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People 3 minutes 06 July 2017

Industry Insider: On The Importance of Creating a Culinary Playground

Chef Beppe De Vito of one-Michelin-starred restaurant Braci tells us how he created his own culinary oasis.

Industry Insider ingredients Italian

For the last twenty years of working, pioneering, and opening dining concepts in Singapore, I’ve always been pulled into creating restaurants to fill at least 80 covers per service. For years, we’re used to running covers for 200, sometimes 300 people a day at one restaurant alone. With big restaurants, there’ll always be menu considerations to factor in. “How can we make the service efficient while still giving the finest experience?” While we don’t compromise on the quality, we have to be realistic with the recipes we create and sacrifice ideas that we know won’t be operationally friendly for a busy restaurant that needs to serve 30, 40 tables in a short amount of time.

I’ve always wanted to do something like Braci but couldn’t, as I knew I had to fulfil my financial stability first. Thanks to the success of the other restaurants under our wing, I’ve been freed of any consequences that may come from relying solely on a small restaurant.

With Braci, I knew I wanted a destination, and I also knew that this intimate pocket of space could allow me to have my own private kitchen, an oasis where I can be free to create food without the restraints of a larger restaurant. I can experiment with unique and rare ingredients, and I can introduce a new dish on a whim with the day's freshest seasonal ingredients. It is this creative license for chefs to constantly draw influences from their surroundings that gives the biggest stimulus to keep learning and innovating.

SEE ALSO: Why Restaurants Still Cook Their Own Staff Meals At The Expense of Time And Effort
Chefs Beppe De Vito and Mirko Febbrile.
Chefs Beppe De Vito and Mirko Febbrile.
But more than anything, the food at Braci is personal. I keep dishes light and fresh, yet rich in flavours. It is a combination of my heritage as an Italian growing up in Puglia and the travels I’ve made around the world over the decades.

On my bi-annual trips back to Bitonto, I’d check out my own orchard and visit the local growers and artisans to learn more about their history and produce. For example, on my recent trip, I was working with various farmers on getting their produce better-packaged to be sent to us directly in Singapore, as well as visiting century-old bakers to study more about bread-making.

I have a vested interest in the sourcing of the ingredients we use too. Besides going to Australia and France to personally taste and understand the ingredients at their places of origin, I’d make at least four trips a year to visit Japan to locate small, local farmers and chefs from different towns.

Growing up in Italy, food is about freshness and seasonality of the produce, while also making the most out of a few ingredients. Seeing the way Japanese chefs treat each ingredient with immense respect and in various ways is one of my biggest sources of inspiration.

SEE ALSO: Industry Insider: Cooking With Line-Caught Fish
Braci's romanesco dish.
Braci's romanesco dish.
Coming from an area that was one of Italy’s first to earn a Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin) appellation for its olive oil, extra virgin olive oil has always had a special meaning to me. At Braci, we’ve been serving and cooking with oils made from the olives from my own orchard, and now we’re testing out infusions with fig leaves and wild fennel to dedicate a one-off flavour to be used in our cooking.

My Mediterranean roots have also drawn me to my love for vegetables, from mushrooms, wild artichokes, heirloom fruits, to white and black truffles; at our own orchard, my father would cultivate seasonal greens that we send to Singapore, or my father and brother would still forage for wild vegetables till this day, that we bring in to the restaurant.

From Adriatic scampi – which for example, has a naturally sweet taste due to the saltier waters of the Italian sea – to the Australian Jade Abalone, seafood is another category of ingredients I particularly favour.

SEE ALSO: Chef Lino Sauro of Gattopardo: Sustainability Is About Respecting The Cycle of Life
The interiors of Braci.
The interiors of Braci.
The twenty-seater restaurant of Braci is where I can share these stories; just like in a cosy Japanese omakase restaurant, Braci is where I can “play” with the beautiful produce we get in seasonally, and share with the diners on the details of each dish: the concept, the ingredients used, where they are from, the preparation methods, and so on. From the set menus (which are always customised by us on the spot) to the individual dishes, the menu ultimately offers a sense of discovery and surprise.

The role of the chefs is no longer just about being toiling in kitchen; it’s also about sharing our vision and passion for food with the diners. The private kitchen enables an intimate conversation between chefs and diners about food; our diners have enjoyed those little bits of moments when we go to them to explain both our ideals and ideas behind each dish.

Is Braci my ultimate dream? No. There are so many parts of Italian cuisine and culture that I still want to elevate in Singapore’s dining scene, which I aim to do so one restaurant at a time.

But in a nutshell, you can say that Braci defines the Beppe De Vito in three different “eras” – then: the maître’d, now: the chef, and always the Italian restaurateur.

Recommended reading: Hungry for more? Check out these Industry Insider, Italian and Ingredients stories.

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