It was a hot summer day. There was a garden full of fantastic vegetables and herbs bursting with energy and flavour. And there were two of the world’s best chefs from the two cultures which are so far apart and yet so close looking for the inspiration in the produce of that garden. They met to cook together for one night in the beautiful month of June at the Piazza Duomo in Alba. Enrico Crippa, the chef patron of Piazza Duomo in Alba (3 Michelin stars, No. 15 of World’s 50 best restaurants) and Zaiyu Hasegawa from restaurant Den in Tokyo (1 Michelin star, No. 45 of World’s 50 best restaurants).
Imagining an Italian and Japanese chef together, you may see it as an encounter between Italian spontaneity and Japanese discipline. Well, not exactly. Piazza Duomo has 3 Michelin stars and getting and maintaining them requires a great discipline and precision. Enrico Crippa is a perfectionist who loves planning things in advance and doesn’t let anything to chance. On the other side we had Zaiyu Hasegawa from Den, who was raised by a geisha mother and experienced restaurants through the strong hospitality factor, so he always cooks with guests in his mind and with the desire to offer them a fun experience. In his cooking he loves to be spontaneous, playful and his delicious dishes are full of witty accents.
The two chefs beautifully complemented each other and created an unforgettable dinner. What did they prepare?
We started with olives that were not olives but carpaccio of prawns and veal, we had the pure flavours from the garden and a cream of Gingerino (a non-alcoholic aperitif from Veneto) with foie gras. Starters promised an exciting adventure, but what followed was even better.
Enrico created for the first time CapRiccio – a stunningly beautiful dish which was a delightful experience for the palate – he plans to add it his regular menu later on. The plate was covered with gelatine made of tomato water, thinly sliced frozen sea urchin, pecorino sauce and oil of grilled onions and pepper.The perfectly balanced explosion of flavours was melting on the tongue. At the same time was served also black bruschetta with squid and squid & sea urchin mayonnaise.
Alba has truffles, Japan has shiitake. To create a connection between the Italian and Japanese culture has Zaiyu used shiitake cooked in soya with Mirin and sugar, covered them with bechamel and added a wonderful fresh accent with the mushroom plant. It was delicious!
Enrico continued with his version of the traditional Piedmontese dish “uovo in carpione”: perfectly poached egg yolk in a mixture of wine, broth, vinegar and spices. In the same mixture were cooked also small crispy courgettes from Enrico’s garden. All this was topped with an egg-white baked in oven to get a wonderful crispy texture. Another perfect dish with a beautiful touch of acidity and lovely textures.
Our table has also fallen in love with the dish which followed. It was called Beetroot. Zaiyu Hasegawa was playing with the idea of gnocchi (gnocchi which are not gnocchi), but did it in his own Japanese way. He created a beetroot puree and mixed it with milk and Kuzu giving it a lovely pink colour and Japanese mochi texture.. It was served on the cream of robiola cheese, topped with beetroot cooked with Barolo chinato and spiced up with anchovy (an accent added bt Enrico Crippa – watch the video on the bottom of the article). It was the most unusual and incredibly delicious dish with Japanese technique and texture but very Italian flavour.
Enrico Crippa followed with his stunning risotto which was called “Triubute to Francesco Clemente” . Again a breathtaking dish full of fantastic intense flavours. Risotto was made with powder of the squid ink, caviar, grated dried caviar and lentisk oil. Probably the best risotto I ever had.
Tara, which followed, was again Zaiyu’s playful take on Italy. It was a beautiful marriage of Italian and Japanese traditions. It looked like an Italian minestra, but made Japanese way – with a perfect dashi, crisp vegetables and a piece of cod and red prawn rolled into the swiss chard. There was again a Zaiyu’s witty accent: penne which are not penne – to each plate was added one perfectly cooked real penne (pasta) and one another penne made of courgette’s stem (you can see it on the photo of the Tara dish).
Lamb was again Enrico’s dish. This dish he planned quite in advance as he saw the lambs which were getting just perfect so this was the first dish of all he decided to do. The lamb was divinely tender and flavoursome and cooked to perfection. It was paired with asparagus lettuce from his garden which gave so much needed freshness to the entire composition. The beautiful umami came from the mushroom broth and crispy texture from puffed buckwheat.
Zaiyu pampered us with peach, perfectly cooked in a perfumed syrup with chocolate and mint and an addition of anaretti with gel of amaretti, while Enrico decided to stun us with Sweet luck. A beautiful ladybird was hiding below its surface Enrico’s take on the Italian classic: Zuppa Inglese with Alchermes liquer and elderflower sorbet.
This was a dinner where perfection and fun walked hand in hand. It was so playful and so serious (in the best sense of the word) at the same time. It was a result of three days of exploration between the two chefs, three days of bonding and understanding each other’s culture and I was really lucky to have been witnessing it right from the start. More about it in the interviews with Enrico and Zaiyu in the next weeks.
Some more photos of the chefs and down below a video – the fine tuning of the Beetroot dish within the kitchen: