On a recent trip home to Malaysia, Roy Giam made a stop in Bangkok – more specifically, to Gaggan, one of the top-rated restaurants in the world. It left quite the impact.
“It was a 25-course degustation, and the menu told this incredible story,” Giam told Restaurant and Café. “It was more like a food journey than a dining experience! It was refreshing that although they were ranked so highly, they didn’t take themselves too seriously and it was a fun environment.”
What made the meal that much more enjoyable was the fact that Gaggan reflected Giam’s own food philosophy. “It’s about using fresh produce and paying respect by knowing where your ingredients come from that is the foundation for any successful dish,” Giam explained. Lately, he has been experimenting with sea asparagus and wild fennel he gathered himself but acknowledged that simple is often best. “You can’t go wrong with a simple tomato salad with juicy heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil and a dash of aged balsamic.”
When Giam was 15, he moved to London to further his education where he spent two years working part-time at a Chinese Dim Sum restaurant. However, his interest in food has been life-long. “I have always been brought up in an environment with good food – its social, it connects people, families and inspires me.” Giam’s aunt owned a renowned restaurant in Malaysia, notable for a 48-hour braised pork hock. “That dish had such an impact on me – it showed me that it’s not about where you come from to create a great food experience. The dish can be so humble, yet it can still resonate strongly with people.”
Giam is currently working with woodfire cooking, an ancient method but not without its challenges. “I enjoy using different woods to create different flavour profiles across different meats – there is so much variety of techniques and results. It is truly back to basics and requires practice and patience,” he said. The back-to-basics approach is something which Giam has noted over time – the transition from sous vide to woodfire, from pan-searing to charcoal. “The ingredients haven’t changed that much, but the methodology has evolved,” he explained. “I respect the position we are in now. It’s important for young chefs to appreciate and understand simpler cooking techniques before moving on to anything unnecessarily complicated.” Foraging is also important, the process of getting to know more about the origins of the ingredients.
Giam worked at Charley Noble for four years and the White House (in Wellington, not Washington) for a year before that. Now at Jardin Grill at Sofitel Wellington, Giam has surrounded himself with a strong and reliable team who understand the importance of creating a great customer experience.
“I have all kinds of people working in my kitchen, but they all have four things in common – they are passionate, take pride in their work and have a positive and humble attitude,” he said. “We all know that working in a kitchen is not easy – it’s a stressful, high pressure and difficult work environment, so no man is an island. You rely so much on your co-workers to get through service together that it creates an amazing and enjoyable team dynamic.”
Over the next five years, Giam is aiming to get more experience, expand his horizons and continue to learn while he is still young. “I’m lucky enough that in my industry, research and development means going out and trying new restaurants!” His dream is to work at Eleven Madison Park in New York, a place which is changing the game in the culinary world.
“My biggest accomplishment is yet to come,” Giam said. “My culinary journey has just started.”