Debuting at No. 26, JL Studio has made a good start in 2020 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. The head chef Jimmy Lim, also the Asia’s winner for 2019 Miele One To Watch Award, is expected to be awarded stars in Taichung, where the modern Singapore restaurant is based, is embracing its inaugural 2020 edition of the Michelin Guide.
Born and bred in Singapore, the chef offers a refined French interpretation of his homeland’s traditional flavors using Taiwanese produce.
Lim has been endowed with a keen sense of the Singaporean cuisine, as he spent most of his childhood running errands for his father’s restaurant. Having completed military service, Lim went on to learn about French cooking in a local culinary school. Then he moved to Taichung in 2008, where he worked at the award-winning Le Moût for seven years.
And it was at Le Moût that he met his life mentor Chen Lanshu, the 2014 recipient of Asia’s Best Female Chef, who arranged for him to hone skills at The French Laundry in Napa Valley, Per Se in New York, as well as Noma and Geranium in Copenhagen.
When I asked him what he had learned from those internationally-acclaimed chefs, he shared: “At French Laundry and Per Se, chef Thomas Keller’s group management, consistency and aim for perfection, are what I got most out of the US trip. In Copenhagen, they broke open my “stereotypical” thinking about food. They give me limitless possibilities of embracing nature and people and thinking out of the box.”
His imagination for food, however, is not unrestrained, but rather driven by his root-seeking courage, which ultimately leads him off the beaten track to make delightful plate scenes full of illusion and art, one after another, a reality.
I was especially impressed by several of his dishes. The course of sea urchin combined with fermented papaya for instance produced a not so harmonious combination, for the papaya gave little improvement to the taste of the sea urchin. But overall speaking, each dish was well accomplished in a complicated and delicate manner, rendering Southeast Asian flavors not only much loved by Asians but also appreciated by Westerners.
sea urchin combined with fermented papaya
After the appetizer, a bowl of meat noodles was served, which is widely considered a delicacy of Singapore. Lim elevated it to a heartwarming dish without borders by employing Taiwanese ingredients and French element. With Xinshe mushroom slices replacing the noodles, Gongliao abalone enhancing the texture, local duck liver presenting an element of French food, and shallots bringing out a strong, fresh and sweet taste, the dish greatly pushed the creative boundaries of gastronomy.
Another dish Teochew fish soup followed an appealing deconstructed French recipe which was characterized by plated slices of raw fish and a base of fish soup simply seasoned with shallots and ginger.
Teochew fish soup
The typical Singaporean dish chili crab represented one more palatable delicacy, featuring a perfect combination of caviar, sea urchin and crab meat. Pity the flavor of caviar was concealed, but the crab meat tasted delicious just the same even after flavored with curry, largely due to Lim’s great cooking skills.
One may wonder what Singaporean cuisine is to Lim. The chef gave his answer: “Actually to me the Singaporean cuisine is like the country itself. It is a mixture and combination of different races, dialects and communities. From aborigines to immigrants to travelers to settlers to colonists. It somehow learns and infuses other styles to become something which is unique in Singapore. Flavors are bold and strong but somehow it is all about the balance and harmony just like the country itself. ”
In fact it was just 3 weeks before the scheduled opening of JL Studio, which was supposed to be a modern European restaurant initially, that Lim decided to change to the Singaporean cuisine. That was almost a suicidal decision in the sense of a business.
Indeed, Lim has the roots and persistence necessary for him to shine brightly in the lifelong culinary career. Nevertheless, he himself feels like an isolated force in the battlefield of Taichung fine dining, as other businesses like Le Moût, and famous Italian restaurants K2 Cucina and J Ping are shutting down.
Fortunately, every cloud has a silver Lining. JL Studio should drive the rise of Taichung’s fine dining ecosystem if it were to obtain the Michelin Star status. And the very restaurant, established by Lim in his own name and thus for no commercial purposes, truly deserves more visitors.
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Jocelyn Chen has received Master degree of SDA Bocconi Business School in Milan, Italy. She is the founder of fine dining media tastytrip.com She also acts as judge for many renown food competitions and awards. She was one of the judges of “Chef Nic”, the popular cooking show in China and the moderator of chef documentary “Banquet Planet”. Columnist of Taiwan Economic Daily News and several lifestyle magazines in China. All articles are published on tastytrip.com.