What do you get when you combine a speakeasy concept, Borat paraphernalia, and Omakase? Small's, obviously. Masterchef judge and celebrity chef Bjorn Shen's newest venture, named after The Notorious B.I.G., is an evolution of his test kitchen previously appended to the celebrated Artichoke restaurant, and promises to deliver amazing Omakase experiences in small, intimate group settings. Our first Duxton Stories episode of 2021 features the man of the hour himself, decked out in Chef Bjorn's favourite kimono, answering questions about his experience with restaurants, ice cream, and his understanding of Daring Greatly.
Read on to pick his brain.
Tell us about small’s.
Bjorn: So - Small’s was born from a four seat counter restaurant at my other restaurant Artichoke. So it used to be my office and I turned it into a test kitchen / chef’s counter, where I would experiment with things and have four people come through at a time to eat whatever I was experimenting with. We didn’t expect it to do well. We didn’t know how it was going to be, how people would respond to that. But then we put out bookings and we sold out within, like, 35 seconds of service. It was nuts. So that led to this bigger space here, which is Small’s number 2. It is now my test kitchen, my cooking studio where we do all sorts of fun, cool projects for ourselves or for other people. And we also do private dinners as well as Omakase sessions. Right now we’re doing a pizza Omakase series.
Do you still have the other small’s?
Bjorn: I still do have it. It’s a vacant room at this time, handing that over to my pastry chef starting second quarter of next year. She’s going to run dessert Omakase's from that room and the first dessert Omakase series that we’re going to do is a donut Omakase.
What for you is Daring Greatly?
Bjorn: This will be my most serious answer so far. I think in a place like Singapore, there is a really straight and narrow definition of success. And for anyone that takes any sort of alternative route, or does not want to take the straight and narrow. It takes a lot of guts, takes a lot of self assurance not to try and strive for the same sort of goals as everyone else. The Singapore dream, so to speak. There are other ways to craft a Singapore dream, there are other ways to craft a successful life but it’s not very apparent because it’s not how we were programmed from the time that we were growing up. That’s not what was taught to us, we were taught to behave a certain way, do certain things, certain things you would do if you couldn’t study. If you were bad at school then yes these are your options. But I do feel like there are other routes to success and success is determined in many other ways, not just by the prescribed way, and it takes a lot of balls to pursue other forms of success which are not validated by what’s existing. So not seeking validation is in itself something very ballsky (?) And that’s, you know, going back to your question, what is daring greatly - I think when you seek to do things without conventional forms of validation, that is daring greatly, especially in the context of Singapore.
Last one - what’s your favourite ice cream flavour?
Bjorn: Just had the McDonalds banana pie McFlurry last night. It was 'aight. Are we talking about common flavours or are we talking about flavours that I’ve had once? I’ve had sea urchin ice cream, I’ve had seawater sorbet, I’ve had rattlesnake ice cream. All in Japan by the way. 20 years ago, it was a place called Ice Cream City. It’s like an ice cream amusement park north of Tokyo and yes, they had all these flavours. Wouldn't say that any of them were my favourite…
Which would you have again?
Bjorn: Shit, such a hard question. This is the hardest question I think you’ve asked so far! Seriously.
If you had to take a dessert on an island…
Bjorn: No! So not ice cream right? Any dessert. Can I get cup jelly? Like cup jello, the best. Grape or strawberry. Or lychee.