Won a Michelin star four months after opening the restaurant
You’ve held for six consecutive years. What is your secret? Do you have any advice for chefs?
Right now, I’m happy that we have one of the best one-star restaurants in the city but there are no any secrets for winning or keeping a Michelin star (laughs).
If your goal is to earn a Michelin star, then go for it. My goal was to earn a star within three years and it happened much faster, so I’ve gotten lucky. We work really hard. The most important thing is just do the best you can, and only worry about what you can control. If you put your happiness in the hands of events you don’t have control over.
You might need some time to develop first, and just cook and be happy. Don’t cook to earn stars; cook what you want to cook.you’re going to end up very stressed. My goal now is to have three stars and not just one. We might never get there, but we’ll have fun trying.
Could you also share what have been the most difficult things in your life?
(Thinks) Hmm, everything is challenging. This is a job with so many variables you can’t control them. Every day, something could go wrong. It’s not like a retail store where you sell stuff, and when you need more of it you just order more.Each item has to be made by a different person, with different ingredients. With food, every day on the menu, everything has to be good.
Another big challenge is always being nice (to all staff). It sounds terrible, but it’s really hard to be so passionate about something specific, when other people don’t understand you. You’re always trying to show others exactly what you mean and expecting them to understand. But that’s impossible. In this industry, if you want something a certain way you have to really fight hard for it. Maybe I could blame Gordon Ramsay for this attitude, because he’s on TV, but it seems he’s always going crazy at his team [when they don’t understand him] (laughs).
Another hard thing for me is that I’m a father with two kids, aged seven and two. In the first two or three years, days would go by without seeing them. I’d either leave before my son was up, or wake up after my he’d left for school. I worked every day, going to the markets at 7am and getting home around 12:30 am or 1am. Now I have a crazy awesome team now and I don’t work as many hours anymore. At least once a week I have a day off, usually even two days. I’m trying to spend more time with my family and I can see my sons and play some basketball on Saturday.
What else do you do outside of work hours?
Apart from spending time with the kids, I play drums whenever I can. I like to play heavy metal, and I listen to metal and rap. It’s a good way to beat stress. With music I have the same intuitive approach as for my cooking – I like to make stuff up with others.
What’s your next goal?
We opened the new restaurant, Hamilton Park in New Haven, Connecticut in January. It is totally different from The Musket Room – a big, casual bistro with no tasting menu. It’ll be somewhere you can eat several times a week, not just on special occasions.
I also work as a consulting chef for a couple of restaurants in New Zealand. I communicate with them regularly, because like anything I do. I just visited in three weeks to change the menu at one restaurant. I want to make sure these are very good. I take a lot of pride in my work. I don’t care as much about money or fame: the work should be good.
However, getting The Musket Room to this point has been one of the biggest things for me. I’d like to get two stars at this restaurant one day.
We’ll be getting a new kitchen this November, plus new chairs and new waiter stations… but that’s all baby steps, really. I look at this as a long-term project, at least 15 years, so I have at least another nine years to make this the very best it can be. I’m excited to seeing this renovation!
(Interviewer: Kasumi Abe, Proofreader: Stephanie Oley, Chef photography: Anita Ng, Food photography: Singe Birck, Restaurant photography: Emily Andrews)