Kirk Westaway, Chef de Cuisine, JAAN

The Staff Canteen

Originally from Devon, Kirk Westaway is currently chef de cuisine at Michelin-starred JAAN in Singapore.

He previously worked at two Michelin-starred The Greenhouse, where he met Julien Royer, who  he would go on to work for at JAAN. Kirk has traveled and worked in South America including Brazil with Alex Atala at D.O.M. As he was leaving South America, Julien asked if he wanted to join him as his sous chef at JAAN. He was there  for three years and when Julien left, he took over. He has been running JAAN for the past two and a half years.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Kirk to find out why he enjoys working abroad, how he has adapted to running the JAAN kitchen and his recommendations for chefs visiting Singapore.

King Crab%2C Spring Pea and Uni low res
King Crab, Spring Pea and Uni

This is not the first time you’ve worked abroad what is it that pulls you away from the UK?

The UK is home. I know the restaurants, customers, style of food and ingredients. It is an incredible place and my friends and family are there. However, it is also a fantastic opportunity to go abroad as one truly gains a larger perception about what is available around the world such as the different ingredients and styles of cuisine available. If you don’t travel and explore other countries, you will not be exposed to other styles of food and ingredients.

You will also never progress and stay crafting the same type of cuisine, using the same ingredients for the rest of your lives. This is why I love to travel, being abroad, finding out different elements of my job and widening my knowledge.
So far, working in Singapore has been the best decision I have ever made in my life. Everyday gets bigger and better. I am here daily and my life revolves around the kitchen 100%. I absolutely love what I do; love the people I work with; customers who come in and try the food and give their feedback. So far, the response has been fantastic.

What’s the story behind the restaurant and has the concept changed since it opened?

From my knowledge, 15 to 20 years ago, the restaurant was originally a storeroom used for storing tables and chairs for the larger restaurant downstairs which is currently called Equinox Restaurant. They had an overflow of tables and chairs for hosting big banquets.

JAAN low res

JAAN actually stands for “bowl” in Cambodian. When the restaurant first opened, they used to serve mixed bowls made up of a combination of grains, sprouts, vegetables and meats and fishes. Since then, the cuisine style has changed and evolved, with influences from different chefs, from Cambodian to French to Taiwanese, Swedish, back to French and now an English Chef.

One element I abide by is using best ingredients from around the world. I will personally handpick and source as many of these exceptional ingredients, with a focus on European cuisine. Here at JAAN, our philosophy is to cook simple food with great ingredients and bring out their best flavours. Good food, good ingredients, cooked superbly but interestingly as well.

Are there any cooking techniques you use day to day which you didn’t have the opportunity to use in the UK?

I left the UK seven years ago and obviously things have modernised now. Sous-vide and combination cooking techniques are commonly used there and has been around for a long time. I remember back in London, we explored using interesting chemical techniques such as Spherification.

However, I feel that I have grown and evolved in my own way, trying to avoid too much Sous-vide and modern molecular cooking. Instead, I focus on using traditional methods involving heat, steam, fire, coal and gas. Here at JAAN, we try to cook regularly to bring out as much natural flavour as possible. Molecular cooking is incredible and hats off to all the scientist chefs who can pull it off well. However, I personally like traditional methods and just cooking things naturally, the way that people have been doing for thousands of years - using great ingredients and produce to achieve great results using simple cooking methods.

Info bar 

Guilty pleasures: 

Dessert – Plate of cheese or some oysters
Pies – Braised beef, lots of vegetables, thick shortcrust pastry, homemade country-style
Pub grub

Top 5 restaurants:

The restaurant at Meadowood, Christopher Kostow
Blue Hill New York, Dan Barber
Quay Restaurant, Peter Gilmore
Ultraviolet, Paul Pairet

Favourite cookbook (s):

Ronny Emborg – The Wizard’s Cookbook
Raymond Blanc – Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons
Michel Bras – Essential Cuisine

What are the goals for you and the business?

Over the past two and a half years, my team and I have done great and achieved some fantastic accolades. My goals are definitely to continue to grow, develop, invent and be more creative. I wish to come up with new ideas and concepts, to grow the restaurant and team. We are doing some interesting food and it is time to get the word out there.

You currently cook Modern European but what would you say is your personal food style / philosophy?

