Christian Recomio & Taku Sekine Say Why Cuisine Cannot (And Should Not) Always Be Categorised
I hear the Sitka team took you to a Malaysian wet market. What do you think of KL so far?
Taku Sekine: Yeah, we went to the TTDI market and had street food in Chinatown. I find the layout of your city interesting; it’s so vast that people don’t care to walk long distances. There is also a lot of greenery. I’ve seen a lot more of the ‘local life’ here compared to in Singapore or Bangkok.
You have Christian and Jen to thank for that. Do you get a strong sense of Malaysia’s Muslim culture?
Taku Sekine: Seeing pork and non-halal goods sectioned off in supermarkets might feel normal to you, but such small differences are, to me, very jarring. Even he [gestures at Christian] is making pork-free pastry…
[To Christian] You’d love to go ham on pork though, wouldn’t you.
Christian Recomio: We will, just not here.
Taku Sekine: Tempering culture largely revolves around pork, especially in cuisine from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing, which uses pork fat in everywhere, from the dough to the filling. It has similar traits as butter—when it’s cold, it gets coagulated, and when heated up, it gets creamy. At Sitka, the team has found solutions around using pork, such as inventing chicken skin purée.
Limitations breed creativity.
Taku Sekine: Exactly! It’s very cool. In Paris, I receive customers from all around the world and 5% of our guests cannot eat pork; so such solutions give me moments of clarity. Because I have so many things to do in a day, I never committed much thought to coming up with alternatives, but with this base, I can now go farther. I am very impressed with Christian’s restaurant.
By creating Pan-Asian fare, are either of you ever accused of propagating cross-contamination?
Christian Recomio: Sitka Eatinghouse receives more resistance than at the Studio. I could be creating what I call a Chinese master stock, and Chinese customers will say, “What sort of food is this?” And me being me, I’ll say it’s your food. Even now, diners don’t really know what to make of Sitka, but I think food shouldn’t be categorised. Earlier today we had burrata with XO, lemon and pumpkin seeds, and it’s definitely not Chinese, but burrata is a delicious substitute for tofu. It’s difficult to explain what we’re doing sometimes, but we’d fit into Paris, London, New York very easily.
What say you, Taku? Though I suppose Parisian diners are worldlier.
Taku Sekine: It happens. Customers can hate my cuisine sometimes because it juxtaposes cultures. Some say, ‘He does fusion,’ but because I’m not mixing stuff for the sake of it, I don’t want my food being described as ‘fusion.’ I think of it as my personal cuisine.
I am 100% Japanese, but my boy is half-French, half-Japanese, and maybe one day my family will live in Mexico City, where he’ll be exposed to even more cultures. Such is the world we live in now. Because I grew up in Japan, worked in New York City and London, and now live in France, would it really be more ‘natural’ for me to stick to pure Japanese or French cuisine? It feels best for me to cook ‘as I am.’ At the end of the day, you can’t perfectly encapsulate such cuisine in words.
Food is something to eat, not something to read; it’s like trying to define music.
People ask too often about mentors, but I want to know about your protégés.
Taku Sekine: My colleague Yohei has been with us for 5 years now. He’s stuck with me since day one of my first restaurant Dersou, and when I decided to open my second restaurant, Cheval d’Or. I’ve also educated Yuri, who is a very good chef, for two years. They are now the bosses of both my restaurants. I can take a step back.
Christian Recomio: You know Karlyn. I think she can go as high and as far as she wants, whether it’s with us or elsewhere. Of course, we want to keep her in the company, and if we can accommodate her in any way, we will. During Karlyn’s first year of being here, she wouldn’t even talk to me; she was so timid that you couldn’t get anything out of her, so she’s really come out of her shell in the past 4 years.
Every time we have guest chefs over, they remark on how good our chefs are.
If Christian Recomio and Taku Sekine were to found a Champagne maison, would it be called Recomio-Sekine or Sekine-Recomio?
*Perrier-Jouët was founded by cork supplier Pierre Nicolas Perrier and Calvados producer Rose Adélaide Jouët.
Christian Recomio: Couldn’t we jumble the two names together? I’d give him the honours.
Maison Sekine-Recomio it is.