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A wise head on young shoulders
Miele is proud to announce the winner for 2019 Miele One To Watch Asia: JL Studio
“Work harder than everyone else, because life is an echo.” Jimmy Lim might have a super impressive curriculum vitae: the Singaporean won the 2006 WACS World Young Chef Challenge upon graduating from Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre (SHATEC); he honed his skills at internationally-acclaimed restaurants such as Le Moût in Taichung, The French Laundry in Napa Valley, Per Se in New York, as well as Noma and Geranium in Copenhagen; and he opened his own fine dining restaurant in 2017, at just 35 years of age. Yet he is tireless in his desire to improve. “Where you spend most of your time and energy will reflect itself,” he says sagely. And just the thought of others working hard to prove themselves while he rests makes him shiver. Recognising this constant pursuit of excellence, the organisers of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, in collaboration with its regional experts, are bestowing Lee the prestigious Miele One To Watch Award – a title that identifies him as the rising star of the region.
Born and bred in Singapore, Jimmy was drawn to Taichung by chef Chen Lanshu’s vision of Le Mout. “I made up my mind to join her after she shared her vision (of opening a world class French fine dining restaurant in her hometown Taichung) with me. At that point, 10 years ago, her vision is a very bold one – and I really loved it. Her vision really helped push Taichung – and even Taiwan’s gastronomic industry – to a whole new level,” says Jimmy. So, he worked alongside her for almost eight years, constantly pushing boundaries and redefining standards for the industry.
One of the principles he lives by: learn from the best. “The best places are usually the toughest place to work in, but cooking is a craft, and if you commit for a few years, you hone your craft, mould your character and shape your mentally,” he shares. “Want to run a restaurant one day? Then treat the restaurant you working at now as if it is yours. You might still be a cook, chef de partie, sous chef or waiter/waitress who is not involved on the operations side of running a restaurant. However, if you turn everything and anything that passes through your hands better; if you make decisions based on the good of the team or the restaurant, then one day you might – yes, might – have the chance to run your own restaurant.”
Jimmy has certainly come far from the young boy who dreams of growing up to be just like his dad – the chef-owner of a casual eatery stall serving a wide-repertoire of wok-fried dishes. Today, the 36 year old is the chef-proprietor of JL Studio, which has rocked the regional food scene with its inspired dishes. Think bak kut teh – a herbal pork rib broth – reinterpreted with abalone from north Taiwan, Taichung-grown shitake and King oyster mushrooms that are sautéed, lightly battered and fried, fermented and then shredded. Jimmy also uses aiyu jelly – an ingredient native to Taiwan and commonly used for dessert or drinks but seldom in savory dishes. The aiyu gives the dish another textural dimension and is a fun take on the ‘pork fat’ of a rib that you would savouring while enjoying a traditional bak kut teh. “For the broth, I used locally grown mushrooms as the base, and add local hen and grass jelly (a Taiwanese dessert made from the platostoma palustre plant) to it. I added the grass jelly because of it cooling properties. This balances out the ‘heaty’ properties of bah kut teh broth, which is made with a lot of white pepper and garlic,” shares Jimmy.
Just like his Yin-Yang balanced dish, the essence of Singaporean cuisine – in Jimmy’s opinion – lies in balance and harmony. “Just like the Singaporean society where there is a huge mixture of different races, religions and cultures all living in harmony; and our cityscape where a street can be flanked by modern skyscrapers on one side and heritage buildings and temples on the other: everything is in harmony and balanced.” Jimmy delves deeper: “Singaporean food is often categorized into the food of the Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Peranakan. However, even within these broad groups there are dishes that are the result of a fusion of traditions, diverse regional influences, cross-community interaction and a desire to craft something that is new but still manages to reflect the past and the conflation of tastes. How do you take a staple dish from elsewhere and redefine and own it? This is one of the many qualities that makes Singaporean cuisine stand out.”
“My mission is to keep trying to elevate and innovate Singaporean cuisine further,” shares Jimmy. “Through my food, I hope to share the wide spectrum of flavors of Singapore and Southeast Asia, through the extraordinary produce that Taiwan have to offer.” It wasn’t all smooth sailing: “When we first opened, local guests are very skeptical about what we are doing. They are not familiar and don’t understand much about either Singapore or Southeast Asian cuisines or cultures. They were so ‘offended’ by the pungent flavors of prawn paste, fish sauce and durian, the vibrant scent of fresh aromatics herbs and the fragrance and spiciness of the red-hot chili peppers,” recalls Lim.
Still he persevered, spending time to share the culture and history of the country and region with his guests. And before long, they were hooked. “In the next five years, I will be looking for more platforms to share Singaporean Cuisine and Taiwanese produce to more people,” enthuses Lim. “But the ultimate aim is to continue to push myself and my team to elevate and innovate on our craft and Singaporean cuisine further.”
Just as Jimmy anchors his progressive cuisine with his roots in the culinary cultural of his home country – itself a product of constant evolution and refinement, Miele builds upon its heritage to move forward in its “Immer Besser” journey.
Photos: © Mr Shinichiro Fujii