After acting as a mentor at the S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 series, Chef Ryan Clift from Singapore’s Tippling Club was now invited to take part in the prestigious S. Pellegrino Fine Dining Lovers Guest Chef series, aiming to bring international culinary talents to Bangkok. Over the course of two consecutive evenings—Friday, November 25th and Saturday, November 26th—he will dazzle diners with a special 6-course tasting menu at the Banyan Tree Bangkok’s alfresco rooftop restaurant Vertigo.
The Tippling Club—currently ranked 31 on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list—is especially known for pushing culinary boundaries by serving creative cuisine with cocktail pairings. The dishes featured at the Bangkok dinners will showcase a selection of Chef Ryan’s signature dishes from the past year (the Tippling Club changes its menu every three months) and will be paired with carefully selected wines and cocktails, created by head bartender Joe Schofield.
We spoke with Chef Ryan about his beginnings, his career success, and what he wants to achieve with his inventive cooking.
What inspired you to become a chef?
I left school when I was 13, and I walked past a restaurant in a town near where I grew up, and they were advertising for help. I needed a job, because I was only 13 and I wasn’t in school, so I ended up walking in and the chef gave me an apron and put me washing the dishes. So, I was kind of born into cooking, as opposed to an inspiration. I worked there for a few months washing the dishes, and one day I woke up and the chef gave me an apron. I became a chef through necessity I suppose.
Can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?
I worked at that first restaurant for about a year, and it turns out it was a one star Michelin restaurant, so I started pretty high up. From there they obviously realised how old I was, and that technically it wasn’t necessarily legal to be that age and work in a business, so they sent me off to culinary school part-time. I fell under the wing of a guy called Andrew Offland. He was my culinary lecturer at the school, and he found out where I was working and realized that maybe I had something in me. And I did—the kitchen consumed me, I fell in love with it, fell in love with the atmosphere, the adrenaline, the passion. When I was a little kid, I wasn’t exactly the most disciplined kid in the world, so something really encapsulated me about gastronomy and cooking and again the regimentation of the kitchen. The lecturer saw all that in me and basically said “I can get you a job in London, I think you should go to London”. So I went to London to work at Claridge’s Hotel where I met Emmanuel Renaut. I worked with him for a year or so, and from there I went to work with Marco Pierre White for a couple of years. I then worked again for Emmanuel, in France, when he opened his restaurant there, and later for a chef called Marc Veyrat (also in France). Then I met my ex-wife, who is Australian, and moved to Australia where I worked at one of the number one restaurants in Australia for about eight years, called Vue du Monde (which is the first three Hats restaurant in Melbourne). After that, I got the opportunity to open the Tippling Club. I’ve had a long career for someone who’s only 40, but I started a long, long time ago, at a very early age, but I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing chefs.
Why did you decide to move to Singapore and open the Tippling Club?
It was an opportunity at the time, I had a friend, who had a very famous bar in Melbourne, and I used to do some work for him on the side—teaching him about modern gastronomy and modern food science. He got an offer to come to Singapore to meet a Singaporean lady. He mentioned that he and I were planning the Tippling Club, possibly back in Australia, and she said, “Oh I like the concept, do you consider doing it in Singapore?” So, we flew over and met the city and the people, and had a look around and we sort of fell in love with Singapore, and thought it would be cool to do something outside of Australia. So that’s kind of how it all happened.
How would you describe your style of cuisine?
I hate the word “molecular”, and I hate the term “avant-garde”. I hate most words that define anything that is slightly out of the norm. To me it’s just cooking. Some people label me as progressive, and yes, I have a laboratory in my restaurant on the second floor and yes, what we do sometimes is on a scientific level—but it’s not done in front of the guests, it’s not shoved into people’s faces. At the end of the day, what you get served in my restaurant is a plate of food that has amazing taste, amazing texture, amazing aroma, and then, finally, amazing presentation. And for me it’s the last bit that I’m interested in. For me my food is all about the flavour and the texture. It’s not about fluff, and smoke and bubbles—I tie in some of those techniques, but at the end of the day it’s just food, that’s all it is. When you come to a restaurant it’s an experience—we take you on a journey. There are moments where you laugh, there are moments that bring you back to your childhood, there are moments that give you emotions of things that triggered you in your lifetime, and that’s the kind of menus I create. It’s the stuff that is almost personal to me, but I think most people get it at some point in their life—they realize the flavours. For me, if you can see a technique in my dish, I’ve gone too far, so I remove it. I try to keep everything hidden.
If you want find out more about the work these culinary masters are doing at their restaurant, check out the ‘Sensorium Menu’ video on the Tippling Club’s website: www.tipplingclub.com