On a kopi hunt

Japanese chef-consultant Masashi Horiuchi may have absorbed the coffee culture in the various countries he has worked in, but has yet to catch up with the growing scene here.

The 41-year-old chef at Shelter In The Woods in Greenwood Avenue has tried cafes such as 40 Hands in Tiong Bahru, Dutch Colony Coffee Co at PasarBella and Toby's Estate in Rodyk Street, but has not found a favourite. Also, the coffee lover finds local kopi "too sweet".

In London, he frequented Monmouth and Workshop Coffee Co for his cappuccino fix.

On his coffee preferences, he says: "In Italy, I would drink an espresso. In Switzerland, I would have a ristretto. In Singapore, I need to try more cafes."

He joined Shelter In The Woods in October and the restaurant reopened last month after renovations. The chef has put his imprint on the menu with a range of pates and terrines, among other offerings.

After graduating at the age of 20 from the Tsuji French Cuisine College in Osaka, the Fukuoka native went to work in France and Switzerland, honing his skills in fine French cooking. Before coming to Singapore, he worked in London at the two-Michelin-starred L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon for five years.

He has worked with top, three-Michelin-starred French chefs such as Georges Blanc, who runs his eponymous hotel-restaurant in Vonnas, France; and Antoinne Westermann, who owns the restaurants Drouant, Mon Veil Ami and Le Coq Rico.

After spending 20 years in Europe, chef Horiuchi speaks fluent French.

His 33-year-old Japanese wife is a housewife and they have two children aged two, and three months.

What are your childhood memories of food?

Watching my mother make dishes such as miso soup and learning how to cook it so that I could do it when she was sick.

In school, I was a baseball player and my teammates would come to my house to eat.

I would help my coach to plan meals for the team and that helped me to learn about nutrition.

In your two months in Singapore, what has been your impression of the food here?

So far, I've tried dishes such as chicken rice and braised duck, as well as Indian food at Samy's Curry in Dempsey Road and roti prata from Mr Prata in Evans Road.

When I visited Singapore in 2007, I tried durians and really liked them. I took some durian cake back to Japan for my family and it was very difficult for them to eat it.

Which restaurants have you dined at?

I've tried Burnt Ends in Teck Lim Road, Esquina in Jiak Chuan Road, Corner House at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, TungLok Heen at Hotel Michael in Resorts World Sentosa and Ola Cocina Del Mar at Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 3.

When do you eat Japanese food?

At home. I cook dishes such as udon, oyakodon (Japanese rice bowl with egg and chicken), mentaiko pasta and miso soup.

What must you eat when you return to Japan?

I must have sushi, soba, udon and yakiniku (grilled meats). I go to a friend's restaurant in Fukuoka called Hyoutan. It is not fine dining, but serves good quality food at affordable prices. Cafes in Japan are also very trendy and I try to visit as many as I can when I go back.

Are you an adventurous diner?

When I was working in Switzerland, I tried giraffe steak, which I didn't really like. I also tried lamb's brain in L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon.

Tell us about some of the dishes that you have served as a chef.

These include suckling pig, pate en croute, steak tartare and rotisserie chicken. My favourite meat dish is milk-fed lamb, which I will introduce to the menu at Shelter In The Woods occasionally. I braise the shoulder, cook the leg on the rotisserie and roast the lamb rack in the oven.

Tell us about your most memorable meal.

It was at the three-Michelin-starred Crissier by chef Fredy Girardet in Switzerland more than 10 years ago. Everything was just, wow. I remember the thinly sliced foie gras terrine with slices of pigeon and salad dressing, and a wild duck roasted and glazed with orange and served with duck blood sauce.

If you could pick someone to have a meal with, who would you choose?

My wife. She likes meat. When she was pregnant, she wanted raw beef. I will cook a steak for her or make a cote de boeuf (bone-in beef rib steak).


A meal at the three-Michelin starred French chef Alain Chapel's now-defunct eponymous restaurant.

I would also like to have my mother's kashiwa-meshi, which is a Japanese version of chicken rice with pickles.

This article was first published on December 28, 2014.
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