How this Japanese chef is changing the rules of Italian cuisine
There's a certain tenacity and skill that goes into a marriage of two cuisines — and most definitely so in the case of il Cielo at Hilton Singapore. The once-traditional Italian outfit is now one that operates under the Japanese influence of Chef Yohhei Sasaki. With the renowned chef at the helm, modern incarnations of Italian flavours are juxtaposed with Japanese pizzazz at the stunning rooftop restaurant. Every dish here makes its own impression — handcrafted with years of refined techniques, locally sourced natural ingredients, as well as seasonal Italian and Japanese gourmet produce.
We recently caught up with Sasaki himself, to talk about his love for Italian food, his favourite dishes, and what makes Italian and Japanese cuisine a perfect match.
What drew you to Italian cuisine in the first place?
I've loved eating pasta since I was a kid. That was a determining factor for me to learn and master Italian cuisine. Born and raised in Tokyo, I entered the culinary profession by chance and have worked in various top Italian restaurants in Japan, before moving to Italy to hone my skills. There, I trained in several Michelin-starred Italian restaurants in Tuscany and Lombardy, and also picked up the Italian language from working in the kitchens.
What made you decide to merge Japanese and Italian cuisines?
As a chef, I'm a strong advocate in creating my own dishes and recipes. Besides, having worked in Singapore for close to five years now, I've noticed that there aren't many restaurants in Singapore that are Japanese-Italian. In my opinion, Japanese and Italian ingredients are somewhat similar. Both cuisines revolve around fresh and seasonal ingredients such as vegetables, seafood, fish, and meat. In terms of cooking techniques and styles, there are also some similarities — like Italian carpaccio and Japanese sashimi.
Are there any no-nos when it comes to pairing flavours?
In my opinion, creating a dish and pairing ingredients is an art. If you never try, you'll never know. There are no 'no-nos' when it comes to pairing of different flavours. Two strong-flavoured ingredients can also be paired, depending on how the ingredients are being prepared and presented.
Where do your dishes usually take inspiration from?
I enjoy exploring and travelling the world. Throughout my culinary career, I've met and befriended many chefs and professionals from the industry. This is where we share our opinions and exchange knowledge of new and seasonal produce. After which, I consider the flavours and textures, before I conceptualise on the best pairings of these ingredients.
What's your proudest moment to date?
It was when I made it into the 'World Gourmet Summit 20 Best Chefs' list in 2016; it really meant a lot to me as a recognition of my culinary skills.
What's your favourite dish from il Cielo and why?
If I really have to choose, it would be the Calamaro Ripleno alla Viareggina — stuffed squid topped with squid ink Bagna Cauda sauce and paired with Italian parsley puree and seawater foam. This is one of my signature dishes from the Italian degustation menu as it is a modern representation of a traditional Italian squid dish.
The other one would be Spaghetti ai Ricci di Mare — homemade spaghetti served with Hokkaido sea urchin and yuzu zest. It's a dish that showcases a good combination of Japanese and Italian ingredients.
Level 24, Hilton Singapore, 581 Orchard Road. Tel: 6730 3395
Opening hours: 12-2.30pm, 7pm-10.30pm