My personal philosophy is definitely about using the best ingredients. You can’t create a fantastic dish without using the best ingredients. I do not believe in ingredients overshadowing each others. Instead, every item on the plate should be extracted to bring out the best flavour possible.

What has been your biggest learning curve?

My biggest learning curve was when I took over the restaurant and everyone around me had very low expectations of success. Julien is a great chef and being a young guy from England, everyone told me I had big shoes to fill. So, I had two choices, to either accept their feedback or prove them wrong.

For the first six months, I was at the restaurant 7 days a week, 20 hours a day. I slept under a table in the restaurant for four to five nights a week and didn’t go home. My determination to prove them wrong drove me to success. I chose to put aside my partner, life, friends and family just to do the job to make it work. And then it worked. I built a new team from scratch and from there we did very well. I am very determined and without that, I most probably would have failed. The team saw me here all day every day, working so hard. And for that, they put in a lot more work as well.

What has been your greatest success to date?

Scallop Truffle low res
Scallop Truffle

There are a few. One of which is the S.Pellegrino Young Chef Competition in 2015. That was a great stepping stone, where I had a great experience and met some incredible people. The Michelin star is obviously huge and one of my greatest achievements. The Michelin star was not as personal as it was truly a team effort. It is impossible to accomplish what we have without the team. Together, the Michelin star is our greatest achievement

Two years ago, I was named Rising Chef of The Year at the World Gourmet Summit Awards of Excellence which was very exciting as well. To be nominated as the rising chef out of all the thousands of chefs in the country was a fulfilling moment for me. JAAN, being nominated as one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, was also a dream come true. To rub shoulders with some of the best chefs in Asia and exchanging knowledge has been an overwhelming experience for me.

Who’s been the biggest influence on your career to date?

My determination comes from a chef in London that I used to work with called Raymond Patterson. He was a very hardworking individual and most hardworking person I had ever met. 52 years old then when I worked with him, he would never back down, was never sick, never tired, never weak and never bored. He was also a very good cook, using great ingredients for his dishes. Amazed by what he could achieve, I looked to him as a personal lifestyle coach and visionary. If he could achieve that, how could anyone of us say we are tired when he was working so hard?

Antonin Bonnet, the head chef of The Greenhouse when I working there also inspired me. He is an incredible cook, with an amazing ability to prepare flavours and make them taste incredible. He is probably the best cook I have ever met, a very smart man who understands ingredients, cooking styles, flavour combinations and flavour pairings that blow my mind.
Finally, Julien Royer who has been a great friend over the years, is also a great inspiration and mentor to me, and a positive influence to my career. One of the leading chefs in the country, Julien is very good at adapting and evolving his own style. He has taught me so much and I really owe everything that I have achieved totally to him. He is a great friend, great mentor and great chef. These people carved me to be who I am and what I do today.

Chef Kirk in Kitchen low res
Kirk Westaway

How important is having a good team to you and the business?

My team is really the engine behind the machine. Without the team, I will not be here at all. As I have mentioned previously, I like them all professionally and socially. They are not just my colleagues, they are my friends too. We have conversations about their day, joke together and go out for food, snacks and beers.

For chefs looking to experience Singapore what are your ‘must see’ recommendations?

The local cuisine here is cheap and amazing. I like them all - From Bak Kut Teh and Kway Teow noodles to Sotong and Chilli crab. Then, make a list of your top 5 fine-dining restaurants and tick off as many as you can. Tick off all the tourist spots, don’t just come here to eat and eat. You must experience the Gardens By The Bay, visit Marina Bay Sands for a cocktail and soak in the views, have a look at the city. Eat as much as you can but in between the meals, go and explore Singapore.

Where do you see yourself in 5-years? 

To be honest, I do not have an answer to this question. Singapore was a surprise, South America wasn’t planned and Australia wasn’t planned as well. You never know what is coming round the corner. I love where I am and what I am doing right now. I love the restaurant and I love being here every day and working with my team. I love the food, the ingredients and the ceramics and all that we are doing is fantastic. I hope to grow and develop the restaurant and grow as much as I can for sure. I would love to be here in five years at the same spot, maybe grown up a little, a bit fatter and grey, but we will see.

More images from Kirk Westaway at JAAN:

JAAN Private Dining Room low res
JAAN Private Dining Room

Winter Apple low res
Winter Apple

Winter Harvest low res
Winter Harvest

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Editor 26th February 2018

Kirk Westaway, Chef de Cuisine, JAAN