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Chef Chen Kentaro's Japanese-inspired Chinese New Year feast

Chef Chen Kentaro (right) with his father, the famed Iron Chef Chen Kenichi. ― Picture courtesy of Shisen Hanten/TODAY
Chef Chen Kentaro (right) with his father, the famed Iron Chef Chen Kenichi. ― Picture courtesy of Shisen Hanten/TODAY

SINGAPORE, Jan 11 — Chef Chen Kentaro has big shoes to fill.

The grandson of Chen Kenmin, regarded as Japan’s “Father of Szechwan Cuisine”, and the son of famed celebrity Iron Chef Chen Kenichi, Chen Kentaro has been tasked with carrying on the family’s well-known Shisen Hanten chain of restaurants.

Even the best among us would keel under that sort of pressure, but Chen Kentaro has established himself as a chef in his own right. Shisen Hanten by Chen Kentaro, the chain’s debut outside of Japan, was awarded two stars in 2016’s Singapore Michelin Guide.

Come January 13, Chen Kentaro will also fly in to Singapore for a one-night only, Japanese-inspired Chinese New Year feast at Shisen Hanten, as part of the Michelin Guide Singapore Local Chef Showcase. The menu for the event, which is prepared by Chen Kentaro, will feature dishes with ingredients imported from Japan, such as Steamed Lobster with Szechwan Porcini in Homemade Pickled Chilli Sauce and Braised Okinawa Agu Pork with Premium Soy Sauce.

Speaking of the secret to Shisen Hanten’s success in an e-mail interview with TODAY, and how he seeks to balance the bold flavours of Szechwan food with the subtlety of Japanese cuisine, Chen Kentaro said the restaurant uses the cutting techniques, preparation and presentation skills from Japanese cuisine to keep both cuisines in harmony.

“We incorporate the freshest of seasonal Japanese ingredients to celebrate the signature flavours of Shisen Hanten, which emphasise the seven basic flavours that give Szechwan food that distinct boldness — sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic and salty,” said the Japanese chef, who studied cooking in Sichuan province. The biggest lesson he has learned from his father, however, is one of respect.

“(I learned) his attitude towards food, which is to respect the ingredients and people who produce and catch those ingredients,” Chen Kentaro said. “No matter who the customer is, we should cook full-heartedly. This has become the policy in my life — I respect everyone and deal with them honestly.”

“I feel the most satisfaction when customers say ‘Oishii’ (Japanese for ‘thank you for the good food’) with a smile.”

And, regardless of whether Shisen Hanten here receives three Michelin stars in the future, Chen Kentaro is determined to continue building its legacy.

“I am very happy and honoured that Shisen Hanten received two Michelin stars, and even happier when I think of it as recognition for Shisen Hanten’s taste tradition started by my grandfather,” he said. “Both my grandfather and father are great chefs, so the pressure is always high, but I try to enjoy my cooking journey.”

Shisen Hanten: Chinese New Year the Japanese Way will be held at 7pm, Jan 13 at Shisen Hanten, Mandarin Orchard Singapore. Tickets at S$248+++ (RM772+++) per diner available at https://guide.michelin.sg/en/local-michelin-chef-showcase-shisenhanten. ― TODAY

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