[dropcap size=small]B[/dropcap]ecoming a chef was not something Rishi Naleendra initially had in mind, although his parents used to run a catering business from their home in Sri Lanka. At 18, Naleendra moved to Melbourne to study architecture. When he was working part-time as a dishwasher at a cafe, Naleendra learnt from the chef that if he went to cooking school, he could become an Australian citizen in two years, instead of seven. That marked the start of his culinary career. He went on to work at Taxi Kitchen in Melbourne, Tetsuya’s, and Yellow by Brent Savage, both in Sydney.

In 2014, the chef, who was eager for new challenges, came to Singapore with his wife, Manuela Toniolo, to work at Oxwell and Co. He subsequently headed up Maca (now defunct), which won praise for its clever and unique combinations of ingredients. There, he met Loh Lik Peng, founder of Unlisted Collection, who gave him the opportunity for a space to call his own. In February 2016, Cheek by Jowl opened in Boon Tat Street. A year after, the restaurant received an Awards of Excellence at the G Restaurant Awards 2017. The restaurant was also awarded one coveted Michelin star in June 2017.

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“I want to keep our tasting menus affordable, honest and delicious,” says the 32-year-old. “For me, the balance of textures and flavours is important. There might be some elements on the plate that are really strong, or really smokey; some might be sweet, sharp or salty. But as you are tasting it, you are trying all the elements together, and discovering the dish for yourself.” And it is this promise of a fascinating culinary journey at Cheek by Jowl that keeps guests wanting more.

PHOTOGRAPHY VERNON WONG ART DIRECTION FAZLIE HASHIM