Heartbreaks, while painful, have been the inspiration for many great adventures. For Gonzalo Landin, it was the impetus for his eventual relocation to Singapore. The year was 2016 and the 38-year-old was a chef de partie in New York’s Cafe Boulud, owned by the eponymous celebrity chef. He was happy, he was engaged and he was in the prime of his life.
Then, his fiancee broke his heart. “I wanted to do a round-the-world trip to heal my wounds and start over,” shares Landin. The first stop on his itinerary: this city-state. He reached out to a friend living here to arrange for beers. The friend agreed before casually mentioning that a Spanish restaurant was looking for a sous chef and asked if Landin was interested. Not wanting to close any doors and spurred by the intense desire to move far, far away from the Big Apple, he sent his resume over. On that very day, Binomio called.
Not bad for a young boy from Almeria, Spain, who never envisioned himself cooking in some of the top restaurants in London, New York and Singapore. And while Landin never plans too far ahead in life, he believes in pushing himself as far as he can. “It’s easy to get comfortable in the bubble you are living in. You should always go somewhere or do something new every day. When I first went to London, I was an immature kid whose English was bad. In the six years that I was in that city, I learned more than some people will in their entire lives,” says the executive chef.
It’s one of the reasons why he’s embarking on another gastronomic adventure in Singapore. Some might call it foolhardy to open a bar in the midst of this pandemic, but Landin saw an opportunity in the chaos. Named after one of Joseph Conrad’s novels, Set of Six is a new cocktail bar along Craig Road. The location wasn’t incidental. Landin specifically chose the street for its association with Captain James Craig. When he was 17, Conrad had sailed to Singapore as part of the good captain’s crew.
Beyond libations, Landin was adamant about creating an enticing food menu as well. “I find some cocktail bars in Singapore to be quite boring,” he says. “I’m from Spain, so we know how to party.” The freedom of not having to stick to a particular style of cuisine (Binomio’s Spanish heritage meant that he could not stray too far) also pleased him. He could develop a wide variety of dishes informed by his adventures.
Set of Six is far from complete, according to Landin. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, he could not fully realise his vision that includes music. The DJ’s decks remain empty for the moment but he continues to carefully curate the playlist to reflect the bar’s dark, floral mood and literary environs. “It’s been a year of hard work and I’m glad to see it all coming together. I remember standing in the middle of the place when it was almost finished, and feeling scared.”
The fears are still there, but the muscled Spaniard has always let them drive him forward. Much like an Argentinian lady, he reveals, who “has made me the man I am today, heartbreaks and all”.
When he’s not whipping up a storm in the kitchen, Landin prefers a simple T-shirt and jeans ensemble. The aim is to be comfortable but look well put together. One of the things he misses from living overseas is the chance to put on multiple layers and wear a nice coat or jacket. “Singapore is too hot to do this!”