Growing up in the sea-side town of Devon in south-west England, Kirk Westaway, executive chef of one-MICHELIN-starred JAAN By Kirk Westaway in Swissôtel The Stamford was brought up with an ardent love for fresh produce. His childhood dishes, which were whipped up by his mum, frequently included greens that were freshly plucked from his family’s garden.
The British chef reminisces: “I grew up surrounded by organic vegetables from my garden, some of the finest dairy and an abundance of seafood at my doorstep, and that sparked my interest in cooking. I didn’t realise how lucky I was to have such ready access to good produce.”
Westaway's insatiable love for produce paved his route to the culinary world. After attending Exeter College in the United Kingdom, he worked in restaurants such as two-MICHELIN-starred D.O.M in Sao Paulo and two-MICHELIN-starred Greenhouse in London, where he met Julien Royer (the then-head chef of JAAN, and now chef-owner of two-MICHELIN-starred Odette) and was given an opportunity to work as a sous chef at JAAN, which was a modern French restaurant at that time.
After Royer left JAAN in 2015, Westaway stepped up and took over the reins. After three years of heading JAAN and retaining its one-star distinction for the past three years, Westaway decided to carve out a Reinventing British restaurant theme, which resonates more closely with his heritage.
The Reinventing British philosophy, which was introduced last July, revolves around UK-inspired dishes that are reinterpreted through a modern and innovative culinary lens. Some of the dishes are inspired by classics such as fish and chips, and chicken curry, and produce is sourced from all over the UK — butter from Combe Castle in Wiltshire, cheddar cheese from Devon, goat’s cheese curd from Neal’s Yard Creamery in Herefordshire and Scottish langoustine and kombu.
In June, JAAN was renamed JAAN by Kirk Westaway, which cements his commitment to the restaurant and its modern British direction. An avid four-hands collaborator, Westaway will be cooking with Simon Rogan, a British chef-restaurateur, who runs two-MICHELIN-starred L'Enclume in Cumbria in north-west England, in a dining event in Hong Kong in September. Westaway says: “Simon is one of my culinary heroes, and is truly one of the best cooks I have ever met.”
On drives him to helm the restaurant, he says: “I have always enjoyed the kitchen life — working shoulder to shoulder with like-minded individuals, who are striving to perfect their skills every day.”
I remembered looking at a well-known newspaper with my fellow chef-friends when I was in my first year of catering college. We were reading about how life was like for chefs working in the heated kitchens of MICHELIN-starred restaurants in London. The level of intensity and commitment at these kitchens was very exciting and enticing for me.
What was it like when JAAN received its first MICHELIN star in 2016?
My team and I were extremely thrilled and honoured, but I also reminded them that it was not the time to relax as it meant we should push ourselves further to ensure guests have an unforgettable dining experience when they visit JAAN each time.
How did you celebrate?
We arranged a team barbecue session and invited the entire kitchen staff and our hotel friends. What we have achieved has been built by many people and I wanted everyone to celebrate together.
As a chef, what does having a MICHELIN star mean to you?
Having a MICHELIN star sets a standard and gives us goals to work towards as we always ought to be focused and be aiming for something.
With JAAN having received a MICHELIN star, how has that impacted your career?
I believe it has firmly positioned JAAN as a restaurant that is worth visiting in Singapore and in Asia.
What advice do you have for young chefs?
Enjoy what you do, choose to work in a restaurant that you like the style of and commit to stay there for at least a year so that you can work your way up and learn as much as possible. Cook for the enjoyment and never for the glory.