Guah Lih was a Singaporean National Archer, retired due to a recurring injury. He transitioned to pursue his passion of culinary arts. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in Singapore. While attending the CIA, he took part in an overseas immersion program which brought him on a tour of California. He had the honor of visiting several farms and producers. Needless to say he fell in love and decided that he wanted to work in San Francisco. Coming from Singapore, a small city state that dwells in little farming, he had never been able to connect with the ingredients he worked with due to the fact that they were mostly imported from neighboring countries or farmed hydroponically. Being able to both see and work with the produce, ingredients at its source really inspired him.
In 2017, Guah completed his externship at Alexander's Steakhouse in San Francisco under Chef Marc Zimmerman. Alexander’s steakhouse then was both a progressive and fast paced restaurant that gave him the opportunity to learn and grow himself, utilizing new techniques and learning of new ingredients. At the end of the internship he was offered a job with Chef Marc for his new project at Ittoryu Gozu. Awaiting the opening, throughout 2018 he returned to Singapore and worked at Pixy, a small Japanese French restaurant with a bespoke omakase menu as the Sous Chef. In 2019, he found his way back to San Francisco joining the team at O’ by Claude le Tohic, In late 2019, when Ittoryu Gozu opened, he reunited with Chef Marc Zimmerman and officially came on board Ittoryu Gozu located a couple blocks from the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. He is currently a Sous Chef Ittoryu Gozu, a restaurant primarily serving wagyu beef cooked robata-style. He has always been intrigued by live fire cooking since the beginning of his culinary journey and appreciates the flavors the flames bring.
To me, live fire is beyond just grilling and has its own form of elegance and beauty. I strongly believe that a delicious meal requires attention, time and effort regardless of how tedious the preparations may be.
If you could go back in time what advice would you give your younger self when starting in the industry? I do not regret any of the decisions I made early in my career. I think I was fortunate enough to have met many wonderful people who have each taught me something different over the years. I would advise my younger self to live a better lifestyle, exercise more and take good care of my body. I think we cannot deny the fact that this industry is physically strenuous. It is important to listen to our body, while at the same time going all out to learn, work and explore without any reservations. I have learnt the lesson twice that injuries will never really recover entirely. I personally have injured my back and know one too many friends in the industry working with back issues.
When you were building your career how limited were your resources? I think I was fortunate to have gotten my culinary education at one of the best culinary institutes of the world. I was also lucky to have been taught by many wonderful instructors who fueled my passions, with that, I was also blessed to have crossed paths and worked with great chefs like Chef Marc Zimmerman and Shuhei Nitta that provided an enjoyable workplace for me to grow and learn. I really enjoy the mentorship and guidance I receive under Chef Marc at Gozu right now. I think we are now very fortunate to live in a time period where technology has advanced allowing us access to electronic books which made reading and learning through books very easy. Youtube has also been very useful when it comes to learning about something new.
Where do you focus your attention day-to-day regarding your work? Before service, I focus a lot on the preparation of food and the flavour development. I work very closely with the Chef, doing menu development and testing for the ideas he may have and sometimes myself too. During service, my attention switches to the guest dining experience. This is important because Gozu operates off a counter seating layout, where guests get to watch the chefs work, interact and get served by the chefs.
What change do you want to see in (for) our industry? I know there has been many discussions recently about the abolishment of the tipping system and replacing it with a standard service charge amount, meant to help pay the back of house employees better. I think it is time for some change in the tipping system, to allow the back of the house to earn the same amount as the front of the house. In regards to hospitality, I believe that no department in the restaurant is more important than another. Every member of the team presents their best effort to ensure that the guests enjoy their dining experience. In fact, I believe that kitchen porters are the most precious employees in the restaurant. It has always astonished me that in some establishments, the amount the servers are able to take home daily is what the cooks are taking home weekly. I am really proud that at Ittoryu Gozu, Chef has the same sentiments and integrates the front of the house and back of the house, allowing employees of both departments to be paid equally and more importantly, a livable wage.
Follow Chef Guah Lih's Journey here.