#MensFolioMeets 1-V:U’s Head Chef Ace Tan And Music Director Jorge Monteiro
In the sixteenth instalment of #MensFolioMeets — a weekly column where we interview who’s who and who’s in the know — we speak to 1-V:U’s Head Chef Ace Tan and Music Director Jorge Monteiro.
We mean no disrespect to the owners of our local beach clubs but when it comes to the venn diagram of what makes a good one — great views, great grub and great music — it’s hard to fulfill all three. Sure, one can get a stunning view of the beach with a background playlist that chugs reggae but more often than not, the food comes a soggy mess. If they aced the view and grub game then that means the music sounds like a frat-boy party’s Spotify playlist.
Enter the latest day club 1-V:U (pronounced one view) that is set to be a game changer. The food served at the club and restaurant is progressive Asian that is beautifully plated, the music is the right kind of EDM (AKA happy positive beats) and the views include Palawan Beach and the Singapore Straits. We speak to the two men who are making the former two happen.
Hi Jorge and Ace! Tell us how did it all begin?
Jorge: I was maybe only 11 or 12 when I started “DJ-ing” and I was just creating parties for my friends from school. That somehow got bigger and bigger and opened opportunities for me to spin at hotels, clubs and festivals.
But what really helped me take off is when I became the resident music director, programmer and DJ at a huge beach club back in my hometown of Porto. Parties were happening every night, and the weekends always drew huge crowds. My work there caught the attention of an events company that dealt in festivals, and I also found time to collaborate with alcohol brands.
My career continued growing and I got the chance to start my own festival when I was 22 years old, circa 1993-1994. It started at around 8,000 people and grew to 10,000, 15,000 and 20,000.
I eventually sold it to start a fashion retail brand in Singapore back in 2012, but I couldn’t let the music side of me go. I’d find time on the weekends to do gigs at Tanjong Beach Club and, good news for me, the people of FashionTV loved it and decided to offer me a job as their music director. I was there for almost six years, with a stint at the Shanghai branch, before joining 1-Group.
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Ace: I’ll say it was 10 years ago when I was immersing myself in cooking shows and books, rather than other hobbies. Not that it was too surprising; I’ve always been interested in ingredients and food. I was the nosy kid that would follow my parents to the wet market, curiously picking up produce and trying them. It was always interesting to watch my grandma and mom cook in the kitchen, though I never really cooked with them then. It was perhaps a slapdash decision, but I decided to take a leap and see if I had what it takes to wow the culinary world.
Initially, it was difficult. I had nothing to offer. I had to work my way up, from casual establishments (Japanese or Italian) to places that gave me bigger exposure, like Pollen. What I meant by exposure is the interaction of colleagues from different countries, letting me expand my worldview and seeing what’s going on in the culinary world on an international level.
Realising that there was a much bigger world out there (in terms of culinary) spurred my interest to work at finer establishments, like Bacchanalia and spending a year at the Michelin-recommended Flowerchild Restaurant in Seoul, Korea as its executive sous chef. It was the latter experience that really pushed me to embrace my Asian heritage and wanting to explore more of its flavours, ingredients and seasonality in my food; I felt it was my responsibility as a chef to shout about my culture, one that is oft-forgotten in the international dining scene.
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I eventually came back to Singapore and met Chris Millar (culinary director of 1-Group) through a mutual friend who is also a chef. He shares that he was looking to open a new concept at Sentosa, and I jumped on the fact that it could very well be the platform I needed to shout about my passion for Asian flavours.
I created a short tasting menu for him, he enjoyed it and tossed the original idea for a western concept out the window for what’s now available as Progressive Asian at 1-V:U. I also wanted to see how a more accessible model with multiple concepts can work with my approach to food. 1-V:U is very much about being in the present moment (taking a step back from our busy lives) and making connections. Which is why, to complement the music and regular events, such as our Soul Therapy Session and upcoming pool parties, the food at 1-V:U revolves around the idea of communal dining, be it within the restaurant or if you’re lounging at the Day Club.
