It takes passion to evoke a new vision of modern Italian cooking. Mirko Febbrile has been in love with food for as long as he can remember. And that passion for food has since brought the talented young Italian to Singapore, where he is chef de cuisine at 1-MICHELIN-Star Braci, a restaurant under the ilLido Group umbrella. In this bijou showcase serving degustation-only meals, Febbrile skilfully works the charcoal-fired Josper grill while also crafting the most delicate morsels combining Italian and Asian flavours.
“Braci’s name means embers in Italian,” he explains. “I like to highlight how cooking food on fire marked the beginning of the history of cooking. Most of our ingredients are grilled using charcoal, which to me is the best way to deliver my style of cooking. You’ll find different layers of flavours but also a lot of character where everything on the plate has to be identifiable.”
In his search for deeper layers of flavours, ingredients, authenticity and character in his cuisine, Febbrile discovered that whisky adds a fascinating complexity and depth. “Like my food, The Balvenie whisky tells a story. It is interesting how many ingredients, no matter which corner of the world they are coming from, find their balance when paired with the right whisky,” he enthuses.
“Craftsmanship to me is expression, commitment and safeguard of traditions, values that are very important especially for younger generations not to lose.”
Excellence, research and tradition are key ideas that resonate with Febbrile after he is acquainted with the Five Rare Crafts that The Balvenie maintains in whisky making. The whisky house still tends to its own homegrown barley, traditional maltings and copper stills, while relying on the expertise of their in-house cooper and malt master David Stewart. Stewart is one of the longest-serving whisky legends in the industry, coming to 59 years at William Grant & Sons, a contrast to the young Febbrile who is in his first decade as a chef.
Together in diversity
Showing just how myriad ingredients can come together in harmony, Febbrile envisions his first dish with the pairing of The Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood. In the topinambour with home cured sardines, Alaskan king crab and rice broth, he evokes Puglia’s humble farming community, the curing and preservation of food during lean times, and vast fennel fields during spring, while paying tribute to Japanese culture through the rice, umami elements and the authenticity of the farmer’s lifestyle.
“Topinambour, or sunchokes, is a potato-like root vegetable with a nutty taste. Sardine fillets are cured with Champagne vinegar and EVOO, while Alaskan king crab is cooked over charcoal with smoked paprika, fennel and flowers. We try not to waste any of these superb ingredients; the toasted rice broth is made with aged seaweed and infused shells of the king crab,” Febbrile elaborates.
“When you pair this dish with the Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood, you will feel the honey notes of the whisky interacting with the sweetness and creaminess of the topinambur and the fresh taste of fennel. Light notes of grape skins, malt and oak marry perfectly with the warm rice broth, rich with umami. Last but not least, the finishing of spices and smokiness complement the delicate king crab and the strong ample taste of the cured sardines,” he further describes. “I suggest to accompany every bite of this dish with a sip of whisky because it is so interesting how the palate keeps finding different flavours and sensations.”
“I like The Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood because it surprised me with layers of complexity that I did not imagine in a younger whisky,” notes Febbrile. However it is the 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask that is his favourite, and which inspired him to pair it with the creation of savoy cabbage stuffed with Iberico pork and wild garlic raviolini. “The softness and how the taste develop with time is absolutely interesting. It is close to the flavours I love the most of my land: figs, molasses and oak,” he observes. There is an additional note of toffee, which he sought to recreate using Josper-grilled celeriac.
The savoy cabbage is meticulously layered with a stuffing made with black pork, ricotta cheese and sweet wine, then topped and basted until caramelised with guanciale fat and crisps. At the bottom, the homemade mini raviolini are stuffed with wild garlic. The dish is completed with 5-vegetable jus (made from carrots, celery root, shallots, fennel and mushrooms) and Marsala wine.
Just as The Balvenie whiskies are handcrafted by the many expert hands through its Rare Crafts, this dish pays tribute to the hands involved in each element, the skills transmitted and the luxury of time. This involves turning meat into salami, making 500g of jus from 30kg of vegetables, and using 32 egg yolks in 1kg of flour for the pasta. An expert hand was also needed to ensure the pasta remains pliable, the cooked jus remaining at the right balance between sweet and bitter, and the cabbage kept at the right moistness.
True to form
“I’m fascinated at the idea of creating my own version of beautiful modern Italian cooking. Taste and presentation are crucial parts of my culinary style because an ingredient that is transformed in the right way, cooked in the right way and used in the right season is always beautiful,” Febbrile relates. “After all, art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
Always excited about what the next day will bring, the attentive chef cannot help but express himself through his food. “In today’s material world where emotions seem to have taken a back seat, I want to serve my guests real food and share with them how a seed is planted and makes it to their plate. This is my art, my craft,” he says.
Braci x The Balvenie
From 28 April to 15 June, Braci will be pairing two whiskies with the 7-course seasonal spring menu. Contact them by phone: 6866 1933 or go online.