Truffles, pecorino and The Drama Chef, Part II


What is it with truffles (not the confection)? Does it bring out the generosity inherent in some folk? At a recent cooking workshop in Bangkok, the chef handed us a few knobs of the fungi and told us to slice off as much as we needed to top our fois gras lasagna. And now, responding to Chef  Mauro's invitation to dine at Focaccia Theatre, every dish was finished with  generous shaves of it! Hmm... I'm so inclined to think so.

Chef Mauro at Theatre Focaccia. 

The Drama Chef aka Chef Mauro has returned from a vacation with a suitcase full of exotica. This time, 3 ingredients take centre-stage - the aforementioned truffles, pecorino cheese and chestnuts. While the truffles were mostly used as a topping, their earthiness permeated all through the other ingredients of the dish. Some of the dishes had all three ingredients which made them stand out from what is usually passed off as Italian food in the city. Personally, I liked the "cheesiness" of pecorino and perhaps that has something to do with the shorter maturation time that this cheese requires as compared to that of Parmesan.

This time, the drama lay in the way each dish was presented - restrained yet appealing, the eye being drawn to the slivers of truffle, micro greens, flowers (or at times, a single petal) or even just a sprig of thyme. Chef Mauro was a picture of concentration as he plated each dish, allowing his creations to receive all the accolades.

Truffle, edible soil, crispy truffle vegetables, pecorino cheese fondue

The vegetarian appetiser certainly looked like a garden. It had truffle soil, neatly cut vegetables and beetroot balls served with pecorino cheese fondue and foam and finished with extra virgin olive oil and a flower.

Potato, egg, pecorino cheese fondue, black truffle

Appetiser No. 2 looked like a mashed potato flowerpot surrounded by pecorino cheese fondue and truffle and by now, we knew the drill - expect the unexpected. Slicing into it revealed a beautifully cooked egg, the liquid golden yolk flowed slowly into the fondue.

Slow-cooked chicken, grilled red capsicum, pecorino cheese, truffle edible soil

Chef Mauro had done some magic with the chicken because it was so tender that it almost melted in the mouth. All he told us was that it was slow-cooked! There was "soil" made from truffle and some other secret ingredients; the textures on this plate of food were just divine.

Sea bass carpaccio, zucchini julienne, pomegranate sauce, black truffle

If raw seafood is your thing, you'll love this  exquisite sea bass carpaccio. The zucchini lends crunch and pomegranate arils add little bursts of sweetness.

Pumpkin soup with ravioli, chestnut and casera cheese

Pasta courses included:

Leek fondue risotto with truffle. Simple ingredients, stunning flavours!

Handmade spaghetti with white truffle sauce & truffle shavings; the texture of the pasta is incredible

Gourmet truffle pizza - thin crust topped with truffle cream, mozzarella & shaved truffle. If only all pizzas were made this way!

Gourmet truffle pizza in the making

Zucchini & truffle leaf halibut with chickpea puree

Potato & truffle stuffed chicken breast with butter, chestnuts & cauliflower puree. Yum!

Chocolate millefeuille with chestnut mousse; chestnut soft cake with rum sauce

Time for dolce and we watched Chef Mauro pipe chestnut puree between chocolate discs to make his chocolate millefeuille. Dots of raspberry coulis helped to tone down the sweetness.
Italians love chestnuts and use it in both savoury and sweet dishes. However, the dessert that took the err... cake was the chestnut soft cake. The light, airy cake and the smooth creme anglaise was a fitting end to a beautiful meal.

I do hope there will be an encore!!

The Return of the Drama Chef food festival is on till 22nd October at Focaccia, Hyatt Regency Chennai and only for dinner, from 7 - 11.30 pm. The menu is a la carte.

Omakase at Teppei Japanese Restaurant


Teppei Japanese Restaurant at Orchid Hotel, Tras Link is one of the places in Singapore which serves omakase. There are 4 dining sessions every day, 2 for lunch and 2 for dinner and each session can accomodate about 16 diners.

The restaurant is a small room divided by a long counter that snakes all the way into the next room. High stools placed close to each other are where the diners sit and the other side of the counter is where the chef and his assistants work. Around us were shelves loaded with sauce bottles, plastic bowls and other kitchen utensils. If it's ambiance you're looking for, you're at the wrong place. In fact, it looks like a storage room from the outside and not much different inside. However, every stool was occupied, justifying the need to book your seats well in advance.

Rice tea 

Omakase roughly translates to "up to the chef", therefore, there is no menu and the chef decides what he is going to serve the diners. There's plenty of raw and minimally cooked seafood and you can rest assured that it is all very fresh. Most of the meal is made on the spot and served in courses; the preparation of each course is so well orchestrated that each completed dish is placed in front of each diner at almost the same time. Wasting food is not acceptable.

Cold starter box

The only thing I recognised from our appetiser tray was the halved prawn. There was a little square that tasted of tofu and a green square that we later learnt was made of edamame. There was also squid, spinach and radish. Portions were bite-sized and textures were interesting.

All the food is prepped in front of the diner

Not having a menu meant we had no idea what what kind of fish we were being served. All the prep work was done in front of us, from skinning the fish to filleting to pin-boning to portioning. Even the bivalves were opened just before being cleaned and sliced. If you want to see the knife skills of a Japanese chef, you'll get to see it from your front row seat!
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Super smooth and light chawanmunshi

Ingredients for tuna roll

Making tuna roll

How many courses were there? I really have no idea because I stopped counting after the 6th.

The minced tuna roll is delicious. Nori sheets are softened over an open flame and stuffed with tuna and other ingredients. There was crunch from panko crumbs and fish roe to top it all. They first served the ladies with half a roll each, all the men were served  a full roll. You can ask for more but there's plenty more coming so hold on to those appetites!

Goose barnacles

They told me these were turtle toes. Really? I heard them chuckling and realised they were pulling my leg. They are barnacles and they showed me how to pull off the brownish sheath; the tiny bit of meat it had encased was sweet and tender.

Steamed fish

Fried yam ball 

Between courses, they gave us palate cleansers that ranged from yam balls to tomato wedges to marinated grapes to juicy peaches.

Sliced bivalves

Spoon-feeding time

By now, there was plenty of bonhomie on both sides of the counter. Teppei Yamashita's men are very entertaining so don't be surprised when they decide to feed you. While most of the food is plated, some of it is arranged on spoons and the chefs go to each diner to pop it into their mouths. And for diners who are not within the reach of the chefs, they have a contraption where the spoon is fixed onto a long handle. By hook or by crook they will feed you amidst laughter from those watching!

Wagyu beef art!

Wagyu beef with garlic chips


Fried rice with wagyu beef 

Yuzu ice cream

The main course is fried rice and you have a choice of meat or seafood to top it with. I chose wagyu beef and the combination was spectacular. For dessert, I opted for a light and zesty yuzu ice cream.

It took us about about two and a half hours to go through the whole meal. What a meal! 

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