Chef Lewis Barker knows where he’s going. At just 27, he is already the head chef of Sommer, the latest fine-dining spot in town opened by Ebb & Flow Group in collaboration with Acquired Capital. He has cooked professionally for the past 12 years at some of the most lauded restaurants in the UK, Australia and Singapore – and job has been a calculated decision.
“I always selected the places I worked at based on what I wanted to get from that restaurant,” he shares. Having started his career working for modernist chef Anthony Flinn, an El Bulli alum known for his molecular gastronomy, Barker then decided to dive into the opposite end, travelling to Australia to immerse himself in the farm-to-table locavore ethos of contemporary Australian cuisine at two powerhouses of the genre, Vue de Monde in Melbourne and Quay in Sydney.
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His past five years in Singapore also introduced him to a similarly gilded lineage of heavyweights. He has spent time with Bachannalia’s Luke Armstrong, who was at one point the youngest chef in Singapore to be awarded a Michelin star, and most recently, Joel Roubouchon’s protege Vianney Massot.
His experiences certainly add up. Barker’s cooking is as intricate as it is precise, with a keen understanding of what goes well together on a plate such as meaty Brittany turbot with sweet young peas and black trumpet mushrooms – all balanced with a bold vin jaune and wild garlic sauce.
Now, Barker not only has a restaurant, but also a growing base of fans who have been following him since his brief stint as a private home chef before opening Sommer. “There was definitely a bit of nerves. Am I ready? How are people going to take this? It feels like I was thrown into the deep end twice. Here’s my first head chef position and first restaurant. That was a bit daunting.”
Even with over a decade in restaurants, taking the reins has given Barker a whole new perspective – one where his eye for detail extends far beyond the kitchen. He notices the dust gathering on a particular surface or studies how the light extending into a private room might be too bright during the day or even takes charge of the cleanliness of the restroom. “We are a small team, and some days I find myself finishing in the kitchen and then cleaning the toilet.”
He has the restaurant and the position, the experience and the technical skill, but Lewis Barker doesn’t know where he’s going next – yet. In terms of having a crystalised philosophy and style of cooking, he’s still finding his way. “I don’t have the story. My family didn’t cook much and I don’t have any heirloom recipes from my grandmother.” What he has is a childhood spent glued to Gordon Ramsay’s Boiling Point on the TV and, most importantly, great passion and respect for the culinary world.
Perhaps this is the most interesting part about following Barker’s cooking: to see the emergence of a style with the knowledge that there’ll be a solid foundation.