At 21, Javier has been a chef to one of Singapore’s top restaurants. With dreams of pursing his career beyond our shores, this young hot shot has his sights set on UK, Europe and France which are home to some of his celebrity idol chefs.
Going against all odds. Discovering an appreciation for food that led to a life-changing career in the culinary arts. Who ever thought that a talent for culinary arts could derive from an accidental discovery for the love of food? Meet Javier – The chef that aspires to be Singapore’s ‘Marco Pierre White’ (his idol who coincidentally happens to have mentored Gordon Ramsay).
I used to be a chef at other cafes around Singapore, a bartender as well as a barista. I also worked at this very famous restaurant that I can’t say which as they are very conscious about their media. The restaurant cares a lot about their public relations so they prefer to keep a low profile. It’s a fine dining restaurant that serves premium dishes to customers that pay a high price for. Often, celebrities who prefer to shy away from media attention would come to this place to dine and the restaurant maintains their discretion. I didn’t really know much about restaurants in Singapore, as this country is not really famous for fine cuisine. So I just googled for the best restaurants as I wanted to be the best and I just went for it.
I left that restaurant and was freelancing for a while, exploring options of taking internships with some of the top restaurants in Europe, France and the UK. Some of them are even considered the godfathers of the culinary industry, like Guy Savoy, Albert Roux and Marco Pierre White are a few of the greats that I dream of working for. Anyway, I’m now back at that famous restaurant as a demi chef de partie.
Actually when I was growing up, I wanted to be a soldier. After watching those war movies featuring the US armies, it got me inspired to be one of those frontline commandos. I would consider those soldiers REAL soldiers, unlike Singaporean soldiers. I also wanted to be a sommelier (a wine expert) but I found out it was almost impossible to be one so I decided to be a chef instead. It would be a lot easier to be a sommelier in other places like Australia.
My first foray into the culinary arts was during my O levels, when I started thinking about what I wanted to do. It was by accident that I discovered my interest in cooking. Because I didn’t really have talent for anything, I just felt that since I love to eat…I didn’t choose to go the usual route that most Singaporeans do after secondary school, like taking a three-year course in polytechnic or the two-year JC course and end up not knowing what I really want to do. I’m not really cut out for an office job so I wanted to do something more interesting.
The first dish I ever cooked was in Secondary school level, having Food and Nutrition as part of my curriculum - I learnt to make beef meatballs. It was terrible as far as I can remember! (laughs) If I were to own a restaurant, it would serve French cuisine, and I would want to grow my own products and ingredients too.
For someone who is starting out, as a stepping stone, you need to be at least certified from a culinary school. Most restaurants would look at that as well as your background working experience, otherwise, its tough luck for you. As part of the application process, some restaurants may put you through what we call stagiaire, where you work for free for a trial period. It can be from a day to a week, and in some places you’d have to work for free for three months before they’d even hire you.
There was no glorious moment for me, or “big break”. I’m still really young, but the chefs I work with really like me. Some of them are really shocked at how young I am. It’s really just about the people you meet when you’re doing this and the things you can do when you’re not restricted. I get to meet a lot of passionate people. There was a group of urban farmers that I got to meet who grow their crops and vegetables up on a building. It was quite interesting because I got to learn to make coffee from baristas too.
However, in meeting many chefs, I’ve also seen the disgusting side of their cooking habits. Considering some of them have over ten to twenty years of experience, they use a lot of MSG in their food and everything they cook – they cannot escape using MSG! So in fine dining I got to see the best chefs and now I’m telling you that I’ve also seen the ugly side. It’s very shameful. It sort of drives me to want to go overseas to try out other restaurants.
As for how important it is for a man to learn cooking to impress his future in-laws and dates, it’s totally not required. Maybe just an appreciation for the culinary arts would be enough. Perhaps everyone should at least know how to make a salad, pasta and steak. And no it’s not necessary for my future spouse to be able to cook all my favourite dishes – too high an expectation of her la. Maybe just the very simple stuff; simple dishes but cooked really well.
I have no preference or favourite meal of the day. In my normal daily work, I only have one meal and that is usually at about 4pm. If you give me just 40 minutes, I can whip up a simple pasta or a beef burger with the works – onions, mushrooms and everything else in it.
Interview by Samuel Wong.
We quiz Javier on a few celebrity chefs - find out which one he's never heard of!
What are your thoughts on Jamie Oliver, Gorden Ramsay, Nigella Lawson and Martin Yen?
Jamie Oliver Don’t really like him! No real reason why. Probably because my idol chef hates him that’s why.
Gordon Ramsay Very daring, which is good. Very ambitious and passionate. He’s got a lot of confidence which is bordering on the side of arrogance but I feel that chefs at his level should be entitled to be arrogant because it’s the labor that they’ve been put through for many years, and it’s not easy to get to where they are today.
Nigella Lawson Who is she? (Laughs) Never heard of her.
Martin Yen Entertaining. His chopping skills are there. Appealing to the aunties and children.