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Film Review: ‘André and His Olive Tree’ Presents a Fascinating Insight Into a Chef’s Pursuit of Perfection4 min read

15 January 2021 3 min read


Film Review: ‘André and His Olive Tree’ Presents a Fascinating Insight Into a Chef’s Pursuit of Perfection4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The documentary follows Chef André as he prepares to close his beloved Restaurant André on Valentine’s Day of 2018, and return those coveted Michelin stars. This of course creates a shock to the industry, his staff, and his loved ones. This passionate perfectionist has sacrificed his childhood, battled critics and fought hard to stand out, but has decided to give it all up now. Chef André intimately reveals what’s on his plate next, and ponders what perfection truly means.

Director: Josiah Ng

Cast: Andre Chiang, Sudarampai “Pam” Chiang

Year: 2020

Country: Taiwan, Singapore

Language: English

Runtime: 104 minutes

Film Trailer:

Taiwanese chef André Chiang’s lifelong pursuit for culinary perfection has made him one of the finest chefs in the world. His eponymous restaurant in Singapore had two Michelin stars and was named the second-best restaurant on the prestigious Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Yet, with no prior signs of the business or his passion slowing down, Chef André announced in 2017 that he will be closing his award-winning restaurant a year later.

The opening moments of André and His Olive Tree alludes to why the chef made the industry-shocking decision. Before breaking the news to his crew, he shares to them: “The moment I perfect the dish is the moment I take it off the menu.” André must have found perfection after the restaurant’s eight years of service — but what does perfection mean for both the perfectionist chef and for the culinary arts at large?

The documentary, directed by Singaporean filmmaker Josiah Ng, ponders for answers while following the restaurant in its last months. The world of fine dining might be completely foreign for most but the documentary’s focus on the restaurant’s soul — that is, Chef André, his wife, and his crew — should nonetheless delight. 

As someone who was unfamiliar with the chef, André initially felt like an odd choice to lead a documentary. His perfectionism is made clear early. The same meticulousness he affirms in the kitchen is brought to almost every single part of the restaurant, right down to how the table cloth is presented. The chef came off as aloof and intimidating.

It would be through interviews with his team and wife Pam that thaws this perception. From the Korean chef who dined and refused to leave the restaurant until she got a job in the kitchen, to the pastry chef who suffered a near-career-ending accident that André refused to let go, these stories speak volumes on André’s warmth and revered professionalism. 

A clear highlight comes when the documentary turns its focus to Pam where, again, perceptions are challenged. Every moment with her is a joy. Pam, ever-eager and flamboyant, would seem like she is from a different world from the no-nonsense chef. Yet, it would be their love that would punctuate the bittersweet sorrow of Restaurant André’s closure, and how its end brings about new beginnings for the husband-wife duo.

Although there are several detours throughout, how the documentary shifts gears to hone in on André’s move to Taiwan felt out of place. It was integral as part of a larger narrative in giving a glimpse of what is ahead for the chef, but how the storytelling had been mainly driven by those around him made the shift jarring. I think a better, more cohesive self-contained story would have been achieved otherwise, especially when the documentary already felt like it was stretching itself near the end.

While not as fastidious as the chef, how the documentary is shot shares much of André’s straight-forwardness. There is a noticeably gentle and cool air to how its subjects are framed, with occasional breaks into playfulness throughout the documentary. These two dominant flavours are furthered by a savoury original soundtrack by Ting Si Hao caramelizing the documentary with whimsy and nostalgia.

The world of fine dining may be its backdrop but by the documentary’s end, there is a clear message of inspiration and determination that will reach far beyond. André and His Olive Tree tells a fascinating story about the pursuit of perfection — and how the missing piece towards perfection and excellence might just be the pursuit itself.

The top documentary in Taiwan’s 2020 box office is now showing in theatres islandwide.

There's nothing Matt loves more than "so bad, they're good" movies. Except browsing through crates of vinyl records. And Mexican food.
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