You are here
SINGAPORE DINERS HAVE become so spoilt for choice that it isn’t enough for restaurants just to serve fresh and top quality ingredients, even if they cost a bomb. To satisfy the demand for everything artisanal, one-of-a-kind or just hard-to-find, chefs are going the extra mile to seek out farmers, fishermen and other producers to develop customised ingredients. Here’s a look at their shopping list.
There is wagyu and there is Yonezawa-gyu, the only kind of beef that head chef Kenji Yamanaka will use in his Michelin-starred eatery.
He was already using it for 10 years in Japan, but the trick was to bring it into Singapore. First, he had to convince the farmer to supply it to him and second, sell off the cuts that he doesn’t use. It took seven months for him to get the farmer to agree, and Yonezawa finally arrived in August 2018.
Yonezawa beef rounds up the triumvirate of ‘star’ beef in Japan, along with Kobe and Matsusaka. The breed originates in the Yonezawa region of Yamagata prefecture, and takes 32 months to grow to maturity. The cows are raised on a long-term fattening diet of rice straw
grown in the mineral-rich soil of Yamagata. Only the heifer (animal that has never given birth) is slaughtered as it yields extremely fine-textured meat with the highest level of marbling at A5 (or the Australian equivalent of 12).
Chef Denis Lucchi hails from the Lake Garda region of northern Italy, an area well known for its olive trees and naturally, where he gets his olive oil from. “It has a pronounced fruity flavour; yet it’s still delicate, unlike most of the olive oils available in Singapore.” He gets a regular supply from his cousin who owns an olive oil farm, and has been serving it for some 10 months already.
“Because of its subtle flavour, we serve it with bread, dishes such as scampi beetroot and pear, or with chocolate ganache in sea salt,’ says the chef.
Chef-owner Kenjiro ‘Hatch’ Hashida chanced upon sudachi lime trees in Kamiyama, Tokushima prefecture, last year, and was hooked on its sour, citrus flavour that’s a cross between yuzu and tachibana orange.Last month, he collaborated with a local farmer to grow the lime to his size specifications of ‘3L’ and ‘6L’, instead of conventional ‘2L’. Besides using it as a palate cleanser, he also used the juice to enhance the flavour of certain sushi. The best time to enjoy these limes, by the way, is in the Japanese harvest time of September.
Fish is the key ingredient in any sushi restaurant and it’s no different for Chef Kazuhiro Hamamoto, who deals directly with fishmongers in Kyushu and Fukuoka, who practise the specialised technique of ikejime.
The prized wild-caught blue tuna he uses is aged for three to four days before shipping to Singapore, a crucial process that “enhances the flavours and retains the freshness”, he says.
“Other chefs have different methods of aging their fish; but the one I use is not commonly practised in Singapore. It leaves a deep taste that is richer, thanks to this process.”
The Michelin-starred restaurant has taken on the mission of achieving an almost complete locavore menu, thanks to chef/owner Han Liguang’s collaborations with local farmers, fishermen and suppliers.
He is currently working with Edible Garden City to cultivate a hybrid of corn that is naturally and genetically cross-bred. First of all, Chef Han’s main consideration is “whether the corn is natural and there are no artificial chemicals or fertilizers being used. Corn is mostly pure yellow, but a hybrid sweet corn has a nice intertwine of yellow and white.”
It’s also about serving corn that’s sweeter and juicier than what you can buy in the supermarket, because it’s cooked almost as soon as it’s harvested. Besides growing customised produce, Chef Han and his team also learned about the hard work that goes into farming - from weeding to planting and layering the soil, a process that needs to be repeated every three months. But getting to taste the fruits of the labour is what makes it all worthwhile.
The recent Number One on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list places the highest emphasis on ingredients, but while chef-owner Julien Royer is known for sourcing the best from around the world, he is also a strong supporter of local farmers and suppliers.
“We work with Ting Ting of Urban Farm and Barn, who has grown our microgreens, cress and flowers since our pre-opening days,” says Chef Royer. “Even my sous chef, Adam Wan, grows ginger flowers and tarragon for our kitchen. We use them in several dishes and also our tribute dish to Singapore (Walk into Singapore Garden).” The beautifully composed edible garden certainly speaks for itself.
The Swedish import opened in Singapore in the face of criticism for being the most expensive restaurant in town. But it’s hard not to be impressed by the showcase of fresh ingredients displayed right before the meal, which includes its signature caviar.
Customised for founder chef Bjorn Frantzén by Danish importer Rossini Caviar, the Russian oscietra is produced in Italy according to the chef’s recipe. Only three per cent of the harvested eggs is selected, salted and aged for six months instead of the usual three. This much sought after Zén prestige caviar is served in its Spring menu with red deer, oil and finger lime.
Humble chicken rice isn’t just that at the Shangri-la Hotel, which is one of the must-haves in its Lobby Lounge menu of local favourites. Executive chef Franco Brodini and local food blogger Leslie Tay came up with the idea to work with a poultry farm to rear a breed of chicken to meet their specific needs. It wasn’t just the breed of chicken but also its diet that was important.
“The diet includes corn, sesame seeds and garlic that provide higher level nutrients with a lower fat content,” says Chef Brodini. Even the cooking method had to be improvised to suit these specially bred birds, but the result is that their chicken rice is now its bestseller.
Apart from sushi, even the seaweed has a special place in this two-year-old restaurant run by sushi chef Timoo Kimura. Toasted over charcoal, it has a crunchy bite and melts in the mouth with a mild briny taste.
“I came across this nori farmer during a Kumamoto prefecture event in Singapore three years ago,” says Chef Kimura who lucked out because most seaweed fishermen do not deal directly with chefs or restaurants. But thanks to this encounter, “I have my own special order. They use only the first harvest of seaweed and I wanted it to be double thickness. Since then, they have won the number one seaweed award in Japan.” But if you want a taste, you’ll have to get a seat at this highly popular joint first.