When an unapologetically pasta-focused establishment pairs up with a home chef dedicated to the art of handmade pastas, it is a modern love story told over six courses.
The inaugural four-hands menu between Bar Cicheti’s Chef Lim Yew Aun and Ben Fatto’s Chef Lee Yum Hwa, a three-day affair taking place from 17 February onwards, is a stark interpretation of old techniques, daring flavours, and a pledge towards zero waste.
The menu is entirely new, created by both chefs just for the occasion. The wine pairing, curated by sommelier-partner Ronald Kamiyama, is equally impressive. Even from the beginning, the dedication to using all aspects of an ingredient underscores the antipasti, Gnocco Fritto, baked pillows with a distinctly savoury flavour contributed by the melted fat trimmings of parma ham. The bread is topped with marinated white anchovies or sea urchin, bold flavours that competed by themselves.
Onto the pastas, first on the menu was the Cavatelli, a hearty dish consisting of grano arso (burnt wheat) shells in a traditional minestrone broth. It was delicate and well-constructed, and being lighter in flavour, executed the perfect start. The Tajarin with the most familiar mouthfeel was served next, tossed in sugo d’arrosto (roasted meat drippings) and butter; the thin, irregular ribbons picked up both the rich sauce and parmigiano-reggiano very well, an easy crowdpleaser.
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The most experimental of the four pasta dishes, the Lorighittas featured black plaited loops of pasta coated in a slightly fiery sauce concocted from braised octopus and in-house ‘nduja, utilising scraps and odds and ends of the salumi products in the house. The octopus was extremely tender but the focus on Asian notes, packing a mild punch, was an interesting choice.
As the final dish, the Doppio Agnolotti was the most memorable: crafted in a shape of a vessel with two large folds that trapped the sauce, the duo-sided ravioli was filled with cheese and potato on one side, and the other mortadella. Each bite resulted in different combinations, depending on the way one consumed the pasta pockets, and the simple dressing of roasted juices again ensured that the craftsmanship shined. Bread and Butter Pudding is not always served for dessert here, but when it was, it featured fried potato skins, passionfruit curd and a delectable truffle milkshake which was on the verge of being cheeky with its domineering flavour.
We catch up with both chefs before the menu launches on 17 February to understand when and how the collaboration started simmering, and their take on pasta’s role in Asian culture.
Popspoken: How did this collaboration come about?
Chef Lim Yew Aun: We’ve been toying with the idea of a four hands dinner for some time now – but didn’t want to do one just for the sake of it. We wanted to find a like minded partner who championed the same ideas and beliefs as we do, but with enough to set each other apart.
As a Penang chef who’s built the success of three Italian concepts on an all local / regional kitchen team, it was important to me that we kept it in the same vein. There aren’t many of us out there, and Yum Hwa was the only other local chef in Singaporean who’s pushing the boundaries of pasta from the precursor to the fore. From then on, everything quickly fell into place.
Popspoken: And having been to Ben Fatto ourselves a couple of times, what was the most difficult aspect of this collaboration with a commercial establishment?
Chef Lee Yum Hwa: Replicating the production of hand formed pasta from a small outfit to a commercial scale.
Popspoken: Why focus on a zero-waste menu? Are there specific issues or incidents of food waste you are hoping to address?
Chef Lim Yew Aun: With recent expansion of the Cicheti group, we’ve been increasingly aware of our impact on the environment, and as such we’ve been experimenting with ways to operate as sustainably as possible. Food waste is one of the bigger problems – the idea that ‘ugly food’ is perceived as unfit for consumption is something we witness a lot in an Italian kitchen.
Thankfully, Italian cuisine, with a little creativity, allows us the versatility to use these ingredients that would have otherwise been discarded—from cheese rinds to off cuts of salumi—to create sauces, condiments and whatnot. We wanted to use this event as a platform to inspire diners to stretch the potential of every ingredient, even in their own kitchens.
Popspoken: We seem to be eating from all around Italy. Is there an area or ingredient that has influenced you most?
Chef Lim Yew Aun: Venice was always the starting point of the first Cicheti, with our name named after the little plates found in Venetian bacaris, and the influx of influences from the outside world given its a history as a trading port. The beauty of being a pasta focused establishment is that pasta comes in so many different shapes, sizes, and sauces to add. Different kinds of pasta come from very distinct regions of Italy, so there’s no one region that we restrict ourselves to.
If anything, the decisions that colour the way we cook would be whether there’s a closer part of the world we can import certain seasonal Italian ingredients from, and for ingredients, I’d have to say the garlic – it’s hardly Italian but one of the most important ingredients in a lot of our dishes.
Chef Lee Yum Hwa: Emilia-Romagna. This is where egg pasta is most predominant. The eggs are unique there which gives a very vivid and rich colour when folded into dough.
Popspoken: What makes a good pasta stand out?
Chef Lim Yew Aun: A combination of a flavourful sauce made from a good stock that’s paired with a pasta shape that’s a worthy vessel. Most importantly, the act of eating it must bring comfort to the diner.
Chef Lee Yum Hwa: Less sauce and more pasta! The pasta should always be the protagonist in a dish and should not be overwhelmed by the amount of sauce and other ingredients… these are nothing more than condiments and should (more often than not) take a back seat in my opinion.
Popspoken: What do you think of pasta’s role in Asian culture?
Chef Lim Yew Aun: Noodles are often the vessel for the ultimate comfort food, they’re just called different names in different parts of the world. We have our mee pok, the Italians have their pasta, other parts of the world – ramen, pad thai, pho. Pasta in Asia should still be celebrated for what it represents in Italy: we may make a few tweaks here and there to make it more palatable in this part to the world but we take great care to respect the essentials. I wouldn’t want some nonna trying to mess with my mee pok!
Chef Lee Yum Hwa: Pasta shares some affinity with asians as some of them can be easily related to our local versions. It used to be considered a “Western” spinoff of our asian noodles and a welcome break from local cuisine especially on special occasions. However, this is beginning to change as pasta comes in so many forms and shapes, much more than we imagined.
With the market maturing in this aspect, people are beginning to appreciate pasta as a craft entirely in its own right and recognised beyond a mere alternative to local noodles, but something noteworthy of regular gourmands.
Popspoken: Finally, what blunders do home chefs usually make when preparing pasta?
Chef Lee Yum Hwa: People often follow dough recipes to the T. However, it may not always yield consistent results if you do that. This is because variables are ever changing—we have different egg sizes and different levels of hydration needed, even for the same flour. It is best to feel the dough based on practice and experience.
Bar Cicheti x Ben Fatto: Four Hands Dinner
When? 17 to 19 Feb
$108 onwards per person for a six-course dinner menu
Bar Cicheti, 10 Jiak Chuan Rd, Singapore 089264