A few months after opening his modern European restaurant Whey in Hong Kong last May, Singaporean chef Barry Quek received a surprise — a one-Michelin-star accolade in this year’s Michelin Guide Hong Kong and Macau that was announced in January.
At Whey, Quek infuses Singapore flavours into modern European cuisine that features the use of produce grown in Hong Kong. One of its main courses, Lemak Three Yellow Chicken is inspired by nasi lemak. The dish features chicken roulade, mousse and roasted stuffed chicken wing with gizzard and heart, served with crispy coconut rice topped with coconut crumbs and sambal mayonnaise.
The ash-baked potato is served with razor clams and a sauce made with 24-month-old Parmesan cheese and reduced Tiger Beer. For desserts, there are Mao Shan Wang Durian and Teh Tarik (pulled tea) ice cream.
On achieving success in the restaurant scene, Quek credits it all to teamwork, especially with his recent partnership with ZS Hospitality Group, a Hong Kong restaurant company. He says: “This recognition wouldn’t be achievable without the joint effort across the kitchen, service and office teams. We spent more than half a year preparing for the opening of Whey, from sourcing food, furniture and tableware from local suppliers to developing the menu.”
Much of the menu at Whey centres around fresh and seasonal seafood, meat, herbs and vegetables that are farmed in Hong Kong. Quek is working with farms such as Zen Organic, Wah Kee Pork Farm, Ping Che Farm, Common Farms and Urban Grow. He shares: “By using seasonal local produce in food and cocktail recipes more comprehensively, we are recognising the dedicated effort of local farmers.”
This is not the first time that Quek has achieved success with the Michelin Guide. In 2017, he relocated to Hong Kong to helm Beet, a modern European restaurant, which has shuttered. It was recognized with the now-defunct Michelin Plate rating.
It will be a sweet homecoming for Quek as he returns to Singapore to cook at the Michelin Guide Singapore gala dinner and ceremony today (12 July). The by-invitation event features a 12-hands dinner whipped by fellow Singaporean chefs who have made their mark abroad. Joining Quek are Mathew Leong of two-starred RE-NAA in Norway, Jimmy Lim of two-starred JL Studio in Taichung, Taiwan, and Angela Lai from two-starred Taïrroir in Taipei. Headlining the star-studded kitchen line-up are chefs Tatsuya Wakuda of two-starred Waku Ghin and Wakuda, and Tristin Farmer of the three-starred Zen.
In the lead-up to one of the most talked-about events in the Singapore dining scene, we catch up with Quek on his culinary journey that has brought him around the world.
What are some of your most memorable experiences working overseas?
Working alongside chef Kobe Desramaults at In De Wulf in Belgium was truly an eye-opening experience for me. That was when I first travelled overseas and foraged for ingredients. I got to learn about local and sustainable farming and picked up fermenting and pickling techniques, which heavily influenced my cooking today. I continued my journey at Attica in Melbourne and witnessed the importance of fostering a close relationship with local farmers. It made so much sense to eat what’s around us and reduce carbon footprint.
What were your expectations for yourself working in some of the world’s best restaurants?
I was trained under classic French cooking during my days in Joël Robuchon and Les Amis, where I started my career after my national service. At that time, I was eager to travel abroad, explore different culinary cultures, draw inspirations and grow as a chef. I was particularly interested in knowing more about farm-to-table and therefore landed a job at In de Wulf in Belgium.
I was amazed by how they handle produce and bring foraged ingredients to the table. Then, I moved on to Attica in Melbourne, Portland and Clipstone in London. All these experiences morphed me into the person I am today.
What are some of the most important lessons that you’ve learnt from working abroad?
Sustainability comes in small steps. And that’s why I put it into practice here in Whey as well. We’re committed to supporting local farms and businesses to connect with the community and reduce carbon footprint. The restaurant name “Whey” resonates with the restaurant’s goal of utilising ingredients for all their worth and minimising food waste. Our chefs make the most of every ingredient and ensure that we incorporate by-products, such as whey, back into our dishes.
What do Hong Kong diners think of Whey’s concept of modern European cuisine with Singaporean influences?
Hong Kong has a very vibrant food scene. Diners here are well-travelled, knowledgeable and therefore, adventurous and willing to try out new concepts. Prior to the opening of Whey we weren’t certain about how people would perceive it as it’s a new and experimental concept. Now we’re very happy with the overwhelming response.
Do you have any advice for budding Singaporean chefs who want to pursue a culinary career in Europe?
Travel while you’re young! Explore the world, meet new people, learn from different cultures. It helps broaden your horizon and discover your calling. Always be humble and never be afraid to ask questions. Put in the hours and commit wholeheartedly to your goal.