360 Chef Series: Chef Justin Hammond – Neon Pigeon (Singapore)
Why did you decide to become a chef?
Because chicks dig a guy who can cook! That and also my mum and dad preached the benefits of having a trade set of skills. Smart move, as it turns out as my interpretive dance career didn’t really take off!
“Because chicks dig a guy who can cook!”
Did you go to culinary school? What credentials did you earn through your culinary studies?
I took a different route than the traditional culinary school. I was working as a young apprentice when my employer enrolled me in the local school and I just hated it. I once watched a guy take 10 minutes to cling film a bowl and I wondered what I was doing there. We decided to switch to onsite training and assessment so that I could be back in the kitchen learning from real chefs and feeling the fire of the kitchen. My assessor took a liking to me because I was passionate. Near the end of my training, he went blind, and I thought I would never get a certificate, but we were close and worked to finish my training together! It was pretty special. I like that I learned on the job because it means I don’t follow traditional rules and it allows me to think “outside the box.” I approach cooking from a different angle and think about things in unique, unusual ways.
Is there a chef you admire the most? Who and why?
I respect Japanese chefs all around the world! I really admire their dedication, meticulous preparation and ability to innovate while staying true to their heritage. I like the way Rene Renzepi looks differently at the world and food in general. Thomas Keller’s organisation and leadership is inspiring and Grant Achatz at Alinea in Chicago is a real innovator also.
Can you describe the type of food you are making at the moment?
Neon Pigeon is Japanese, and all my food is very vegetable focused in general. I think a lot of people see vegetables as the understudy and I want to show people that they can be just as exciting as any piece of meat or fish! I recently had a customer say to me, “Who goes to a restaurant and orders the celery dish? But I come here and do it because I know its going to blow my mind!” Right now I am currently in the eye of the storm opening a second restaurant focused on Eastern Mediterranean which opens in a month or two. It will be an exciting challenge to work across two very unique venues with two very distinct concepts. 31 Mar, 2017
How do you describe the (Singapore) food scene at the moment?
To be honest I think Singapore’s food scene is still young. It can be hard to bring the newest concepts to such a diverse market. Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable and want value add/quality whether in hawker food or the newest international trends. You can see it with emphasis on things like Michelin and Asia’s 50 Best where Singapore represented really well. The industry is becoming very inclusive and I think there is more exchange of knowledge and skills between chefs from all over the world here in Singapore. We’ve started to see many young foreign and local Chefs blossom.
“It is an exciting time to be here, building a great food scene alongside great people”
Besides your own – list three other restaurants in (Singapore) you absolutely love at the moment?
One Two Kitchen Korean BBQ & Restaurant. I have got the ordering here down to an art. If you order correctly and the right stuff, and know how to cook each meat correctly, it’s heavenly, plus their kimchi pancake rocks.
Baikohken Ramen Restaurant in One KM Mall. I fell in love with ramen in Japan and I see myself with a cool ramen place one day. These guys do a surprisingly good bowl, and it’s from Hokkaido so it feels like home for me.
Otowa Yakitori in Orchard Plaza. This is really hard to find and I never get to go because its closed on my day off, but the yakitori here is off the chain – the husband and wife team smash out yakitori proper Japan style! The guy looks like a mad scientist with frizzy white hair and his wife is lovely and hospitable. You must try the chicken sashimi here, there is a spicy version with an egg yolk in the centre that I highly recommend.
Do you have a sense of humor?
No. Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes. No?
What is your favorite cuisine to cook? Why?
This is a pretty broad question. I don’t like to think of food in terms of cuisines, I like to think of ALL food as showing connections between cultures; all food needs to be nutritious and “perfect for the right moment”. Ramen in Japan and pasta in Italy originated from China, and tempura was brought to Japan from the Spanish. Food shapes itself as people migrate. This is why I hate the word “fusion”. I’m not cooking “a cuisine” per se, I’m just cooking food so who is to tell me what goes well with what and why? I realised early on that Shaoxing rice wine in China is used similarly to red wine in France, so using the ingredients in the right way is what matters, not necessarily the technique. Of course in some instances technique plays a part and you learn something new, but by and large, you can cross borders with ease.
“I really like the way Japanese people cook. Methodical. Perfection. It’s almost spiritual”
What is your favorite wine? Why?
One of my favourites is one of Australia’s best pinot noirs, the Bass Phillip cuvee rare. It’s a small batch producer from a town near the coastline of Victoria, Leongatha. The winemaker studied in Burgundy, France and takes a biodynamic approach to all his wines. He has a vine density of 9,000 per hectare, which is much denser than a lot of other vineyards. The end result is a brooding pinot noir, which has earthy forest floor undertones, and is classy and elegant. It’s pure heaven in the mouth! I had a bottle that cost me around $800 sitting in the fridge that I was cellaring, and my partner came home and drank not knowing what it was! Ouch!
What trends are you noticing regarding wine and food pairings?
I’m actually noticing a trend towards wine and food not being paired together. New places are thinking outside the box and are offering juice and food pairings, tea pairings and also sake pairings mixed in the middle of a wine pairing.
What do you do to stay current on new trends? Describe two or three of the most interesting industry trends right now.
I’m old school and have a large collection of really expensive cookbooks I love to pour over. I follow a lot of my favourite chefs on Instagram, which helps, and watch a lot of cooking shows. It’s more of an obsession for me than a job. As far as industry trends go, I personally like nose-to- tail eating which focuses on using all of an animal and its by-products, leaving no wastage. I think biodynamic farming practices that help the planet through sustainability are very important. Words like sustainability get thrown around a lot but it is our duty to preserve the the earth so we can continue to grow food in it. Kill it, and we have no food. Pretty scary…
“It’s more of an obsession for me than a job”
How involved are you with menu development and overall design?
100%. I’ve built the core but I also encourage my team to bring ideas to the table which we tweak together until I’m happy to have it on the menu. As a chef, cooking is life. Even after a 17 hour shift on my feet, I’m happiest in the kitchen and it’s the creativity that keep the mind active. I am currently doing one for our new venue as we speak and it’s really exciting. Creating new flavors and new ideas is what keeps me going!
Describe your last meal on earth.
Address: 1 Keong Saik Rd, 089109
Hours: 6pm – 12pm
Phone: 6222 3623