Wed, Jan 13, 2010 - Page 14 News List

Cream of the crop

Bold designs and a subtle balance of flavors are the secrets to Justin Quek’s culinary success

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER


With the opening of his new restaurant, Justin’s Signatures, just off Taipei’s Anhe Road (安和路), Singapore-born celebrity chef Justin Quek (郭文秀) has raised his colors on Taipei’s culinary battlefield. Signatures is Quek’s third restaurant in the capital, and as the name suggests, it is his most personal. Justin’s Signatures will largely be overseen by Quek himself, and will serve the cuisine that has made him the go-to chef of Asia’s financial and political elites.

The opening of Signatures follows Quek’s withdrawal from a number of high-profile restaurant ventures in Shanghai’s trendy Xintiandi (新天地) area, and builds on a foundation he established in Taipei with the establishment of La Petite Cuisine and Just In Bistro in June 2008 and April last year, respectively. With Signatures, which seats around 25 to 30, Quek said he aimed to create an intimate fine dining experience for guests, distinguishing it from both the banquet-oriented La Petite Cuisine and the casual informality of the Just In Bistro.

Speaking with the Taipei Times last week, Quek said he was attracted by the enormous potential for fine dining that Taipei offered, and also the abundance of high quality fish and seafood.

“Taipei will really open up in the next two years,” he said, pointing to the influx of top international talent, including the recent opening of a restaurant by Michelin-starred chef Joel Robuchon at the Bella Vita shopping mall in Taipei.

Seafood is a favorite foodstuff for Quek, and an ideal medium for him to showcase the unique style he has developed over 25 years as a chef.

“We feature a lot of seafood here because I think that is the forte of this country,” he said. “In Hong Kong [where Quek continues to work as a consultant], they can’t get seafood like this. They have to import, and the price is up to four times as high ... When you come to this restaurant, you can find three to four different expressions of Pacific Ocean seafood [on the menu] ... prepared in different ways.”

Justin’s Signatures

ADDRESS: 17, Ln 265, Dunhua S Rd Sec 2, Taipei City (台北市敦化南路二段265巷17號)

TELEPHONE: (02) 2736-8000

OPEN: Noon to 3pm and 6pm and 10pm (last setting). Reservations recommended



Traveling the world as a ship’s steward as a young man, Quek realized early on that his real passion was food. He accepted a large pay cut to secure a position at Fourchettes, the French restaurant at Singapore’s Oriental Hotel. This experience inspired him to invest his entire life savings in a yearlong trip to France, where with the help of recommendations, stubbornness and his intense passion for all things related to food (a willingness to work 16-hour days for no pay also helped), he obtained positions at some of the top restaurants in France.

Quek was certainly not the only Asian lad working his way through the restaurants of Europe, but he is one of very few who made it to the top. Quek estimates that there are no more than 20 or 30 Chinese working at the top rank of French-based cuisine. (Quek noted Japan as an exception to the absence of Asians in this field.) Quek attributes his success in rising to his present eminence as a result of his willingness to invest in developing his palate.

“The problem with many Asian chefs is that although they might be working in a French restaurant, when they get off work, what do they eat? They eat a lunch box (便當), they eat McDonald’s. They eat cheap things. They don’t invest in their palate. They don’t invest in what they see,” Quek said, adding with a laugh that he has probably spent more money on eating than he has on anything else in his life.

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