Food, Love… and A5 Wagyu
What inspired you to start cooking?
Since I was a kid, my family has always cooked at home. We didn’t eat out as my mum had health problems and dietary restrictions. Because of that, I’ve always had the mentality that home-cooked food is the best for the body and a way of connecting with others.
Did that influence your approach to cooking in any way?
In our modern world, restaurants serve up food that have so much variety. It’s quite different from a home-cooked meal, and can’t be compared in the terms of scale. But I do try to incorporate the philosophy of connecting with others in my cooking.
Could you tell me more about that philosophy?
When cooking, the greatest joy comes from seeing customers enjoy the food. That has always been my goal. I can only achieve that if I put my heart into the process. That’s what makes a difference in the final product. It’s hard to impart this mentality to younger staff members, unless you’re passionate yourself.
Food is more than just about taste and looks. Most people think it’s just presentation or the taste, but I believe in stimulating all five senses. The sound of the dish when it’s served when you’re eating it; the smell of the food, all these elements can elevate a dish.
As a chef who was trained in French culinary techniques, what are the differences between French and Japanese approaches to food?
Japanese cuisine places a lot of emphasis on the freshness of the produce and ingredients: A lot of the cooking styles are used to tease out the original flavours of the ingredients, without too much interference. You’re striving to bring out the produce’s natural taste, like with sashimi for example.
The origin of Japanese food is from raw ingredients. Japanese chefs tend to start by thinking, “Can I eat this raw? If not, what’s the nearest to its natural state that I can enjoy it?”
On the other hand, French cuisine doesn’t serve much raw food. French food uses a lot of marinades, sauces…the mindset is “What taste can I add to the food to accentuate it? How do I treat the produce to create a new taste?” It’s more similar to Chinese cooking, where there’s a lot of spices and stir-frying.
Is that why Aburi-EN sources its produce from specific regions of Japan?
Yes, definitely, but it’s not just about the freshness and quality of the produce. The ultimate goal for my team is to connect with customers and create joy on a plate for them. One of the ways to do that is to introduce them to new experiences, by cooking with ingredients that are not commonly available in Singapore.
What makes the dishes at Aburi-En special?
At Aburi-En, we use both aburi (flame-searing) sumibiyaki (charcoal grilling) techniques to cook. One of the aspects of charcoal grilling is the smell, and the special taste that the charcoal lends to the meat. It also cooks the outside of the meat while retaining the juiciness of the inner layer.
Aburi-En is famous for several dishes, such as Buta Don and Iberico Hoho Don. But I was hoping you could explain some of the nuances of wagyu?
What makes wagyu special compared to other kinds of beef?
What’s really interesting about wagyu that most people don’t know about is that there’s A, B and C grades of wagyu, which ranks the yield of the meat. There’s also a numerical ranking of 1-5, which tells us the quality of the wagyu, with 5 being the best.
How we determine this numerical ranking is through the marbling, tenderness, colour, taste and quality of fat. Almost in all cases, wagyu is ranked as A… you’ll rarely hear of B or C-grade wagyu.
At Aburi-En, we strive to serve A5-grade wagyu in our dishes.
Is wagyu from U.S. or Australia considered wagyu?
Wagyu is a breed of cattle, and the original wagyu cow is from Japan. It has since been bred in many different countries like Australia and the United States, but the stock cattle was from Japan.
Like the wagyu from Japan, there’s a range of different qualities to be found. You can’t just say that it’s going to be the best cut of meat just because it’s wagyu. In fact, in the world of wagyu, only about 10% of the meat can qualify as A5-grade.
For first-time visitors to Aburi-En, what dishes would you recommend?
I’d recommend two items: Our premium wagyu jyu which uses A4/A5 wagyu from Miyazaki prefecture, and the Kurobuta Hoho don, which feautures black pork cheek. If you’re looking to have alcohol with your meal, our dishes taste really good with beer or a highball.