THE way chefs Ivan Brehm from Bacchanalia and Hideaki Sato from Ta Vie in Hong Kong speak of each other, you would think they've been friends for decades. But in reality, the two met only recently, thanks to a mutual friend.
The two got along so well that earlier this week, they both helmed a two-night Four Hands dinner event at Bacchanalia.
The eight-course menu featured Sato's signature dishes such as poached oyster wrapped with wagyu, and roasted pigeon with aged mandarin skin and spices. Brehm presented four new dishes including a uni, buckwheat and chocolate pasta and glazed, lightly smoked yellowtail kingfish on top of crispy rice cake.
Of his choice of dishes, Sato - who is cooking in Singapore for the first time - says that since Ta Vie is only 10 months old, he is taking this opportunity to showcase the menu. He did dine at Bacchanalia once before.
Like a good host, Brehm lets his guest decide on the menu first, before selecting which Bacchanalia dishes to put on the menu.
This is not the first time that he has invited a guest chef into his kitchen. He had previously collaborated with chefs Gaggan Anand of Gaggan Restaurant in Bangkok, Shinobu Namae of L'Effervescence in Tokyo and Joannes Riviere of Cuisine Wat Damnak in Siem Reap.
"The pre-requisite is that we need to have the same feel and philosophy about people and food. If there is good energy, things naturally go well," says Brehm.
Collaborative dinners are not only exciting for diners. He adds: "It has been an eye-opening experience for my team. By learning from each other, we pick up new techniques and taste profiles."
From Sato, he picked up tips about simplicity. "His dishes may have just three components but they say everything," he says. The pigeon dish wowed him most. "I had a private moment with the pigeon, and the flavours are so direct."
Sato raves about a vegetable consomme that Brehm does. The broth is made from seven vegetables including celeriac, leek and fennel. "The taste is so clean and the seasoning just right," he says. The consomme is a fixture on the Bacchanalia menu and serves as a palate cleanser.
Their cooking styles differ somewhat. Sato describes his as "pure, simple and seasonal", while chef Brehm says his is all about layering. "Our styles are dissimilar but there is a common thread, such as not being fearful of using spices to create an Asian flavour."
The two chefs share other commonalities - living in foreign countries, having worked at renowned restaurants previously and now running their own restaurants.
For the record, Brehm was born in Brazil, worked at the Fat Duck, before heading Bacchanalia in 2013. Sato previously worked at three-Michelin starred Nihonryori Ryugin, before going to Hong Kong in 2012 to run Tenku Ryugin, the first Ryugin restaurant outside of Tokyo. He opened Ta Vie last year, which was recently awarded one Michelin star. "We are pretty much in similar situations," says Sato.
The Nagano-born chef didn't start out wanting to be a chef. During his younger days, he worked part-time at a restaurant. "Meals were provided, and it was just magic watching a senior chef turn ingredients into food," he says. That sparked his interest in cooking. He picked up his skills from working in various French restaurants in Japan, and not from culinary schools.
For 10 years, he focused on French cuisine. "When I turned 30, I asked myself, what is my cuisine," says Sato, now 40. "I can do French cooking, but I'm not French. My palate will never be the same as the French."
He found himself increasingly drawn towards his native Japanese and decided to make a move. The change in direction landed him at Nihonryori Ryugin, and then later at Tenku Ryugin, where it earned two Michelin stars under his charge.
With 10 years of experience in French cooking and six years in Japanese cuisine, he felt it was time to have his own place where he could show his own cuisine - one that has both French and Japanese influences but very much allowing ingredients to shine.
He is particularly proud of the oyster wrapped with wagyu, which is literally what it is. The oyster is steamed in its shell, and later wrapped in a slice of A4 wagyu rib eye that has been lightly poached. This is then topped with ponzu jelly, chives and shiso leaf. "The taste is like toro or tuna belly," he says.
In Hong Kong, he finds that diners don't have time to linger over a meal and "they are more honest. If they don't like the food, they don't return", he says.
Sato doesn't rule out opening a restaurant in Tokyo one day, but for now, he is happy to be in Hong Kong. "The dining crowd here is more international. I get diners from Taiwan, Singapore, Shanghai as well. Whereas in Japan, most diners tend to be Japanese," he explains.
His short stay in Singapore left him and chef Brehm with no time to do a collaborative dish. But the two don't rule out doing another Four Hands dinner together.
When it is suggested that perhaps Brehm could cook at Ta Vie, especially since he hasn't had the chance to dine there, chef Sato nods in agreement.
"I don't want to invite myself, but if you have a space I could even sleep on the couch," quips Brehm.
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