I’ve always had a fascination with restaurant kitchens. There is always something so alluring and fascinating about them; they seem to be a microcosm of their own. Each section operates smoothly like a gear in a well-oiled machine.
Cue the scene in “Ratatouille” where Remy explains the intricacies and workings of a French kitchen to Linguine. Just like Linguine that watched starry-eyed, I too was captivated by the magic of professional kitchens. I thought, I can’t be the only one who craves an intimate look at professional kitchens.
So, for this instalment of our series Behind The Food, we take a look Restaurant JAG, situated along the streets of Duxton Road. Restaurant JAG is helmed by Michelin Star Chef Jérémy Gillon and highly-respected dining industry leader Anant Tyagi.
Seeing as this was my first time, I knew that Restaurant JAG served a kind of French omakase. I was intrigued and excited. After all, it’s not every day you get to be a bonafide kaypoh in a one Michelin star restaurant.
I arrive at Restaurant JAG early and push open the doors to a dark restaurant. Their usual dining hall in pitch black save for the light whirring in the kitchen.
Illuminated by the skylight in front of the open kitchen, three chefs stood silently at different counters prepping ingredients. Chef Gillon walks into space and greets me with a warm smile. His presence is imposing, given that he towers over me, but I note a twinkle in his eye that suggests a kind of playfulness is at hand.
He has a calm and reassuring nature that at once puts me at ease. In true omakase fashion, you won’t find a menu here. For lunch, Restaurant JAG offers Three Expressions (S$58++) or Five Expressions (S$108++) of the Chef’s Tasting Menu. A little abstract, I know, but there is fun in the unknown.
You would expect a French-trained chef to possess a kind of rigidity and almost militant-esque demeanour with their quest for perfection. Not that Chef Gillion demands anything less than perfect for every plate that goes out, but there is a relaxed atmosphere that deviates from what one would normally expect.
So, how does he come up with items for his menu? He tells me in the most sage-like way: “After working in the industry for so long, I know how most of the food tastes like. I see food as colours and shapes. Something for me to play around with”.
I mean, it’s basically right out of the scene from Ratatouille? (Okay, I’ll stop.)
Given Chef Gillion’s approach to food, expect a meal that is untethered by any hard-and-fast rules.
Another thing about Chef Gillion’s cooking at restaurant JAG is this overwhelming focus in vegetables. Usually the supporting cast in the realm of food, vegetables don’t get much of the spotlight. While some might find root vegetables boring, Chef Gillion sees infinite possibilities.
Not more than fifteen minutes into the kitchen and I already spot something rather riveting. A quick glance and you might mistake them for fat squiggly grub. These pale bulbous things are actually called crosnes (pronounced crones) and these tubers are actually part of the mint family.
Imported from France, these—as Chef tells me—costs a small fortune. Chef Gillion puts it quite simply: with meat, be it pigeon, beef or pork, you can certainly create something tasty and wholly satisfying. There are many ways you can prepare them too but you’ll eventually hit a wall.
With vegetables, it’s a different story. You can pickle, fry, bake, sous vide, if you wanted to you can make vegetable tastes as sweet as candy or bring out the savoriness by charring them. The many ways you can play with complex flavours of vegetables keep it interesting for Chef Gillion.
Another uncommon vegetable you’ll find in Restaurant JAG is celtuce. These thick fluorescent stems that resembled giant highlighters is another common sight in the kitchen.
These thick stems then proceeded to be dusted with salt and pepper, normal enough. But then he sprinkled something different magical from a jar.
Now, these are not just any herbs. Definitely not your store-bought, rosemary, parsley, basil and so forth. These are meticulously hand-picked from the Savoie region near the French Alps. Not only that, but these are also wild herbs, so they aren’t tainted by the cookie-cutter taste of mass commercialisation.
The hysope flower, for example, is valued for having a flavour that is a cross between mint and anise. It is this kind of complexity from these herbs that elevate and differentiate Chef Gillion’s cooking.
That jar belongs to the wall of dried and fresh herbs on the side of Restaurant JAG. If the kitchen is the centre of the restaurant, right here is its beating heart.
With the likes of bouleau, monarde, hyssop and ortie just to name a few, with flavours and profiles that are unlike any we have tasted, unless you too collect and dry herbs in Savoie.
As Chef Gillion pored over each precious glass jar, not only was it very wizard-like, but it hinted at the burgeoning creativity that happens in Restaurant JAG. There are just endless combinations one can have with this wall.
There were a set of ‘potions’ as well. A precious little tray in Chef’d Gillion repertoire, these are the leftover syrups and/or oils that Chef Gillion purposely saves. These concentrated little vials are that little je ne sais quoi that will leave you dreaming about the food from Restaurant JAG.
As we head closer to service, things start to move a little faster. The back door swings open and a fresh batch of microgreens arrive.
Chef Gillion stops to inspect the produce. These vibrant little pots of green quickly find their way on to the shelf.
Soon, the restaurant lights turn on. The first guests for the lunch service are about to arrive soon.
Things start to heat up in the kitchen. Things start to move faster; there is a flurry and excitement that pervades the air.
Everyone moves swiftly and smoothly, muttering ‘Behind you!’ as they pass. More machines start getting used, everyone is on their A-game and the hum of activity increases.
Plating begins and I watch, mesmerised, as each carefully measured ingredient is placed with precision in each plate. These were little flattened cylinders of butter, and I can’t tell you how much I wanted to just grab one and pop it in my mouth.
Now, at long last, we get to savour the fruits of Restaurant JAG’s labour. These crosnes were the first one up and I couldn’t wait to dig in. These crosnes are charred and blanketed with a seaweed gelatine layer and accompanied by curry leaves.
Resembling a mini garden, these crones had an artichoke-like quality. The curry leaves serve as a subtle Asian twist, while the microgreens delivered sweet herbaceous notes.
The celtuce was done three ways, you have raw delicate curls, blanched and finally cooked en papillote. Served with dollops of almonds and a helping of fatty briny caviar pearls, this was nothing like the vegetables we are used to.
Briny, nutty and freshness from the celtuce, everything was going off at once. You’ve never had vegetables like this.
Some might call the food from Restaurant JAG a little out of touch perhaps, even high falutin with its fancy herbs and seemingly complex preparation methods.
In a sense that is true, but I think we should revel in that. There is a transportive element Restauarnat JAG’s methods and who wouldn’t want to be in the hills of the French Alps?
Expected Damage: S$150 – S$250 per pax
Price: $ $ $
Our Rating: 4 / 5
76 Duxton Road, Singapore 089535
76 Duxton Road, Singapore 089535