Eco-Friendly Chef Creates a Menu to Save the Tropical Rainforest

By: Michele Wolfson

Eco-minded Singapore based chef Andre Chiang has developed his restaurant's menu to become a local sustainable dining spot in a very unique way. His latest endeavor is raising awareness though his latest eatery, Restaurant Andre. Here's the kicker- he plans to save the rainforest by serving what an orangutan eats-wild ferns, orchid leaves and durian flowers, among other plants.

Taiwan-born, French trained, Andre Chiang is known as one of the most talented and skilled chefs working in Singapore today. Chef Andre prepares what he terms, "French Nouvelle Cuisine", which essentially means that his food is exquisitely well-conceived, small portions of artfully plated and light French fare.

Now, he has taken his food to a locally-sourced level by obtaining his ingredients from Sintang, West Kalimantan on Borneo and giving villagers the chance to export ingredients such as dried wild mushrooms, edible plants and even honey so they will be able to generate revenue that gives them a lifeline to help keep the rain forest alive. He is optimistic that involving villagers as foragers in his project will stop them from aiding reckless deforestation.

Chef Chiang is calling one of his dishes an "Orangutan Salad" and he hopes that the meal will have diners thinking about saving the creature behind the dish's name. "If they (orangutans) don't have a rain forest, they don't have these ingredients, and they have nothing to eat. The 'Orangutan Salad' will feature between five to eight plants-including wild ferns, wild tree mushrooms, wild figs, tree berries, orchid leaves and durian flowers" said Chef Chiang.

Promoting local, sustainable and eco-friendly ways to dine has become an important issue to more and more well-known chefs on a global level. Cookbook author and food justice activist, Bryant Terry and chef and owner of NYC local, organic, sustainable restaurant Bell Book & Candle, John Mooney are just two other names in the food world that are actively making a difference to try and promote the importance of preparing food in an environmentally-friendly way.

When it comes to tropical rainforests, Borneo and Sumatra represent 1.3% of Indonesia's landmass but they support 10% of its known plant species, 12.5% of its mammals, and 17% of its other vertebrates. Borneo alone has 10,000-15,000 species of flowering plants, 3000 species of trees, 2000 orchids, and 1000 ferns. One tiny 1.12 hectare Bornean rainforest plot included 264 tree species and that did not include its palms, lianas, orchids, ferns and other vegetation.

Each of these organisms is dependent on the whole ecosystem functioning. If entire areas of forest are clear-cut, the whole system fails; habitats for thousands of species disappear, and are lost forever. Chef Chiang hopes that dishes at Restaurant Andre will be vehicles to help raise awareness about deforestation and his devotion to the cause will encourage people to take action.

It should be noted that a meal at Restaurant Andre isn't cheap (the bill can come to roughly $200 per person) but this is the norm for a lot of high-end establishments in this region. At least at Restaurant Andre, the patron is helping to support a good cause. The restaurant was voted as one of San Pellegrino's top 100 restaurants in the world this year within a year of its opening and it takes a month to get a reservation.

If Chef Chiang can continue to push his latest long-term sustainable goal in this eco-friendly direction, then there is no doubt that it will very quickly establish itself not just as one of Singapore's best restaurants, but one of Asia's best.

Photo: aZAMirul 

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