It's two years since you left Pidgin, what have you been up to?
I’ve been developing my company Kaizen House. We started out aiming to pitch to investors and find a site for Shibui, but we had a gut feeling the market was going through a rough patch, so the restaurant didn’t open. Looking back, it was the right thing for us to do as a family. I also wanted to utilise my skill set as a chef and make a positive contribution to the industry, so Kaizen House has developed into several things. We’re consulting on kitchen projects and menus, collaborating on events, and running this two-month residency with Mortimer House. The newest thing we’re working on is our YouTube channel. We do it from our home kitchen and share tips and recipes. Something I’ve been working on is redefining what it means to be a modern chef. Rather than being stuck in a restaurant, it’s about education.
So Kaizen House is also about mentoring chefs?
It’s something I felt was lacking in my early years of being a chef, particularly for those new to the industry. There’s so much you need to learn in such a short period of time from both a creative and business point of view. I’m passionate about sharing knowledge, and being a mentor and moving the industry forward. I feel very strongly about creating a better industry environment.
Was there a mentor who helped you as a young chef?
Social media was in its early days so it was more difficult to reach out. I came into the industry from architecture. I threw myself into the kitchen and didn’t see the outside world for quite a few years. My first mentor was probably Neil Rankin. I worked for him as a senior chef de partie and he basically threw me in the deep end to see how well I would cope under pressure. We’re still in touch, and I do reach out to those who have helped me along the way.
What's happening with Shibui?
We’re always looking for sites and keeping our ear to the ground, but right now that’s on hold. I think the London scene is getting quite saturated and the barrier to entry is really high. I don’t know how the next six months will play out in the current political climate. If the right opportunity presents itself here or abroad in future, then you never know. My husband’s from Australia and I’m from Singapore so we look at what’s out there, but as London is my home it feels natural to do something here first.
Have you been tempted to take on another head chef role?
I’d be lying if I said no, but it would be working towards someone else’s dream. I felt like I achieved what I wanted at Pidgin, and it was a natural progression to work on Kaizen House and put in motion what I felt passionate about. I’ve got the time and freedom to experiment and learn. When the time is right to do our own restaurant, it will have more meaning behind it.
Has your background in architecture made you more selective in choosing a site?
Definitely, it’s been very helpful in reading design drawings and visualising the site. But anyone is going to be particular over the first restaurant they go for.
What have you got planned for Kaizen House's residency at Mortimer House?
Mortimer House is a member’s club and they’re opening up this private floor to guests at my residency. It’s a really intimate 24-cover space, so it’s going to be interesting to see how diners react to this new menu. Dishes will include a beef rendang bun served with fermented sambal; buttermilk fried chicken and caviar katsu sando; and truffled roti with curried sweetbreads served with a Vegemite curry sauce. There’re also desserts of kaya (caramel coconut egg curd) ‘toast’ ice cream; and pandan (a south-east Asian leaf with flavours like vanilla and toasted biscuit) mousse with strawberries and meringue. I’m also doing a five-course chef’s selection for £45 per person.
Where do you get your inspiration?
This is the first main restaurant residency we’re doing as Kaizen House and I’ve definitely gone back to my heritage – Singapore and Nyonya cooking mixed with European influences. I trained and grew up here in England so I’m fusing those. I’ve always loved those strong, bold flavours, and my background is in wood-fired cooking, so there’s going to be an element of that.
It sounds like a very personal menu
Yes, I’ve never focused so heavily on my background before, but I feel like I need to go back to my roots and broach that style in a bit more detail. There are also some family recipes that I shouldn’t be sharing. Well I should because they’re great, but let’s just say I’m not going to be putting out a recipe book just yet.
To book, email Mortimer House firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7139 4499
This is a web version of an article that first appeared in the May issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here.