A man for all sea­sons

Push­ing the en­ve­lope on con­tem­po­rary Ital­ian cui­sine in Tokyo, Luca Fantin shares his fas­ci­na­tion with tra­di­tion and how Ja­pan changed his ap­pre­ci­a­tion for sea­sonal pro­duce at Il Ris­torante – Luca Fantin with Eve Tedja.

Epicure - - TOP TOQUE -

The lu­mi­nous Bvl­gari Ginza Tower stands tall in the mid­dle of the lux­ury shop­ping dis­trict of Ginza, Tokyo. Home to the largest Bvl­gari store in the world, the build­ing also houses one of Asia’s 50 Best Restau­rants 2018 on the 9th floor. Ranked at num­ber 28, the Il Ris­torante - Luca Fantin re­ceived the recog­ni­tion for its in­ge­nu­ity in in­te­grat­ing the de­cep­tive sim­plic­ity of Ital­ian cui­sine with Ja­pan’s sea­sonal bounty of in­gre­di­ents. This fruit­ful mar­riage pro­duces four sea­sonal menus through­out the year. There are de­lec­ta­ble dishes such as Tagli­atelle with Raw Lob­ster for au­tumn (a dish bathed in a broth made of crus­tacean bits) and Risotto with Radic­chio and Red Wine Sauce for win­ter. The lat­ter lay­ers Ja­panese-grown radic­chio and rice with a touch of Ital­ian flavour.

Luca Fantin is the in­domitable force be­hind the restau­rant. Born in Tre­viso, Italy, Fantin trained at some of the world’s most leg­endary kitchens, such as Cracco in Mi­lan, Gualtiero March­esi’s Hostaria dell’orso in Rome, Ake­larre and Mu­garitz in Spain, and Le Per­gola in Rome. Among its sev­eral ac­co­lades, Il Ris­torante – Luca Fantin re­ceived one Miche­lin star in 2011 and Fantin him­self was awarded Best Ital­ian Chef in the World in 2014 by the Ital­ian culi­nary guide, Iden­tità Golose. The restau­rant’s first en­try into the Asia’s 50 Best Restau­rants 2018 sin­gu­larly placed it in a unique po­si­tion, as it is the only restau­rant out of 11 from Ja­pan which is led by a non-ja­panese chef.

Over­see­ing Bvl­gari’s Il Café and Il Cioc­co­lato in Osaka as well as Il Ris­torante – Luca Fantin at Bvl­gari Re­sort Bali, Fantin is also known for his col­lab­o­ra­tions in a se­ries of Four Hands events with top toques, such as Mas­simo Bot­tura of Os­te­ria Frances­cana, and, re­cently in Bali with Yoshi­hiro Nari­sawa of Nari­sawa. The lat­ter re­sulted in an im­pres­sive eight-course wine pair­ing din­ner, which in­cluded Fantin’s sig­na­ture cold spaghetti with caviar to Nari­sawa’s roasted pineap­ple with daz­zling Hibiki whisky and mango sor­bet. “I spend a lot of my time in our head­quar­ter kitchen in Ginza, ex­per­i­ment­ing with new in­gre­di­ents and cre­at­ing new menus with my team,” says Fantin. In the same kitchen, he has also cre­ated a map of Ja­pan, iden­ti­fy­ing dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents from the north to the south is­lands as a way to mark the best in­gre­di­ents for each sea­son. What do you en­joy most from work­ing with guest chefs through Four Hands events?

It’s the shar­ing and un­der­stand­ing of the dif­fer­ent culi­nary styles and tech­niques. For the guest chefs, it is of­ten a one-of-a-kind ex­pe­ri­ence. A Four Hands din­ner is not a show­down but more about how to cre­ate an over­all ex­cep­tional ex­pe­ri­ence. As such, I usu­ally ask the guest chefs to de­cide on their dishes first be­fore I com­ple­ment their se­lec­tion.

How has Ja­pan changed you over the years?

I have lived in Ja­pan for nine years and it has taught me a lot in terms of gas­tron­omy and the way the Ja­panese al­ways strive for per­fec­tion. This at­ten­tion and con­tin­u­ous at­tempt to reach per­fec­tion down to the small­est de­tails never cease to amaze me. I am also very in­spired by the per­vad­ing ob­ses­sion with the sea­sons. We also have the four sea­sons in Italy but we don’t ob­sess over it like the Ja­panese do. In Italy, you can find ba­sic cook­ing in­gre­di­ents all year long. Spring and au­tumn feel shorter and tightly squeezed be­tween sum­mer and win­ter. That’s not the case in Ja­pan. Ev­ery­thing won­drously changes in ev­ery sea­son, be it in­gre­di­ents, pack­ag­ing, colours, tra­di­tions, and rit­u­als.

Is there a sim­i­lar­ity be­tween both culi­nary tra­di­tions that you are able to trans­late into the menu?

We share the same fo­cus and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of a par­tic­u­lar in­gre­di­ent in a dish. We let the tex­ture and the flavour of the in­gre­di­ent shine with­out the need for too much sea­son­ing. While the foun­da­tion of Ital­ian cui­sine is based on olive oil and the Ja­panese is based on dashi, they are es­sen­tially sim­i­lar. In Tokyo, what we do is to sim­plify the dish. There is no need to have too many dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents in a dish.

What you are cur­rently work­ing on at Il Ris­torante – Luca Fantin? We have been ex­per­i­ment­ing with less pop­u­lar meat and seafood cuts which will be fea­tured on our new menu. It boils down to how you cook the meat, some­thing we dis­cov­ered when we ex­per­i­mented with tuna col­lar or Wagyu shoul­der cuts. Work­ing on prime cuts is eas­ier, but where is the chal­lenge in that?

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