The Executive Chef at LeVel33, Jimi Tegerdine, is rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the most inventive chefs on the island. Born and bred in Essex, England, Jimi worked extensively in Australia before moving to Singapore. EX caught up with Jimi to find out about his experiences in the kitchen, and what inspired him to become a chef.
When did you first take an interest in cooking?
It happened very early on. Mum seems to think I was five-years old when it became difficult to get me out of the kitchen. She claims I took more interest in cooking shows and books than I did in cartoons and comics.
What was your favourite food as a child?
Lasagna and baked potatoes.
Were you a fussy eater or happy to try anything?
To be fair, I never remember food being that adventurous at home. I have a big family so it had to suit all and I was happy to try anything.
Can you remember the first time you cooked?
Yes. I was entrusted by my stepdad to make dinner with him and he taught me how to use a peeler. I was interested in how his “one pan per meal’ technique worked.
What was the dish and how did it turn out?
Mashed potatoes. The TV distracted me and I burnt them! I remember being very upset.
When did you decide that you wanted to do it as a profession?
On that exact day when I burnt the potatoes! I just knew that it was what I wanted to do. As soon as I left high school I was in a kitchen.
What was your first job?
From the age of 11 I worked at markets with my family making fresh donuts and baked potatoes. I was the only kid at school with a job apart from a paper round, which I was also doing. At the age of 15 I got my first “real” job as what I call a “microwave technician”. I was a kitchen assistant at a steak house and was put in charge of manning the eight microwaves.
How tough was it in a professional kitchen when you first started?
I loved the kitchen atmosphere right from the start, but what I found tough was the hours, the waking up and the concentration. I started off quite cheeky in the kitchen but soon got that beaten out of me with burns and dead arms.
How quickly did you progress to become a head chef?
I got my first taste of being a head chef for the first time when I was 19 years old, but that was just covering for the head for two months. I was officially a head chef by the time I was 22 and living in Australia.
Who were your culinary heroes?
Back in the day it was Gary Rhodes. Then Jamie Oliver appeared on scene, who is also from Essex where I grew up, and I found a new love for food and began to realize that young people could make it in the big world also.
Who do you look up to now?
Nowadays, I follow Marco (Pierre White), Gordon Ramsay, Thomas Keller, Heston (Blumenthal).
How would you describe your food?
East meets West using traditional and modern methods.
Where do you get your influences?
I get most of my influences from fresh food markets, eating out, travelling and looking through food magazines.
Any awards etc?
We’ve won a few awards at LeVeL33 that I’m happy about, but nothing massive.
Any big culinary ambitions?
Wow, so many… I want to continue learning about food through travel, including spending some time in India learning more about herbs and spices, and also a chance to take in the food culture in Italy. I’d also like to think that I will spend some time working in the States and even open up my own place one day.
What is the food scene like in Singapore?
Amazing! There is a lot of talent here and produce wise you can get anything from around the globe.
Do you follow the latest trends or stick to your own style?
I definitely keep an eye on the latest trends, but as with all things trendy you’ll start to see it everywhere so I for sure keep this in mind and stick to my own style so that my food doesn’t become generic. I love to experiment, taking traditional ingredients from different cuisines and presenting them in an untraditional way.