Chaleur — one of the city’s most exciting new establishments — prominently emerges, not solely for its ingenuity but also for its flawless amalgamation of two esteemed culinary traditions. Just opened in August, this venue has steadfastly stuck to the time-tested combination of French-Japanese cuisine, a combination that translates into a harmonious menu in the expert hands of Executive Chef Kawano Masahiko. After all, the man led his former restaurant, Reve on Kreta Ayer Road, to a Michelin star.
In Chaleur, the precision of Japanese culinary craftsmanship is paired with the hearty essence of French cookery, leading to creations that delight both the eye and the palate. We chat with the man behind Chaleur’s culinary direction and find out that French-Japanese cuisine is a canvas for the merging of two of the world’s greatest culinary traditions.
AM: Why did you want to become a chef?
I’ve actually always liked to cook. In fact, I started cooking for myself and my family since I was 5 to 6 years old. I was raised only by my mother and when she went to work there was nobody to cook for my siblings so I started by cooking fried rice and replicating my mum’s cooking.
What’s your career journey so far and how did you end up in Singapore?
I attended culinary school in Osaka, at a school called Tsuji Culinary Institute. We learned the basic skills of cooking everything there — from French to Japanese and Chinese cuisine. In Japan, restaurants which combine traditional Japanese ingredients with French cooking techniques are highly regarded and hard to come by. Most of the executive chef positions are dominated by European chefs. In my pursuit of precision and excellence, I participated in Japan RED-U-35 (Ryorinin’s Emerging Dream U-35) which is considered to be Japan’s largest chef competition to talent spot a new generation of chefs under 35. In 2019 I won the highly acclaimed Hisao Taki Award.
What would you say is your signature culinary style?
I really enjoy using Japanese produce to pair with French techniques and flavours. It is the best of both worlds. Now and then I will also use French produce or other aspects of French cuisine. My menu now for instance has pigeon from Brittany which I use for its flavour. I also serve a crepe, which is a French specialty from the north of France. The challenge is that any sauce I create must pair well with the Japanese produce and also complement the wines that we have on our wine list. Lots of chefs prefer working with Japanese produce for its quality.
Could you tell us what is it about Japan, or Japanese agriculture that produces such wonderful premium ingredients?
In Japan, we have a very deep respect for nature and living harmoniously with the environment. It’s not just about food but also about our spiritual beliefs and the need to respect the landscape and what it provides for us. This is why I think Japanese produce is the best to work with. When we have a respect for nature, we treat it well. Many Japanese farmers go to great lengths to make sure that the produce they grow gets the best nutrients. This is why the best wagyu farmers treat their cattle with extreme care. Even out at sea, our fishermen practice ikejime where the fisherman inserts a thin needle or wire into the spinal column of the fish. This makes sure that the fish does not suffer and does not feel stressed after it gets caught. Yes, it makes the first taste better but it also shows that we care and respect the animal’s life.
How do French cuisine and Japanese cuisine complement each other?
Both French and Japanese cuisines pay a lot of attention to the origin of the produce. This is why when we talk about a certain Japanese ingredient, we will tell our diners where it is from. The same thing applies to French cuisine where each region has their own specialties. My sauce may be a traditional French sauce, but I use kombu seaweed and homemade fermented ingredients to enhance the umami. By incorporating Japanese ingredients, they give the sauce a strong umami that is not too heavy.
Right now, we see restaurants in Singapore turning to the flavours and techniques of Southeast Asia making waves – how does Chaleur intend to stand out in this competitive climate?
Singapore is an exciting place for chefs and restaurants and that is one of the reasons I enjoy living here — there is always something new to eat. But sometimes you just crave something familiar and classic, and that’s what I do in Chaleur. Our cuisine is carefully crafted so that our customers can always come back to Chaleur in search of refined and sophisticated cuisine even after dining at different types of restaurants. We offer Japanese-French cuisine, sometimes classic, sometimes modern.
Ultimately, what do you hope to achieve at Chaleur?
My mission as a chef is a simple one. I will work hard to perfect my dishes, and to make sure every guest will have a great time so they can come back again and again to try out our different seasonal menus, and of course, our huge wine list with over 1,200 labels that our team will help to choose from. It is also my dream to receive a Michelin star for Chaleur.
What do you hope guests will feel when they dine at Chaleur?
The warmth of home. That’s what our name means in French, and it’s a feeling that I hope to impart to our guests before they leave, and when I see them again. This is why I put dishes like our signature duck noodles on our menu. It’s familiar, comforting, and even for me, cooking it makes me feel like I’m back cooking for my family. Slurping down the soup gives me a feeling of home.