Interview With Tim Ashwood | Redefining Comfort With Luxury
Presented by Hidden Door Concepts, Nickeldime River Valley is your new favourite neighbourhood spot in River Valley, with its vibrant and edgy venue, indulgent menu and great vibes. Behind Nickeldime River Valley’s luxurious comfort food menu and International Craft Beer pairings is Chief Executive Chef Tim Ashwood, who marries his culinary background in fine French Cuisine with his Australian heritage, reinterpreting Melbourne-inspired comfort pub food with a French twist.
The Hedonist Magazine had the opportunity to pick the mind of Chef Tim to discover more about the restaurant’s deliciously hedonistic offerings, his culinary vision and philosophy, and how craft beers pair with food for a luxurious harmony of flavors.
How did you first enter a career in the culinary industry?
I first started working in restaurants as a way to earn money while studying chemical engineering at university. After graduating and joining the industry, I realised how much I enjoyed the rush, the hectic creativity and the camaraderie you get when working in a restaurant. I quickly learned that a career as a chef, not as an engineer, was my calling. I left my job, enrolled in an apprenticeship and spent 4 years learning the basics and haven’t looked back since.
How would you describe your culinary style?
My culinary style is very much based around simplicity and comfort. I believe that the best ingredients can speak for themselves, and it’s our job as chefs to allow them to do that while also creating interesting, enjoyable food without added complications.
What vision do you have for the cuisine of Nickeldime River Valley?
My vision was always to create a welcoming space and menu. I wanted a venue where people could relax and feel at home, more like they are at a friend’s house rather than a restaurant, so the food reflects that. It’s simple comfort food with modern twists. We make everything in-house, from baking our own bread to creating our own pickles, has allowed us to control every step of the process and create something special and different.
How do you interpret luxury on a plate at Nickeldime River Valley?
Luxury to me is all about time. Singapore, as we all know, is a very hectic city, with everyone rushing due to their busy schedules and demanding lives. I’ve worked to create a food and beverage menu that allows people to be separate from that, and with an offering and pricing that makes it an everyday luxury rather than a special occasion. A place where you can get a good meal made with high quality and fresh ingredients, a pint of beer or a glass of wine, and take the time to relax and destress.
Which of the dishes on your menu do you think sums up the essence of Nickeldime River Valley?
Our croque madame; we take our house made brioche, which is leavened naturally with our 15-year-old sourdough starter, thickly slice some high quality smoked leg ham and make an IPA cheese using an Australian IPA and 3 different types of cheese. The whole sandwich is then covered in a spiced béchamel and baked until caramelised. It is served with a fried egg and a green salad. It’s a good example of taking a simple dish and elevating it using high-quality ingredients and fine dining techniques.
Where do you get inspiration for the creative dishes on Nickeldime River Valley’s menu?
The majority of the dishes have come from my travels; from the croque madame that saw me through many late nights while working in Paris, to the grilled octopus that was cooked by my Greek friend’s Grandmother, freshly caught from the ocean. I have worked to recreate the taste and wonder that I had the first time eating these dishes, while tweaking them to add in my own twists, elevating them to something special.
How are Nickeldime River Valley’s international craft beers paired to complement its dishes?
Our pairing is more of a conversation than a set rule, as beer can paired with food by using both their complementary and contrasting flavors. We ask the guest what they usually drink, if they have a particular style or region they are interested in, and work our way back from that information to provide something that exceeds their expectations. For instance, our pickled beetroot salad pairs excellently with a chocolate stout, playing off the earthiness and sweetness of the beetroot and the roasted oats. However, it also pairs equally well with a wild ferment ale, creating a pleasant flavor echo of the inherent sourness of the two key flavors involved.
How do you think Nickeldime River Valley shakes things up in Singapore’s diverse food & beverage scene?
At a time when the restaurant scene was focused on becoming more and more complicated and trend-driven, we are set out to create a unique venue which offers the opposite. Our key values of good simple food and beverages, good service, and a comfortable and welcoming space, allows us to set ourselves apart, and offer something truly different.
What has been your proudest moment in your many years of being a chef?
When, after years of hard work, I was recognised as and called a Chef by a mentor of mine who I truly respect.
Is there a particular principle or philosophy that guides you when you work in the kitchen?
Hard work and passion. I was once told that the only difference between a 3 Michelin starred Chef and a fast food employee was passion and dedication, and I truly believe in that.
What is your favourite dish to make and why?
In my personal time I love to cook a roast chicken, brined for 24 hours and then slow roasted until its juicy with super crunchy skin.
Which other restaurant do you enjoy eating at on your days off?
Meatsmith, both the Little India outlet and the original one on Telok Ayer, as well as Shirokane Tori-Tama in Robertson Quay for amazing yakitori.
Given the hustle and bustle of the kitchen during service, what do you enjoy doing in your free time to unwind?
I’m an avid reader, in the mornings I read as many newspapers and articles I have the time for and in the evenings, a good book on my balcony after dinner is my idea of perfection.
How do you define success both personally and professionally?
Success to me is about pride and satisfaction in your work. If you look forward to going to work in the morning and go home happy and proud of what you did, then that to me, is success.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
Have realistic expectations, be humble and don’t give up. This is a hard career, however, in my opinion, there is nothing quite like it. I have seen many juniors leave the industry because they have come in expecting to be a Celebrity or to start running a restaurant within a couple of years. The roles at the beginning are not glamorous and are hard work (it took me 12 months of washing dishes before I was allowed to touch food). However, learn whatever you can from whoever will teach you, and never stop learning as there is always a new technique, a new method or a new way of doing things.
Our motto at The Hedonist is “You can be, do, and have anything you want.” What’s your take on such a statement?
I absolutely agree with that statement. With a good work ethic, pride in what you do and a lot of hard work, you can do, and have, everything you could want.