Bjorn Shen: Chef, Restaurateur, TV Personality, and Inspirational Culinary Trailblazer
“Last night I dreamt of eating pizza. Today, I’m eating pizza. You too can make your dreams come true.” - said by someone on the internet.
If you've ever had the pleasure of dining at Artichoke, the vibrant Middle Eastern restaurant in Singapore, chances are you've been captivated by the culinary wizardry of Bjorn Shen. Who is Bjorn Shen? A humble chef who has inspired many with his culinary genius, possesses a remarkable ability to delight every diner who sets foot in Artichoke. His dishes are far from the usual fare you find in conventional restaurants. Instead, he injects his infectious personality and unrivaled creativity into every plate, leaving diners like myself in awe of his culinary prowess.
From the moment you take a bite of his Lambagsm a 2.5kg slow-roasted lamb shoulder served with Turkish pilav, greens, and an array of condiments, to savoring the explosion of flavors in his Fried Cauliflower, topped with cashews, golden raisins, and rocket, it becomes clear that Bjorn's creations at Artichoke defy norms and redefine Middle Eastern cuisine in the most delicious and unconventional ways. But his culinary journey extends far beyond the walls of Artichoke. With his insatiable passion for food and exploration, Bjorn embarks on journeys around the world in search of inspiration, as can be seen through his captivating Instagram feed @bjornshen. From the bustling streets of Tokyo to the vibrant markets of Istanbul, his global culinary adventures fuel his creativity and infuse his dishes with a worldly flair that leaves diners in awe.
Having followed Bjorn's culinary journey for nearly a decade, I can attest to his relentless pursuit of pushing culinary boundaries. His unwavering commitment to innovation and his ability to infuse his dishes with his own distinct character make every meal at Artichoke a unique and unforgettable experience. We spotlight Bjorn Shen to uncover the real person behind Artichoke and delve deeper into the culinary genius that has captured the hearts and taste buds of many diners.
As a chef, restaurateur, and TV personality, you wear many hats in the culinary world. Restauranteur: Artichoke Cafe, Small's; Cookbook Author: "Artichoke: Recipes and Stories from Singapore's Most Rebellious Kitchen"; TV personality: Singapore Master Chef Judge, and Creator's Lab: The Creator's Kitchen. How do you balance these different roles, and what drives you to keep pushing yourself creatively?
A lot of these come over after another, seldom overlapping in the schedule. I do my best to spread out my projects in such a way that still gives me bandwidth for running daily operations. I’m a naturally restless person, so finding new things to do, and obsess over, comes easily to me. No need for any external driving force per se. My challenge is knowing what opportunities to decline, as I tend to give most ideas way too much consideration time.
How do you overcome setbacks or failures with "Bird Bird" and "Overdoughs", what lessons did they teach you?
I am extremely blessed and fortunate to have Artichoke which has been solid through the years. Without Artichoke, I would not have survived those other failures. After those failed ventures, I spent time at Artichoke to collect myself and regroup, as well as recoup financial losses. Bird Bird taught me a hard lesson that I had to reel it in a little - not everything that seemed fun and cool to me was acceptable to a paying audience. It humbled me.
You are known as "Culinary Rebel", how do you think your rebellious streak has influenced your approach to cooking, training your chefs and running a business?
I’d rather not call myself that, and these words you see in articles are things that the media has decided to label me with. I’m just being me. Not trying to be a rebel or anything else for the sake of. I’m naturally casual in my ways, and because I own my own business, I have the flexibility to operate it in a way that is an organic extension of my own personality. If I want to do something cheeky, I do it. I don’t need permission from stakeholders. That’s perhaps one of the reasons why the media slaps these labels on me. Again, I’m just doing my thing the way I feel best, without the weight of any rules or boundaries.
As a father, how do you balance your life at home and work, and what strategies have you found to be most effective for maintaining a healthy work-life balance? And what's your kids' favorite dish that you cook at home?
Balance is a rather subjective word I feel. The best balance may not be 50-50. My current balance, in fact, is many more hours at work than at home. It works for me, but who’s to say if I’m doing it right, or if I could be doing it better? My wife is understanding, and she knows when to, and when not to try to contact me during the work day. My promise to her is that I can be as absent as I need 5-6 days a week, but on the 1-2 days that I’m with the family, I put down my phone and actually spend quality time with the family. My kids have simple tastes and are easily pleased by food. I like cooking for them spaghetti with butter and seaweed. It’s fast, simple, and always well-received.
How do you hope to inspire the next generation of chefs and restaurateurs to prioritize mindfulness and balance in their own lives, careers, and businesses?
I'm not entirely sure that I should have any business inspiring others, as I’m not sure I’m even doing it right. So I don’t go out of the way to try and teach anyone anything. But if there’s anything anyone can and should learn from looking at my ups and downs, it’s that life is actually very long (unlike how people always muse that it’s short) and that you should take time to invest in your own mind space so that when you make decisions, they are more intentional and calculated; and that the greater the time you invest in sorting out your thought processes (instead of rushing through them) the longer you’ll tend to stick with these decisions later on.
Bjorn Shen is a culinary maverick who has carved his own unique path in the world of food. From his early days as a dishwasher to owning and running Artichoke, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Singapore, his 16-year culinary career has been filled with innovation and boundary-pushing. Unconventional and unapologetic, Bjorn's style of cuisine, which he dubs "dudestronomy," challenges traditional notions of high and low dining by elevating guilty comfort foods to restaurant-worthy creations.
What sets Bjorn apart is not just his culinary prowess, but also his fearless attitude and love for all things unconventional. Inspired by his favorite movie and fueled by his passion for Middle Eastern cuisine, he opened Artichoke in 2010, defying expectations with dishes like lamb shawarma gyozas and Doritos tabbouleh. Rejecting the typical Middle Eastern restaurant aesthetic, Bjorn infuses Artichoke with street art, 60's soul, and 90's hip hop, creating a vibrant and unique dining experience. His rebellious approach has garnered recognition, with numerous awards under his belt, and his role as a judge on MasterChef Singapore further showcases his expertise and influence in the culinary world. Bjorn Shen's culinary journey is a testament to the power of embracing one's true passions and fearlessly challenging culinary norms, leaving an indelible mark on the Singaporean food scene.