He's known in Australia as one of the hottest chefs in the country. At his Sydney-based restaurant, Automata, crowds flock to the sleek, industrial space for a taste of his bold—and at times provocative—cuisine. His resume sparkles with fine-dining names such as Tetsuya's, Noma, and Quay.
So what inspired Clayton Wells (pictured above, left) to open his second restaurant in Singapore? For one, Wells travels there a lot. "The dining scene [in Singapore] is fantastic, and I've got quite a few good [chef] friends there as well," shares Wells, who names Dave Pynt of Michelin-recommended restaurant Burnt Ends and Sam Aisbett of one-starred Whitegrass among his inner circle.
Blackwattle, in Singapore’s Outram neighborhood, is where Wells gets to experiment with a bounty of produce that he can’t find back home. We sat with him to find out more.
How did you get to know Unlisted Collection founder Loh Lik Peng?
I got to know Peng while working at the (now defunct) restaurant Viajante in his London hotel, Town Hall, back in 2010. When I moved back to Sydney to open Momofuku Seiobo with David Chang, Peng dropped hints that he was planning to open a new restaurant in Sydney—I saw it as an amazing opportunity to open a restaurant in my home town.
Your resume has an interesting mix of chefs you have worked with. Who is the most colorful character you have met?
I'll have to say Chang (laughs). Working with him was a really important moment in my career—it was the point where I moved away from traditional fine-dining and gained a bit more freedom as a cook to test things out and make mistakes.
Share an incident at Momofuku that you are sure would never happen in a fine-dining restaurant.
A weekend to opening, Dave (Chang) was glazing a pork shoulder in the oven. It smelled so good, with its caramelized skin and the aroma of brown sugar. Diners were all finishing their desserts, and Dave decided to break up the pork shoulder and serve it to diners right there. No cutlery—they had to eat that sticky, glazed pork with their hands.
That definitely wouldn't go down well in a fine-dining restaurant. But that incident took away the seriousness you'll usually get in a fine restaurant, and showed me a new, fun side to cooking.
So, what can we expect from the menu at Blackwattle?
I'll say it's a similar style of cooking to Automata, in that we let the ingredients dictate what we cook. It's a very organic process, that also encourages learning along the way.
For instance, I enjoy walking through the markets in Chinatown or Tekka and picking out unfamiliar ingredients, like gooseberries or gingerflower, and then tasting them and working them into dishes. And yes, we went as a team to haggle together because I don't think I could have done it alone!