Ten years of Luca Fantin at Bulgari in Tokyo. In ten dishes

The Venetian chef tells us about the special menu celebrating the important milestone. «Returning to Italy? It’s not part of the plan»

18-11-2019
Luca Fantin has been the chef at Il Ristorante -

Luca Fantin has been the chef at Il Ristorante - Luca Fantin inside the Bulgari Ginza Tower in Tokyo for 10 years now

Ten years of Luca Fantin at Il Ristorante - Luca Fantin inside the Bulgari Ginza Tower in Tokyo, where he landed on the 19th of September 2009, and now he’s started a family too... A straight question: what have you taught to Japan, and what has Japan taught to you? «I’ll start from the second question: it has helped me to improve my techniques and to focus my attention on dishes, because here everything must be perfect. Vice versa, I believe I brought here a way of looking at things from a different perspective. They always seek perfection, but sometimes they miss the overall meaning. I believe that every dish can have a mistake (something they hate), but it will still preserve its soul. It’s what I’m trying to make them understand: technique is important, but identity, taste, are even more so».

Luca Fantin at Identità Milano 2017

Luca Fantin at Identità Milano 2017

Ten years are long. «They represent a journey, not only from Italy to Japan, but most of all from traditional recipes to a contemporary interpretation of Italian cuisine», which is what Luca expresses in the best possible way now. He told us, back in 2014 (see L'italiano che cerca funghi sul Fuji): «When I first arrived in Tokyo I had plenty of ideas, but they hadn’t settled yet. I wanted to surprise. Two years later, I realised I was making a mistake: I wasn’t showing respect for products. And I changed. At first, I was getting plenty of ingredients from Italy. Now I focus on the extraordinary Japanese raw materials. The only exceptions are Carnaroli rice, extra virgin olive oil and Grana padano. I even discovered some excellent porcini, on mount Fuji». So: Japanese and seasonal products, of the highest quality, prepared with elegant techniques and great creativity. All this with the very Italian style of this man born in Silea, Treviso, in 1979, the son of a railwayman and a housewife. Now he’s an acclaimed chef: number 107 in the World’s 50Best, number 18 in the Asian one. One Michelin star since 2011, Best chef for the 2015 Guida Identità Golose.

Paolo Marchi and Nicola Cesare Baldrighi – president at Consorzio Tutela Grana Padano - award Fantin as Best chef for the 2015 Guida Identità Golose 

Paolo Marchi and Nicola Cesare Baldrighi – president at Consorzio Tutela Grana Padano - award Fantin as Best chef for the 2015 Guida Identità Golose 

Lots of stuff for someone with a very prestigious curriculum. Before the Asian adventure, Fantin was sous chef at La Pergola in Rome, «they hired me so I could bring some fresh air. They asked me to create, experiment. The goal was to improve constantly. I believe I have helped renew Heinz Beck’s cuisine. His most important lesson? Flavours are crucial. “You’re not cooking for other cooks, you’re cooking for the clients”, he used to tell me».

Before then, he had worked in other top restaurants such as Cracco in Milan («That’s where I learnt the importance of management. I considered him not an artisan-chef but a man who knows how to plan. Precision, strictness»), Gualtiero Marchesi’s Hostaria dell’Orso in Rome, Akelarre and Mugaritz in Spain («That’s where I learnt that you can only reach excellence if you aim high even before you enter the kitchen. In Errenteria arriving on time, and well groomed, was essential. And you had to work hard. From five in the morning to noon, in your spare time you often ended up walking in the woods, in search for herbs: berries, wild garlic, clover, saffron flowers… Food has a soul that has to be picked, literally»), and RyuGin in Tokyo.

But doesn’t Luca Fantin think of returning to Italy? «Hard to say. It’s not part of the plans. This experience in Japan still thrills me, I do lots of things, and now that I direct Bulgari in Bali I travel even more... I don’t think my phase here has finished».

To celebrate the 10th anniversary, the chef has put together the most iconic dishes from the past ten years – selected among the over 400 recipes he’s created - in a special menu, called Epocale, available until the end of October: «These recipes represent the main stages in my career and recall my finest memories. It’s a motivation to continue to expand both my creativity and my potential, which is also the source of my future creations».

The menu included the following dishes:

Minestrone

Minestrone

Minestrone (2012) – A dish that shows how Fantin interprets traditional Italian cuisine. «I wanted a link with flavours, with a language easy to understand. I asked myself: how can I bring a homely recipe to a fine dining restaurant? We worked on the broth: an essence of three types of meat steamed for 24 hours, with vegetables. Then, in the plate, we put cooked and raw vegetables, in different textures, to which we add this broth».

 

The essence of carrot 

The essence of carrot 

The essence of carrot (2015) – This dish represents Fantin’s talent in using the most varied cooking techniques. «It was a great discovery: how can I change the texture of a carrot, a rather unexciting vegetable in fine dining? We did so by making it acquire the texture of a protein, more or less. The carrot is steamed, then completely dehydrated and then rehydrated with carrot juice. The resulting organoleptic perception is different, stronger: it’s a 100% carrot explosion in the palate».

