The New Master Chef on the Block – Ebbe Vollmer

A new star chef of high calibre has arrived to Singapore, and more precisely to the fine dining restaurant Jaan, and for once stemming from Sweden! Swissotel The Stamford Singapore has entrusted Ebbe Vollmer as its new Chef de Cuisine, expecting him to again take their flagship outlet to new heights.

So, with the promise to draw deeply from his Nordic heritage, the chance to enjoy European-style fine-dining with Scandinavian touches is now a reality in the Lion City.

With Ebbe at its helm, Jaan enters a new chapter where the attention turns to the uncompromising quality and passion embraced by the new chef as he sets out to redefine its concept.

And after only days into his new position Ebbe was put to the test: The Miele Guide (Asia’s independent restaurant guide) came on a visit to Swissotel’s Level 70. But Ebbe’s refined cooking and culinary pedigree shone through well and Jaan was allowed to retain its ranking as the No. 4 Best Restaurant in Asia.

Minimalistic menu
Ebbe arrived straight from the 3 Michelin star Gordon Ramsay restaurant in London, where he had gone to fine-tune his craft and ethos at the highest possible level.  Back at that level he learned a lot about customer care.

“I felt there was more to learn, especially after running my own establishment [Bloom in Sweden] which took me away from the main reason why I opened it in the first place: to cook – that’s my passion.”

Ebbe has also learned the trade alongside Gordon back in the 1990s when the Swede at the age of 16 left for London to work at Harvey’s Wandsworth Commons – an iconic restaurant then part of London’s emerging scene.

Ebbe presents an overall different proposition to his guests. To begin with, the menu is fairly minimalistic with just the main ingredients listed for each dish.

“I’m a bit weary about intimidating people; if you write too much in the menu. And it ruins the element of surprise if you try to explain every small detail. I like the simplicity, and I am also asking my guests to trust me completely,” explains Ebbe.

All his staff knows the menu inside out, to tell the customer.

“And if you’re not happy I want you to come and tell me. When you’re running a fine dining restaurant many times it becomes too pretentious and strict – which does not give any freedom. I’d rather have the relaxed luxury feeling where you feel comfortable and happy. We’re there to make your evening the best. It always takes two to tango, but if you interact properly with the customer it shouldn’t be difficult to ensure that he is happy when he leaving.”

Orchestrating the kitchen strictly
The discipline belongs in the kitchen though – which ScandAsia could conclude during a behind-the-scenes look as Ebbe was firing up and urging his team for each moment to end on a high note at Jaan. Rest assured the dining experience will be up of top class – nothing else is acceptable for this perfectionist!

“It’s a big thing for me; the kitchen is run very strict, but the good thing is that the customer will always get consistency, it’s not up to if the chef is in a good mood or not – the food will always come out on a very high level. I have many lines of defence before the customers get the food, and it’s being tasted again and again.”

“It is a big ship to turn around, a lot of staff you have to work with and explain why I want it done differently. But they are all eager to learn, it’s a good bunch,” he comments his challenge as a newcomer.

Simple and essential
The simplicity of the menu can also be explained by his cooking concept based on a less-is-more philosophy he brands as ‘essentialist cuisine’.

“The main ingredients are 80 per cent of the dish and the centre piece, so I focus on trying to concentrate and enhance their flavours rather than having too much garnish on the side taking too much attention. An untrained palate can taste between three and five flavours, so if I put in too many flavours and make the food too complicated, 95 per cent of my customers can’t say if it tastes so and so. It becomes too complicated to notice and then they can’t fully enjoy their meal. So I’d rather keep it fairly simple and essential, just like any Scandinavian designer would say.”

“I prefer the main thing, with not too much fuss and clarity in flavours,” says the Swede.

Subscribing to classic, painstaking cooking, Ebbe passionately cooks modern European cuisine but vastly differs from the more experimental methods (e.g. molecular gastronomy) of some modern chefs. The Swede prefers the classics, serving up elegant, refined European dishes unburdened by the latest culinary trends.

“I have a low-tech kitchen and I am trying to get the guys to cook food rather than vacuum-pack everything. It’s more about the textures and tastes; you get so much more flavour if you caramelize the lamb or the beef in a pan with butter and keep on scooping it. You get a nice caramelized rather than a plastic-bag surface. Some of the old techniques are there because they’re damn good.”

“To vacuum pack and put it in a slow cooker, it takes five minutes to perfect that technique. I cover myself and ensure high quality products arriving to the dining room by using some of the modern techniques but at the same time I really want the guys to be taught how to do it traditionally and well rather than cheating themselves out in a way.”

“At Ramsay’s we didn’t use any modern techniques and it is painstaking work to get it perfectly caramelized, but then every flavour is so full and fragrant. And the texture is there as well.”

With a new maitre’d arriving and Ebbe full of ideas and plans, his team will be able to take things even further.

“I won’t stand still and will eventually have the team properly built and all the ingredients I can dream of. If you come back in one year’s time we’ll have developed and in two years from now even more.”

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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