People 2 minutes 09 June 2019

The First Day We Got Our Stars: Chen Kentaro

See how this third generation Japanese chef continues to honour his family's Sichuan cuisine legacy at two-MICHELIN-starred Shisen Hanten in Singapore.

Singapore Chef Interview First Day

In 2014, Shisen Hanten opened in a swanky space at Mandarin Orchard to much fanfare — it was the first overseas outpost of Akasaka Szechuan Restaurant helmed by Japanese celebrity chef Chen Kenichi with 14 branches in six cities across the country. Shisen Hanten in Singapore was to be led by his son, Chen Kentaro, who’d followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, bringing their brand of Sichuan cuisine to a wider audience.

Shisen Hanten was started in 1958 by the late Chen Kenmin, a Sichuan native who migrated to Japan and began sharing the delicacies of his hometown at his restaurant. His eldest son, Chen Kenichi, found fame on the hugely successful television series Iron Chef and expanded the family business.

Shisen Hanten at the Mandarin Orchard Singapore was the chain’s debut outside of Japan and set the stage for third-generation chef Chen Kentaro to continue his family legacy. Having honed his skills working alongside his father and garnering experience in Sichuan restaurants in the Sichuan province in China from 2005 to 2008, Chen Kentaro has imbued his own culinary style to the cuisine at Shisen Hanten, while keeping true to its Japanese Sichuan roots.

Chen Kentaro (right) and his father Chen Kenichi (Pic: Shisen Hanten)
Chen Kentaro (right) and his father Chen Kenichi (Pic: Shisen Hanten)
Today Chen Kentaro oversees the entire operations of Shisen Hanten in Japan and Singapore with his father while being based in Singapore. “Recently, I have been taking time to visit all the different Shisen Hanten outlets across Japan as well as in Singapore, and spending quality time with the various restaurant teams,” says the chef, who is also developing a mobile app that would help him coordinate all his restaurants. “It will aid me in communicating with the team more frequently and also ensure that I can understand their needs in a more timely fashion. I feel that this will improve the motivation level of my team and, in turn, will positively impact guest satisfaction levels.”
Chen's Mapo Doufu 2 (Shisen Hanten).jpg

In 2016, the inaugural MICHELIN Guide Singapore was launched and Shisen Hanten was bestowed with not one but two coveted Michelin stars, a status which Chen Kentaro has maintained for the last three years. “I’ll be the first to admit that it does definitely come with a certain level of pressure,” he says candidly. “I am really honoured to have my restaurant received two Michelin stars but in all honesty, I personally believe it is not just about the awards and recognition. More than anything, what gets me out of bed every day to do what I do is to see the smiles on my customers’ faces after each meal, and of course, the team that is endlessly supporting me.”

Here, he shares about what it was like when Shisen Hanten in Singapore received two Michelin stars for the first time.

What was your first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide?
My first encounter with the MICHELIN Guide was when I was in high school while watching the Iron Chef programme. At that point, my father was the reigning Iron Chef Chinese so I spent a lot of time around set and that was my first awareness of the MICHELIN Guide, and the concept and prestige behind it.

It was when I was studying in Paris that I began to understand and appreciate more deeply the honour a Michelin star brings, as well as the expectations that come with it. I vowed to work hard to become a chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant one day.

What was it like when Shisen Hanten first received two Michelin Stars in 2016?
It really did come as a complete surprise, as the restaurant was fairly newly opened at the time. One star in itself would have already been such a great honour, but receiving two stars was totally unexpected and felt very surreal. I remember thinking how much I wished I could have shared the moment with my late grandparents who would have been incredibly thrilled and proud.

How did you celebrate?

I celebrated the achievement with my team in Singapore as well as my family and the Shisen Hanten team in Japan. I really could not have done it without them. We spent a few days eating and drinking, and just basking in our proud achievement as a team.

As a chef, what does having a Michelin star mean to you?
To me, it goes beyond the recognition and more as a source of motivation for my team and I to continue pushing boundaries in our craft and more importantly, giving our very best to our loyal customers who have been most generous in their support.

What advice do you have for young chefs?

Aspiring chefs should be ready to work hard and never give up. It is a great profession to be in, as you will be able to inspire others through the food you create and make people happy. It is important to focus on your goals and dreams, and give it your all. Keep learning new things, be passionate about your craft, and take pride in everything you do. Give it your best effort every time, as this will get you closer to achieving your dreams.


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