All eyes are on Kirk Westaway, since he assumed the title of chef de cuisine at Jaan in July last year. The modern French fine-dining restaurant is known for picking chefs that elevate it to illustrious heights. Think Taiwan-born Andre Chiang, who put the restaurant at 39th place on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2010 in just two years. Then there was Julien Royer, under whom Jaan was listed on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants for three consecutive years.
It’s a good thing then that Westaway isn’t the type who cracks under pressure; on the contrary, he thrives on it. At 23 years old and working at now-closed Patterson’s London, Westaway went 46 hours without sleep while prepping for a big wedding banquet. To him, it was a chance to prove his mettle.
“I looked at chef Raymond Patterson, who was 52 back then, and thought to myself, ‘If he can work more hours than the rest of us, why shouldn’t I be able to do it when I’m half his age?’”
Thankfully for his staff, the young chef runs his ship with a more “tender touch”. He channels his energy instead into perfecting dishes, like a chocolate dessert that took him weeks to get right. But Westaway isn’t just tenacious; he has talent too. In 2015, the 31-year-old took home the title of S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 for Southeast Asia. Under his leadership, Jaan also celebrated its fourth consecutive appearance on the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016. It clinched 29th place.
“Working with Julien for four years, I inherited his massive passion for the best produce. I never really understood this obsession, until I worked with him and could see and taste the difference between a regular carrot and one from an organic farm in Southern France,” says Westaway, who quips that he’s still waiting for Royer’s personal dinner invite, since he has been recommending Odette to his friends when they visit.
We get another glimpse of his cheeky side in a selection of treats served before dinner. “I never liked fish and chips, but I see English food getting popular because chefs in England are finally learning how to cook,” jokes the Devon-born, who created an inspired dainty snack to prove his point. His signature Tomato Collection is a reflection of his love for clean flavours. “Growing up on a farm, I would go around the garden picking fresh vegetables and tossing up a salad for lunch,” says Westaway, who grows herbs and tomatoes in the balcony of his apartment. “The tomatoes here don’t grow so well, but they smell nice, so that’s good,” says the chef with a laugh.
For his dish, Westaway coaxes out different textures and flavour nuances of the fruit. A vine-ripened heirloom tomato is cooked sous vide in a tomato consomme, then stuffed with diced ox-heart varietals, gherkins and oregano. Japanese tomato berries and a refreshing basil sorbet accompany the dish, finished tableside with light tomato consomme foam dispensed from a siphon.
“Going ahead, the plan is to keep refreshing the menu so my staff and diners stay constantly excited,” he says. “I’ve only taken over for a year, so everything is still new and I have room to create dishes never before seen at Jaan.”