Jorge, Where should one go the minute he touches down in your country? And Ace, are there any secret dining spots you like in Singapore?
Jorge: Porto is a charming place. People are naming it the top destination in Europe because it’s an old city with loads of heritage, food and of course, wine. And its nightlife is just as legendary.
You can find a party happening at any time, be it 3am or 8am. There are so many, but you should check out Industria. It’s a huge international club that draws huge crowds with a high chance of spotting superstars. What’s special is that it plays strictly house music or from the underground scene; no mainstream or EDM.
Ace: Mustard Seed. As you can tell by my culinary direction, I’ve always been interested in trying out concepts by fellow Asian chefs, particularly modern interpretations of Asian cuisine.
For Mustard Seed, chef Gan Ming Kiat fuses Japanese and Peranakan cuisine together. They are two very different cuisines; different flavour profiles people won’t naturally associate together. I, myself, am of a Hokkien background and would like to eventually delve into a menu dedicated to it.
Jorge, what is your favourite genre to spin?
I’ve always been involved in house music. I was part of the industry back home. That had to change when I came over to Singapore or Asia, in general, where the demand was for more mainstream styles. With 1-V:U, I am able to bring a new state of mind to Singapore’s dance scene. The overall genre is complex, emotional and about bringing happy vibes and positive energy to the listener; a completely different form of energy compared to EDM.
Asia is still unfamiliar with the genre and I want to showcase more of house music and delve into the different influences and sub-genres. To illustrate this, there is 1-V:U’s daily Soul Therapy Sessions taking guests from day to night with sensual Deep House and Soul EDM. Come night time, 1-V:U transitions into an energetic dancefloor with Funky, Nu-Disco, Vocal House and Jackin House to name a few.
Jorge, what is your favourite song to spin. Is there a song that always gets people dancing?
Not a track in particular but I love to play house music that talks about love. I feel that there is a lack of love in the world. Everything is moving so fast; everyone is so stressed out and often forget about love.
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Jorge, Where is your dream destination to spin?
Whether I am playing for five people or a 5,000 big, I have the same respect and passion for both settings. I just want to do my thing, no matter the setting.
Jorge and Ace, how does it feel being the music director and head chef of 1:VU AKA the possible next backdrop for Singapore Social or a Crazy Rich Asians sequel?
Jorge: It is a “fish in water” situation for me. I am doing what I like to do for a living for almost three decades and now at 1-V:U, I get to express my fondness for house music in this paradisiacal setting. I usually walk through the space and design the music, I can visualise what sort of atmosphere I want to create. I wanted music with feelings; the sort of utopia where your spirits are at ease.
Ace: What excites me is being able to communicate my food and vision to more people, finding the right frequency to communicate with people of all walks of life. 1-V:U presents a great setting. It has got a convivial vibe with the seamless entry way between the restaurant and the day club and the soulful music for me to better engage them.
Jorge: The music and food go hand-in-hand. It’s a multi-concept space and our platform to explore unique collaborations, be it guest DJs, artists or chefs.
Ace: On my side, there are plans to collaborate with regional and local chefs that fit our vision for 1-V:U and explore more of what we can do in terms of showcasing Asian flavours, and how it is a “pitch-perfect pairing” with Jorge’s music direction.
A dish from 1-V:U’s Terra menu: Glazed Beef Flat Iron Steak.
Ace, what is something that you personally like to eat?
I have an intense focus on Asian cuisine and that extends to my personal life. When it comes to Asian food, there is a huge emphasis on communal dining and freshness of the ingredients. Think Steamed Fish. I bring the fundamental aspects of that to 1-V:U, with an elevated take on the ingredients (of course). At home, it’s more about familiar flavours; my family’s palate is different from the newer generation.
Unlike the restaurant where I do unorthodox combinations, it presents a good chance for me to prepare an authentic dish, like my grandmother did.
A dish from 1-V:U’s Aqua menu: Red Snapper Fillet.
