also media invited from a variety of Singaporean news outlets. At the conclusion of the lunch the entire staff joined together for final group portrait. Spirits were actually pretty high at this time. Everyone just seemed to be enjoying the moment.
The mood, however, changed quite quickly when everyone went back in to the restaurant to resume their tasks. The media was invited in as well to watch a short documentary film about Restaurant Andre which was then followed by a group interview.
The person probably the most upset about the restaurant’s closure was Andre’s wife, Pam. Restaurant Andre has been a big part of her life for much of the past ten years. She has grown close to the staff and thinks of them all as her children. During the press conference she sat alone on the stairs, listening to questions and Andre’s answers while wiping away her tears.
After the media left it was back to work. Chef Andre found a quiet spot to connect with the outside world while the rest of the team went about their duties.
Then came the final pre-dinner briefing. The mood was heavy in the room. The end was near and many in the room didn’t want this restaurant to close. For some it meant the end of their jobs and for others an uncertain future.
With all the tables set and the food ready for final cooking and plating all that was needed was a house full of guests. As each guest arrived they were guided to the top floor, which is actually the restaurant’s office, to watch the same movie that had been shown the visiting media earlier in the day. At the conclusion They were then guided down a flight of stairs in which the walls on the stairwell were covered with photos and memories from the staff displaying the many happy moments they all shared together.
For Andre the rest of the evening was divided between welcoming guests, over seeing final cooking of dishes, making sure each food item was properly plated, and then heading back to the dining room to chat with guests. The amount of energy the man puts out is really quite remarkable. And at the end of it all he still doesn’t look tired.
And when the final plate was sent out all that was left to do was for Chef Andre to remove his apron and go around the restaurant and give each team member a hug and big thank you along with a few words of encouragement.
If you would like to see the story in its printed form in TK (Tasting Kitchen) magazine follow the link below.
Go to: https://issuu.com/tastingkitchen/docs/tk34_andre_last_days__s_
These days it is rare that I have the opportunity to take a couple of weeks and do a documentary travel type story. However, when my long time friend and writer Paul Ehrlich called and said that he wanted to do a story wandering up and down the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, a country I have long wanted to visit, I found a way to clear the time I needed to make the trip. The journey had to be done at a specific time when the water level at the northern reaches of the river was high enough to allow large boat to navigate without getting stuck in the muddy river bottom.
Our journey would begin in Mandalay where we would board the boat that would take us up to northern city of Bhamo, located very close to the border with China, and turn around and bring us all the way down to the ancient city of Bagon. The entire trip was set to take 11 days.
As we cruised up the river one of our early stops was at the village of Nwe Nyein. The entire village was dedicated to one industry and that was to produce pottery. The amazing thing was that it was all done without the use of electricity. Each wheel required two people. One to turn the wheel and the other to shape the pot. Some were turned by hand while others employed their feet. Truly a low carbon footprint operation…at least until they fire up the kiln.
Further up the Irrawaddy we stopped in at the island of Shwe Po. At this point the river is quite wide and can only be crossed by boat. River boat taxis are especially busy in the mornings and evenings when students need to cross to reach their schools. The island does have an elementary school but the older kids have a bit more of a commute.
Life on the island is quiet and laid back. Most people here earn their living from either farming or fishing or perhaps both.
Being on the boat removes you from the activity taking place on shore. The lack of human interaction makes one feel like the scenery is more akin to watching a continuous running film. Daily life is out in full view for all to see. From catching fish for that evening’s supper to washing up after a long day of work.
All along the river are settlements both big and small. The cities of course are more chaotic than the little villages but each have their own charm and provide copious amounts of visual stimulation for a wandering camera. Though I’ve been to a million wet markets and outdoor shopping areas I still find fascination with these places in every country I visit. They are often similar in design and the sellers all have one mission, and that being to sell their products, but each has its own character and it’s fun to look for unusual ingredients, local snacks, or colorful characters to photograph. Or maybe its just have fun following a person around who is carrying load of chickens on their shoulder.
One of the wonderful things about being a photographer is how the camera is like a magic wand which opens doors and allows me into other peoples lives. There is, however, a fine line between being curious and intrusive. When entering another’s personal space one has to have all senses on full alert and be observant has to how you are being perceived. I will often seek a kind of permission from someone I’m photographing, either through a gesture or by directly asking them, but there are times when things are coming together and you don’t want to intervene and just photograph the moment.
These kinds of situations come up constantly when shooting in public, or even private places. While in wandering through the village of Kyan Hnyat Paul and I looked up and saw a group of high school students peering down at us from a second floor building. It was clear to us that this was a local high school so we wandered into the courtyard. Students were everywhere studying. Either in the simple wood floored classroom or simply squatting in the courtyard reading their books. With virtually no verbal communication it was clear we were welcome. English was actually one of the subjects being taught that day so it seemed that our visit was a pleasant surprise for the students. At one point we even gave a little talk in front of the class. Paul and I were a poorly rehearsed comedy duo trying to get the kids to laugh as we were worked the room. Which they did.
