SINGAPORE - When it comes to packing for guest chef stints abroad, Japanese chef Hideaki Matsuo is used to forgoing precious suitcase space for extra socks or that spare apron for carefully squirrelled away packets of bonito and kelp instead.
Bottling pre-made dashi stock ahead of time or dialling up Singapore-based suppliers to pre-order a commercially produced substitute is out of the question: the 51-year-old chef's fierce insistence on making everything from scratch - just as he does in his three Michelin star restaurant Kashiwaya in Osaka - is a philosophy that travels with him too.
The seeming hassle all pays off when the food is placed in front of you at the table.
In town recently to cook at the Diners des Grand Chefs Singapour organised by Saint Pierre restaurant to fete the 60th anniversary of hospitality fellowship, Relais and Chateaux, Chef Matsuo cooked alongside Taiwanese Chef Lanshu Chen - recently named Asia's Best Female Chef in this year's Asia's 50 Best Restaurants Awards - and Singapore-based Emmanuel Stroobant.
For starters, fingers of codfish sashimi is robed in a crispy yuba skin and served on spears of thyme. His main course, a Kashiwaya Platter, showcased soya-marinated akami tuna next to a rich blob of egg yolk, pine nut cream and a melt-in-your mouth dashi jelly in golden hamaguri shell. Next to that, a platter of textures: a crispy nugget of amadai fish, sweet prawns and wild mushrooms on a sunshine yellow egg sauce and lightly grilled Hokkaido scallop under opulent shavings of bottarga. It is light, refreshing and traditional yet forward-looking all at once.
You find out later that even the chopsticks have been personally handcarried over from Japan. Hand carved by craftsmen from the Nara prefecture in Japan - one of the country's oldest - and tapered at both ends, they are the exact same ones he uses at Kashiwaya. "One side is designed for man, one side is designed for god, so we can eat together," says Chef Matsuo of its traditional shape used only for special occasions.
Each of the chopsticks are in fact delivered individually, he reveals, and his team of nine kitchen staff and eight service staff have to painstakingly pair sticks with similar wood patterns up and bind them together with the restaurant's rice paper sticker.
Never mind that such attention is something most would easily overlook. The Osaka native isn't used to doing things by convention anyway.
After graduating with a degree in theoretical physics, Chef Matsuo trained with Shuntaro Nakamura, the head chef at Shofukuro, a highly regarded ryotei in Higashioumi, Shigaken, for three years.
All this time, his father was managing a little restaurant in the outskirts of Osaka in a building that had stood since 1868. In 1993, he took over the restaurant as head chef, renovated the space to resemble a traditional tea house with five private dining rooms for groups of four up to 30.