Jorge, Some DJs drink while spinning, some don’t. What’s your take?
I’m one of those that don’t drink while I am spinning. I have utmost respect for both camps. I understand that some DJs are shy and need a little “liquid courage” to release themselves to be more inspired.
For me, music is my drug. When I am spinning, I feel more connected to the crowd and the moment.
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Ace, How do you bring your experience at Les Amis, Pollen and Bacchanalia to 1-V:U’s table?
When it comes to fine dining, there is an emphasis on details, in terms of organisation (discipline in the team, integrity) and creativity (like an in-depth knowledge for creating a dish). I’ve bought these skills to 1-V:U despite it having a different format of communal dining. There is also the whole learning attitude of a chef. There is always something new to learn, some new ingredients to taste and explore.
I want to shout about Asian flavours and food but am also aware that there is a need to fine tune it for different audiences. Like at 1-V:U, its more international. And when it comes to a cuisine that many are not familiar with, there needs to be a little show and tell.
As someone who worked in a fine dining setting, I’m familiar with that. At 1-V:U, I do get to be more casual and social in my delivery. One of the ways I’ve done so is our Chef’s Day Off event before the grand opening. I wrangled a couple of chef friends, (out of their chef uniforms) and present the tasting menu in a more relaxed setting.
Ace, what ignited your passion for food and what do you wish the young ones knew?
You need to buckle down. It’s important to work on your foundation and the best way to do so is to start from the lowest rank and work your way up. You need to solidify your base. Locals in Singapore have the advantage of being able to move from job to job without being restricted by working or employment passes. The modern generation are impatient and tend to move on to the next option. The key is to understand that there is always a downside to any job.
The young ones need to realise too that to better establish themselves as chefs, they should spend more time looking at their Asian food culture, instead of just following what’s taught in school. They need to look and see if their own family and heritage have unique, interesting flavours and creativity that they can explore and build their own culinary direction from there.
What is something about 1-V:U the both of you have discovered that people don’t know?
Jorge: It’s so hard to pin down what I love about 1-V:U. There are so many elements to enjoy — the pool, the view, the sunset and even fireworks. What I’d recommend is to simply come here to relax, and enjoy all of what 1-V:U has to offer as much as possible.
Ace: Food is often the supporting role when it comes to concepts like clubs but 1-V:U came with a vision to change it up and be one of the core identities.
Even with the Day Club, where the menu is more casual, I do inject much of my culinary style into it. You get a range of South Asian flavours on the menu, which is also designed in a way to be suitable for a day of lounging by the pool. It’s not temperature sensitive. Our Kombu Truffle Chips stay perfectly crispy even after hours.
Then in the restaurant, it’s more about North Asia flavours, where I showcase more unorthodox combinations in cuisines you won’t normally marry together. Like the French beans with Bumbu sauce and Natto (Indonesian and Japanese) or the Puri Puffs that marries idea of Hamachi sashimi with Indian spices and the delivery mode of a crisp Pani Puri.
What are both of your plans for 2020?
Jorge: Summer time is going to be a chance for audiences to truly hear my music. I’ll be heading back to my studio to work on my own tracks that will veer towards the more melodic side, maybe with some vocals. It’s all up in the air now and I’ll see how I feel as I go along.
Ace: I’ve a dedicated R&D corner in the kitchen, working on my passion pet project of Asian sauces. I’ve already started making my own oyster sauce, soya sauce and a boozy ginger honey concoction that’s been fermenting by the window. Plans are to explore what kind of koji I can whip up, from barley to red glutinous rice. Come by in the following months and have a taste for yourself.
And, likewise, I am looking into working with chefs advocating their heritage through their restaurant offerings. I’d love to work with Louis Han, previously doing modern Korean at Kimme or Johnson Wong of Gen (Penang cuisine) for thematic collaborations; perhaps with the idea of exploring Asia flavours.
This article was written by MEN’s FOLIO Digital Editor, Bryan Goh.