One of the first things travelers will observe upon entering Mayanmar is the yellowish white colored substance applied to the faces of mainly women and girls but can also be applied by men and boy. The substance is called Thanaka and is made by grinding the bark, wood or roots from tree on a flat stone mixed with water to form a paste. The Burmese then apply it to their face and use it as a type of cosmetic. However it is also said to have some medicinal qualities as the paste contains an anti fungal agent and also protects the skin from sunburn.
The furthest north we went on the Irrawaddy was to the city of Bhamo which is located in the Kachin state and is about 40 miles from the border with China’s Yunnan Province. Being this close to China makes it a busy city with lots of trade goods flowing through the city.
At Bhamo we turned around and began to sail back down the Irrawaddy. Each village seemed to offer something different to peak our interest. Our first stop as we headed south was to visit a village that raised and cared for elephants which were used as physical labor in the timber industry.
All along the Irrawaddy there seemed to be an endless amount of activity. Boats of all sizes either crossing from one side the other or moving from north to south to north carrying goods, locals commuting and even tourists. Folks along the river were always eager to share a smile or wave as we passed by.
At the village of Ma Lai our timing was perfect to witness a Buddhist ceremony called Novitiation or Shinbyu which is a sort of right of passage event in which boys are inducted into the local temple. During the ceremony they have their heads shaved, put on Buddhist clothes and say good buy to their parents as they will stay in the temple and learn the life of a Buddhist monk. The time they stay varies for boy to boy. It could be for a few days or several weeks or perhaps for life. Apparently it depends on the boy and he’s getting along with temple life. The ceremony is a big deal for the boy and his family and even for the village. It’s massive celebration of activity.
Buddhism is a huge part of nearly every Burmese person’s life. Nearly everywhere in the country you will see either temples or stupas in almost any direction you look. And the one place where this is most evident is in the ancient city of Bagan. The city was once the capital of Pagan Kingdom from the 9th to 13th centuries which was the first kingdom to unify the various regions which basically created the borders of modern day Myanmar. At its peak their were over 10,000 temples, stupas and monasteries of which about 2,200 still exist today. Wandering around this ancient kingdom is a fascinating exploration into the past. Though their are a lot of tourists and touts trying to sell you trinkets or services it is still a pleasant place to visit. With so many temples and pagodas still standing it is very easy to find yourself alone and feeling a bit like Indiana Jones.
I love being out on farms. Ever since I was a kid I enjoyed visiting friends who lived in the countryside and had livestock on their property. The small town where I grew up was surrounded by farmland, mainly citrus groves, but we lived in the town so having livestock was pretty much out of the question. I did, however, manage to raise rabbits and chickens in our backyard thanks to some very tolerant neighbors who never complained about the smell or the occasional rooster crowing. My neighbors even bought the eggs laid by my Rhode Island Red hens. While in high school our school had a farm and kids were encouraged to join the FFA (Future Farmers of America) and do animal husbandry projects. So while in high school I raised several lambs and one pig. The lambs I took and showed at the county fair where they were judged and sold at an auction. We ate the pig.
Dairy farming and cheese making is something I never experienced so when the opportunity was presented for me to go to England and visit dairies and artisan cheese makers I didn’t hesitate to get on board. I was traveling with food writer Mamie Chen and our mission was to visit several dairies, cheese makers and a cheese judging show and produce a story for Tasting Kitchen (TK) magazine. Mamie managed to cook down all the information she garnered about cows, cheese, bacteria, curds and whey and organize all into an interesting and informative article called Reinventing the Wheel which you can read by following the link at the end of this post.
I learned on this trip that dairy cows are very shy. They don’t like to be approached by unfamiliar humans, especially those pointing strange machines at them. However, as shy as they appear to be they are also quite curious. So rather than chase them all over the pasture I sat down and waited for them to come to me. Within minutes I was surrounded by these lovely young women. They began sniffing and licking me and my camera bag and one even seemed to take an interest in what I was photographing.
The milk from these lovely creatures is taken to the nearby processing center where it is turned into cheddar cheese. Like any artisan product the cheese makers are always tinkering with their process. The cheeses they do well and are successful they keep doing but there is this drive that always makes them want to try something different. It was fun listening in on some of the interview and hear how once the cheese maker had the idea of rubbing hay on a cows udder to see how that might affect the bacteria in the milk. When he incubated the milk from that cow it literally exploited with gassy bacteria. I’m guessing he didn’t rub any more udders with hay. But I love this sort of process of working to create better or different tasting product through scientific experimentation. Especially when no creature is harmed and you are just using earth’s natural ingredients to help you along.
Next dairy on our journey was Charles Martell & Son located in the village of Dymock in Gloucestershire. It’s on this farm that Charles Martell makes his Single Gloucester cheese with the milk form his herd of Gloucester cows.
And from that udder appears this amazing product…
Stinking Bishop is another cheese Martell makes which was made famous when it was featured in the movie Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. One of the interesting things he does with this cheese process is to wash the rinds with a type of pear cider which he ferments from pears grown on his property.
Our third and final stop on our pilgrimage to find delicious artisan cheese was Cropwell Bishop Creamery located in Nottingham. And before you ask, no, I did not run into Robin Hood. At Cropwell Bishop they are famous for making a Blue Stilton.
