A chat with chefs from Singapore’s Top Restaurants 2019/2020’s award-winning restaurants.

In conjunction with the launch of Singapore’s Top Restaurants 2019/2020, we caught up with chefs from some of our award-winning restaurants to learn more about their culinary philosophies and views on the restaurant scene. Here, chef-owner Shigeru Koizumi of ESORA shares more about kappo-style fine dining, his intricate tea-pairing programme, and more.

Chef Shigeru Koizumi, ESORA

Chefs from Singapore’s Top Restaurants 2019/2020’s award-winning restaurants- Chef-Owner Shigeru Koizumi of ESORA

Chef Shigeru Koizumi

A native of Nara prefecture, Japan, chef Shigeru Koizumi was surrounded by bountiful produce from a young age. That helped him hone an acute sense of seasonality which has guided him in his positions at top restaurants such as Nihonryori RyuGin restaurant in Japan and Odette in Singapore. Now as chef-owner of ESORA, a kappo-style modern Japanese restaurant, he melds tradition and modernity in his cuisine with the belief that one degree of separation divides the good and the sublime.

How do you think fine dining has changed in Singapore over the past few years, and where does ESORA fall within that spectrum?
Over the past few years, Singapore has attracted a wide range of international cuisines from top chefs from all over the world and has put Singapore on the global culinary map. This also shows how Singaporeans are open to new experiences. ESORA offers something more special with our cooking philosophy and our offerings. We hope to build a tea drinking culture in Singapore and I hope to educate diners on micro-seasonality of produce.

Chefs from Singapore’s Top Restaurants 2019/2020’s award-winning restaurants- Chef-Owner Shigeru Koizumi of ESORA

Kappo-style fine dining

Why did you feel it was important to incorporate the kappo or ‘cut and cook’ style of over-the-counter dining?
To us, the most important aspect of kappo-style dining is the interaction between the kitchen team and our diners. The close proximity from the counter helps to foster an immediate intimacy with the diners, however it is the actual interaction between us that helps to create an immersive experience for diners. We welcome each guest like a dear friend while we treat our dishes with a lot of care and attention to detail.

During the meal, we often explain our dishes to our diners while they watch their dish getting plated. This enables them to fully understand the components used in the dish and it helps them appreciate the food much better. With the concept of our open kitchen, diners get to watch every detail of how the dinner service unfolds. This helps them feel connected with the space and kitchen team as they are given a view of what goes on behind the scenes.

A dedicated tea-pairing programme sets your menu apart. What are some of the more unusual tea pairings?
For instance, we serve our Tohobijin tea along with our signature foie gras monaka appetiser. Tohobijin tea is a Taiwanese oolong tea, which we then infuse with some hibiscus flower, and some umeshu. We then carbonate the tea to replicate a champagne. The sweet and sour notes of the tea help to cut through the foie gras and pairs nicely with the seasonal sweet jam component with the monaka. There won’t be much changes to our tea pairing format, but our tea offerings will evolve as the dishes change with the seasons.

Chefs from Singapore’s Top Restaurants 2019/2020’s award-winning restaurants- Chef-Owner Shigeru Koizumi of ESORA

Apple pre-dessert comprising yoghurt and sudachi espuma, Pacific Rose apple and an apple vinegar sorbet

What are some new dishes to look forward to?
From the upcoming Autumn Menu, the sanma donabe rice. I grew up having sanma fish at least three times a week. Being able to serve this dish here in Singapore makes me really happy as it brings back a lot of memories.

Attention to detail is a great virtue in your kitchen. Have there been times when it has been a hindrance?
Less of a hindrance but it is more labour intensive during the preparation work. One instance was when we had a pea dish in the spring menu and everyone on the team had to gently remove each pea from the pod and it took us a long time to prepare this dish. Japanese cuisine is usually very simple. However, reinterpreting traditional Japanese cuisine into a modern one is not an easy feat. To create modern Japanese cuisine without too much European influences and maintaining the heart of the Japanese requires a lot of attention, and access to great ingredients.

Is modern cuisine moving ever closer together, and are there clear paths or trends that modern Japanese cuisine is heading towards?
I’d say yes, modern cuisine is now converging in ways that involves multiple techniques pulled from different cuisines. However, instead of labelling it as a trend, it opens up new platforms for non-Japanese people to experience Japanese cuisine in ways that they are more familiar with. It is also highly dependent on what is offered as a new cuisine. Sometimes, diners prefer to try food that is similar to their palate and having more overlaps in the Japanese cuisine with modern cuisines helps to expose them to new flavours and cultures.

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This interview was first published in the Sep/Oct 2019 Celebrating Singapore’s Top Restaurants issue of Wine & Dine.

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