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[Herald Interview] Singaporean chef cooks up Japanese European cuisine with Korean flair

Aug. 5, 2023 - 16:00 By Kim Hae-yeon
Owner-chef Javier Low of Iru Den, a Japanese-European fine dining restaurant in Singapore (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

Popular chefs today often venture beyond their home turf, organizing pop-ups and tasting events in foreign cities to connect with new diners and seek future business opportunities.

However, Singaporean chef Javier Low, 31, is taking a boldly different approach

Javier arrived in Seoul on Sunday with a team of five from his restaurant Iru Den, known for its exquisite modern Japanese French cuisine.

Javier's primary motive for the trip was to connect with Korean diners and learn from their feedback. The first day of the two-day tasting event took place Tuesday, at Hotel Cappuccino's Hot Eatsue, where Javier’s delectable nine-course menu was presented.

Javier is passionate about exploring diverse dishes and infusing them with a creative touch.

"Being Singaporean, I see cooking as fluid, and through a global lens that isn’t deep rooted in tradition itself," Javier said. "My approach to cooking is to source the freshest produce I can for the season and use the best possible techniques, be it classic or modern, to enhance and allow the inherent beauty of an ingredient to shine through on our plates."

The chef's first visit to Korea was four years ago, when he fell in love with ganjang gaejang, a dish of raw crabs marinated in soy sauce.

So inspired was he, he served a version of it in his restaurant in Singapore. He marinated mud crab with a blend of ginger, garlic, sake, and green onions, serving it in his own interpretation of gimbap, wrapped in vinegared rice and seaweed. Admittedly, the new menu received a hesitant response from regular Singaporean patrons, but gradually, people became fans of the dish.

Javier started his culinary career at the age of 17 at Iggy's in Singapore. In Kyoto, Japan, he spent a transformative year at the Michelin-starred Cenci. In 2018 Javier established his own intimate one-man kitchen back home in Singapore, Il Den, which eventually evolved into the fine dining restaurant, Iru Den.

Wherever he travels, Javier places a strong emphasis on the quality of the main ingredients, relying on the expertise of local chefs who possess invaluable knowledge about sourcing them.

"Instead of imposing our shopping list, we entrust the local team here to recommend and suggest the best alternatives for local ingredients. After all, they are the ones who know best. Our team from Singapore has worked in close collaboration with the hotel, handling everything from sourcing to preparation and execution in the days leading up to the two special evenings." the chef said.

Javier Low works on his garden salad during a tasting event on Tuesday at Hotel Cappuccino, southern Seoul (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
Javier Low's egg custard with black truffle and wild mugwort (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

The uni somen, showcased during the tasting event, stands as the chef's signature creation, conceptualized five years ago.

The sauce is a blend of wasabi leaves, sake, mirin and uni, which undergoes a fermentation process to acquire a subtle acidity that complements its richness. Mixing the somen with this flavorful sauce, the dish is then garnished with additional fresh uni and a dash of sake.

The abalone risotto is a masterpiece prepared by cooking barley in a clam-based seafood stock.

Just before serving, the chef enriches the barley with a sauce extracted from the abalone liver. The dish is further elevated with the addition of brown butter, crispy burdock chips and marinated Korean abalone.

The egg custard undergoes a meticulous steaming process with Japanese soup stock, or dashi, and is perfected with a roasted chicken jus that requires several days to prepare, through slow roasting and boiling. No salt is added to the custard to emphasize the natural savoriness. The dish is topped with shavings of black truffle and wild mugwort from Korea.

"I always focus on how my techniques can amplify and enhance the inherent flavors and characteristics of the sourced ingredients," Javier said.

Post-pandemic, Javier's team is eagerly seeking out opportunities for overseas pop-ups, with a particular interest in places with high-quality produce and enthusiastic diners that can spark inspiration.