Colin Buchan, executive chef at Jason Atherton’s Pollen, Singapore

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th March 2014

In association with

Print   Colin Buchan is the executive chef at Jason Atherton’s Pollen in Singapore, the south East Asian sister to Pollen Street Social. Colin began his career at Beardmore Hotel in Clydebank before moving on to work at Marco Pierre White’s L’Escargot, Andrew Fairlie’s One Devonshire Gardens and Gordon Ramsay’s Amaryllis. He also worked with Angela Hartnett at The Connaught and at the York and Albany where he was the head chef. In a varied career  he has worked as a private chef to David Beckham and to a Russian billionaire in France as well as appearing on the 2012 series of Great British Menu. He moved to Singapore a year and a half ago to head up Pollen, Jason Atherton’s Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, nestled in a stunning location inside the Flower Dome of the new Gardens by the Bay.     How did you first get the opportunity to come to Pollen Singapore? I’d known Jason for a while from working with Gordon and I had a lot of respect for him, what he’d done at Maze then Pollen Street Social. I’d been with Gordon for ten years and I wanted a new challenge. I went down to meet Jason one day and said that myself and my wife wanted to do something different, because she’d had enough of London so I asked him about opportunities in Asia. Jason said, “leave it with me” and two weeks later he said he might have an opening for me in Singapore as a head chef. I just jumped on it and two weeks later I was out in Asia.   What’s it like working in the Flower Dome of the Gardens by the Bay? It’s amazing. You’ve got to see it to believe it. When I first walked in there it was just amazing – the smell of the fresh flowers and the birds flying around, then when you’re actually in the restaurant you’re surrounded by all these trees, herbs and plants and the view is just great. It’s really inspirational walking in every morning. What are some of the challenges of cooking modern European cuisine with local Asian ingredients? We’re very lucky with the countries we’re surrounded by – we’ve got Indonesia; Japan; Australia;  New Zealand, Vietnam and Malaysia so the amount of stuff that comes through from suppliers is amazing. We’re pretty lucky to be bang in the middle of it all. There’s not a lot of seasons here so we can get pretty much everything you can get in Europe and you don’t have to wait until the season. One of the reasons I came over here was to get the experience of new ingredients and new ideas and I’m still learning every day.   How do you use the garden on your menus? We’ve got thyme, rosemary, nasturtium leaves, radishes, carrots, fennel blossom, basil ,red sorrel,  limes, lemons, micro herbs; we even grow berries although sometimes they don’t work. We’re lucky because the guys in the garden really know what they’re doing. We’ve got a chef’s table with a bespoke menu so when the guests are sitting there surrounded by all these plants and herbs I will incorporate these into their menu so it’s great for the guests to understand that we’re actually using all that stuff, and they love it. What is your day-to-day role in the restaurant? I oversee everything from the bistro upstairs where we do afternoon tea and dishes from Spain, France and Italy, and then downstairs where we’ve got the main restaurant. So I’ll oversee all that. I’m in  from half eight in the morning making sure all the produce is great quality, then I’ll check that we’ve got everything ready for lunch service . Also myself and my sous chef are developing dishes all the time. I’m more of a hands on chef and I’m in the kitchen five or six days a week from nine till eleven. I love it; it’s what I get a buzz out of.   What did you learn from some of the great chefs you’ve worked for in your career? Andrew Fairlie taught me about finesse. He made me appreciate and respect ingredients, especially the home grown Scottish ingredients like the fish and shellfish, wild mushrooms and wild game. He was always saying to me, take your time and respect the produce, and that has always stuck in my mind. The late David Dempsey, over the three years I worked for him, broke me down and built me back up to be a good chef. Then obviously Gordon taught me a lot as well. Then with Angela, I moved from fine dining to a more casual concept at York and Albany , where we both  created dishes based on local and seasonal ingredients, so that was a kind of balance that I probably needed to have.     What kind of food were you cooking for the Beckhams? When I first started David had just come back from LA so he was a bit homesick and he just wanted lots of traditional English food – steak, shepherd’s pie, lasagne, Sunday roasts etc. Then he started training for Arsenal and I started cooking nutritional food for him, so healthy breakfasts and so on and also cooking for Victoria which was very health conscious as well. What’s it like working for someone like Jason with a large global empire? It’s great. Working for some of these big chefs, you sometimes never see them for six months at a time but Jason phones me every week asking me how the business is going, so he’s very hands on. He comes over every couple of months which is great; he’ll spend about a week in the kitchen and we both work on new dishes. It’s great for the local guys as well to see a Michelin-star chef come and work in the kitchen with them and do service and stuff.   What is the future for you, for Pollen and for Jason Atherton operations in South East Asia in general? I’d like to open my own place at some point in the future but working with Jason is great. He leaves it up to me so it’s kind of like running your own place anyway. The main goal for me and the team is to get into Asia’s Fifty Best [Restaurant list] next year. We’ve got no Michelin star system here but I think the 50 Best is achievable because we’ve got the products and the produce so it’s just about getting our heads down and seeing what happens. Colin's recipe for Country Duck with Edible Soil. Colin's recipe for White Gazpacho with Cucumber, Grapes and Almonds

In these challenging times…

The Staff Canteen team are taking a different approach to keeping our website independent and delivering content free from commercial influence. Our Editorial team have a critical role to play in informing and supporting our audience in a balanced way. We would never put up a paywall and restrict access – The Staff Canteen is open to all and we want to keep bringing you the content you want; more from younger chefs, more on mental health, more tips and industry knowledge, more recipes and more videos. We need your support right now, more than ever, to keep The Staff Canteen active. Without your financial contributions this would not be possible.

Over the last 12 years, The Staff Canteen has built what has become the go-to platform for chefs and hospitality professionals. As members and visitors, your daily support has made The Staff Canteen what it is today. Our features and videos from the world’s biggest name chefs are something we are proud of. We have over 500,000 followers across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social channels, each connecting with chefs across the world. Our editorial and social media team are creating and delivering engaging content every day, to support you and the whole sector - we want to do more for you.

A single coffee is more than £2, a beer is £4.50 and a large glass of wine can be £6 or more.

Support The Staff Canteen from as little as £1 today. Thank you.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 19th March 2014

Colin Buchan, executive chef at Jason Atherton’s Pollen, Singapore