Some cookbooks offer the practical, at-home kitchen motivation you need; others, like André Chiang's Octaphilosophy: The Eight Elements of Restaurant André (Phaidon), provide inspiration of an entirely different sort. The chef's whimsical cooking philosophy, as presented in his book, is more of a guide to living a creative life than it is a kitchen rulebook. The dishes and recipes in the book—while technically flawless, edible works of art—are also a deeply personal peek inside the chef's mind.
The origins of the various recipes reflect his experience. A Taiwanese chef who extensively trained in France—under greats like chef Michel Troisgros of the three-starred La Maison Troisgros in Roanne, France—Chiang now lives and works in Singapore, but still faithfully deals in food synched with the seasonal changes of southern France.
"Trying to filter what's important from a whole life is challenging," writes Chiang, "remolding those experiences into a useful tool, even more so." In the book, Chiang describes how he came to develop his now famous Octaphilosophy, which is comprised of the eight elements that influence his restaurant's "ultimate expression."
While other restaurants of similar caliber only focus on the tangible: technique, flawless product, and hospitality, Chiang uses his octaphilosophy in an effort "to shift focus to emotion," as he says. His approach is highly idiosyncratic, bordering on esoteric—but you simply can't help admiring his dedication to his unique, and thoroughly refined practice.
Here, Chiang explains the eight elements that define his creative output: unique, pure, texture, memory, salt, south, artisan, and terroir—and shares a dish that embodies each value.
1. Pure: The Act of Transforming Simple to Extraordinary
"The concept of 'Pure' is equated with transparency. 'Pure' can imply eating with your hands, or using only a few components in a dish and relying on the quality of the ingredients. Pure brings excitement to the act of eating in the seemingly simple."
2. Salt: The Symbol of Hard Work (and Flavor)
"Salt is not only the key to life, it also preserves, has been used as currency, keeps away demons, and makes food taste delicious. Salt is sea, civilized, and essential."
3. Artisan: The Beauty in Everything From Plates to Produce
"Practitioners of the art of cultivation deserve to be celebrated. Artisans carry history on their shoulders by passionately dedicating their lives to the craft of taking a simple ingredient and turning it into gold."
4. South: The Years Spent Training in the South of France
"Inhale the perfume of sun-drenched olive trees and ripe tomatoes. The air vibrates from joie de vivre. This is the South of France, the region that generously invites the adventurous, colorful spirit we call life."
5. Texture: The Result of Fiercely Independent Individuals Joining to Form One Team
"They each have their own specialties: one is great at combining flavors, another at execution, while someone else is a constant source of crazy creative ideas. My job is to facilitate the teamwork."
6. Unique: The Exploration of New Ideas to Create Harmony
"Each dish has its own shape and so, when stacking all the octagonal diagrams of a menu together, it becomes immediately obvious whether the menu is perfectly balanced or not."
7. Memory: The Past Enhancing the Future
"Memory is a kind of multitasking system that can't be backed up or restored. It is learning by doing, observing, and absorbing—taking the scenic route to creativity...visual triggers leading to new ideas."
8. Terroir: The Influence of Land, Experiences, and Mothers
"The characteristics of a specific time and place, tradition and culture, geography and climate—incarnated into the ever-present origin."
Octaphilosophy: The Eight Elements of Restaurant André by André Chiang (Phaidon) is out now, $60, phaidon.com.