 

Aoriika and cauliflower 

Aoriika and cauliflower 

Aoriika and cauliflower (2010) – The first meeting between Luca Fantin and aoriika (or Lesson calamari, typical of the coral reef) was back in 2010, and from that moment on the chef explored the multiple Japanese cooking techniques used to prepare and clean the calamari. «It was one of the first cephalopods to thrill me, here in Japan. I learnt the Japanese cutting technique, which makes the aoriika extremely tender, paired with a sweet and sour sauce of cauliflower and a sauce of squid ink. The result is also a play of colours, which recalls the original colours of aoriika, which is black and white but changes its colour when you touch it. It’s perhaps the most Japanese of these dishes, for the technique, but the taste is very Italian: if you close your eyes, it recalls squid with squid ink, a typical Venetian recipe. Except this one is raw».

 

Spaghetti with sea urchins 

Spaghetti with sea urchins 

Spaghetti with sea urchins (2009) – A recipe made possible thanks to the unique flavour of Japanese sea urchins. «It’s now a classic, here at Bulgari, always popular. It’s a blast of flavours, of sweetness: the power of the sea urchins, the sweetness of the tomato, lemons... There’s sea, freshness, with pasta representing us as Italian. It’s a very satisfying tasting. Like properly made spaghetti with tomato sauce: it’s that simple»

 

Ravioli with burrata with anchovy and cream of broccoli 

Ravioli with burrata with anchovy and cream of broccoli 

Ravioli with burrata with anchovy and cream of broccoli (2011) – The secret of this dish is Fantin’s ability in mastering different cooking methods, and in combining multiple flavours and ingredients. «We’re in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The idea was to prepare a filling as if it were freshly made burrata, juicy, hot, with that gumminess you appreciate when you bite into it. My goal, which I reached, was this: I wanted to recreate burrata inside a raviolo. Using a Japanese product, excellent».

 

Risotto with chestnuts and white truffle from Alba

Risotto with chestnuts and white truffle from Alba

Risotto with chestnuts and white truffle from Alba (2015) - «The first time I’ve been to Kyoto they served me white Japanese rice with chestnuts, in a kaiseki restaurant. I didn’t like the idea at all, I didn’t think it would be a good pairing… Instead, I tasted it, and had to change my mind. It was interesting. As soon as I was back at Bulgari’s, I started working on it: chicken broth and vegetable broth, the sweetness of chestnuts, and finally the pairing with white truffle, a memory of Italy. It’s a product made especially for us, clients are very happy to eat it, we finish 20 kgs each season».

 

Caviar and fish

Caviar and fish

Caviar and fish (2019) – A recipe inspired by a Japanese technique called kobujime. «A new dish from this year, and I believe a great dish too. I use Japanese techniques like kobujime, which usually is a marinade of seaweeds, but in this case it’s a marinade of lettuce. The fond is a pescatora sauce, with no tomato, made with different seafood, and lettuce oil. The result is a concentrated, intense 

 

Black truffle and onion 

Black truffle and onion 

Black truffle and onion (2016) - «You only need a wider vision, an idea, and most of all you need to respect seasonal ingredients, in order to transform any vegetable into a great dish». Fantin continues: «This is a childhood memory. I remember that my grandmother would make me a superb onion soup, who knows if it was really so, but this is how I remember it! I wanted to have onion as the protagonist of the dish, which is not easy to do in fine dining. So, we looked for the right techniques to create an explosion of sweetness and goodness: the onion is fried in a whole piece, with its peel for one hour in oil at 160°C. Then we clean it, put it into a vacuum pack and then in the oven for two hours with some more oil. The outside part is recuperated making a tartare and a juice. We match everything with truffle: it may seem banal, but it serves me to make a poor recipe "noble"».

 

Venison with fig

Venison with fig

Venison with fig (2017) - «The issue was: how could I prepare game so that even delicate palates like the Japanese could appreciate it? They don’t like turfy, bloody flavours... I adapted it so as to find the best road, to soften the wild flavour. Hence: marinating the meat – the entire loin – with fig leaves, spices and honey, for two or three weeks. Then we cook the meat and serve it with figs cooked as in a vin brulé (red wine with cinnamon, apple, and black pepper), which also acts as a sauce. Finally, some horseradish cream».

 

White milk

White milk

White milk (2014) – It’s a trip back in time, to our childhood. «Milk is the first ingredient in our life. I thought of this dessert when my first child was born. It’s milk prepared in different textures: as semifreddo, cream, granita, and gelato. It’s one of the most appreciated desserts, from Bangkok to Singapore, from Italy to Tokyo. Milk is something people have in common. It’s easy to understand. I use the non-pasteurised one from Hokkaido, it’s fantastic».

 

Translated into English by Slawka G. Scarso


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