To enter the processing facility we had to gown-up with white coats, hairnets and rubber boots. They basically didn’t want us, or any of their workers, to introduce any unwanted bacteria which could make its way into their product. Despite these modern approaches the cheese makers continue to use techniques which have been used for centuries. Things like hand-ladling curds and rubbing-up the cheese to seal them for maturation.
If you are interested in reading more about these cheeses and the process in making them feel free to check out Mamie Chen’s story in Tasting Kitchen (TK) magazine by following this link – https://issuu.com/tastingkitchen/docs/tk31_britain_s_bounty__s_
I recently had the good fortune to spend some time with Chef Vicky Lau photographing her beautiful creations at her restaurant and patisserie Tate Poem in Hong Kong. Chef Lau does a fantastic job of combining her artistic skills along with her delicate tasting palate to create dishes that are as beautiful as they are tasty. For her latest menu she has found inspiration in the words of the Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda. From Neruda’s anthology All the Odes Chef Lau created a series of dishes celebrating the particular ingredient Neruda wrote about so eloquently.
On the ground floor of Chef Lau’s restaurant is her patisserie where she creates pastries and cakes which are almost too beautiful to eat. For this series Chef Lau wanted to created set of pastries inspired by traditional Chinese desserts.
All photos were done on location at Tate Poem in Hong Kong and were published in Tasting Kitchen (TK) magazine. To read the entire story, along with the poems by Pablo Neruda, you may view the entire issue by following this link: https://issuu.com/tastingkitchen/docs/tk33_ode_to_winter__s_
For those interested in the technical aspects in regards to the photography I’ll give a brief explanation. For this shoot I brought along my usual lighting kit which contains four Einstein strobe heads along with a bag of stands, softboxes and grids. For location work I try to make use of any props/decorations and backgrounds from the venue where I’m working. I don’t like to introduce my own props as I want the items I’m shooting to connect with the venue which helps to tell more of the story. One additional thing I did carry on this shoot was a sheet of glass as well as a piece of white acrylic. This was useful for the pastry photos as I wanted those creations to stand out on their own.
The camera on this shoot was a Canon 5D SR along with a bag of heavy lenses which include 16-35mm f2.8, 5omm f1.2, 85 f1.2, 90mm TS f2.8 and a 100mm f2.8 macro.
I recently made my first trip to the United Kingdom and believe it or not I didn’t get to see anything of London with the exception of my last night in England before heading off to California. My assignments focused on the English Countryside where I met up with beef, sheep and pork producers as well as dairy farmers and cheese makers whom I will post about in the near future. For this feature I will concentrate on the meat side of things.
Upon arrival at Heathrow International Airport I immediately headed straight for the car rental lot where they put me in a six-speed manual shift VW Passat. It was a bit nerve-racking trying to adjust to both driving on the right-side of the vehicle while shifting with my left hand. Lots of new synapses had to be developed in a short period of time. After picking up my colleague, Mamie Chen, at a nearby hotel we set out on our mission. I soon found I had a new challenge in England and that was to learn to navigate narrow country roads which were at times only one lane wide. The worst thing was when I had to stop suddenly and quickly shift into reverse to get out of the way of a big truck. The one thing I have to say about English drivers is that they have the best etiquette of any drivers I’ve ever known. Or perhaps they sensed I was a maniac on the road so gave me a wide berth.
Our first stop was to visit Langley Chase Organic Farm where we met up with Jane Kallaway and her flock of Manx Loaghtan sheep.
Jane prefers to allow her sheep live out their lives grazing on her 140 acre farm in Wiltshire. The Manx Loaghtan breed is not a common choice for most sheep farmers. The breed dates back to the pre-Viking days. Some of the rams even have four horns which makes like something that walked straight out of hell.
It was a joy to watch the partnership between Jane and her 10-year-old border collie named Flute. It seemed that the two of them really loved herding sheep.
Further down the road we stopped in at the Dingley Dell farm where we met up with Paul Hayward who co-owns the farm with his brother Mark. Their system for raising out the pigs runs contrary to most commercial operations. Rather than keeping the hogs penned up indoors on concrete floors they decided to allow the pigs to live out their entire lives in the great outdoors. The piglets are allowed to roam freely through the fields which have been planted with a variety of wild flowers while the mother remains in a grassy compound kept in my a single electrified wire. Her area for roaming is significantly more than any commercial farm I’ve ever seen.
While the piglets are allowed to roam free they never stray off to far from their mother.
Each sow is provided with her own little condominium which serves to keep her cool in the summer and warm in the winter. By keeping her comfortable the farmers have learned that her piglets are healthier and grow more rapidly.
Not far away we stopped in at Yarn Hill Farm where Richard and Natasha Mann are raising a rare native breed of cattle known as the Lincoln Red. Like the Manx sheep these bovine date back to the pre-Viking invasion days. Their grass fed herd numbers more than 250 which includes five bulls and a 110 breeding cows.
If you would like to read the entire published story you can view the issue of Tk (Tasting Kitchen) magazine online by following this link: https://issuu.com/tastingkitchen/docs/tk31_britain_s_bounty__s_