MANILA, Philippines - Japanese cuisine has always reflected beauty and balance in food, from the plating to the taste.
A good example is the sashimi, a Japanese delicacy that primarily consists of raw seafood sliced into very thin pieces.
It's a simple yet beautiful dish -- the fresh taste of the fish is complemented by a dipping sauce, either soy sauce with wasabi paste, fresh ginger, or shredded radish.
Executive Chef Godfrey Laforteza of The Establishment's Crystal Room, however, does things differently.
His dishes take influence from not only Japanese, but also various Asian cuisines -- Indonesia, India, Korea and Thailand.
"A lot of people say our food is fusion, but it's not. Fusion for me is Japanese to Italian or Chinese to French. A lot of the ingredients I use are Japanese because my background is Japanese cuisine," Laforteza said.
He added, "The method and the technique is Japanese -- the way we slice the food, the way we present it. A lot of the taste would be more of the Japanese side, but there's a hint of Thai, Korean."
Looking for a change after the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Laforteza went to culinary school despite having no interest in food. After graduation, he found himself training at Nobu, a Japanese restaurant in New York co-owned by acclaimed Hollywood actor Robert de Niro.
"Robert de Niro hired me. After a year or so of training as an omagachi chef, I catered for Barbra Streisand, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Bill Clinton and the wedding of de Niro," he shared.
Before going back home, Laforteza said he got to work for other restaurants in New York, Hong Kong and Jakarta.
"Anton San Diego, the President of the Crystal Room (of) The Establishment asked me (to work for them). After 6 months of considering, I decided to introduce my flavors to the Philippines," he narrated.
Asked about his current menu at the Crystal Room, Laforteza said, "My menu is very small. It changes every 6 to 8 months. I invent every day. I don't have limitations at all. I just have to make sure the food is presented well, tastes good, and makes my customers happy."
Sashimi with a twist
Aside from Asian flavors, Laforteza said he also infuses western flavors into his creations.
In this week's episode of Taste Buds on [email protected], he gave us a taste of his French-inspired sashimi dish -- the citron-cured salmon sashimi with seaweed salsa.
He began by curing the salmon with salt and 4 kinds of zest -- calamansi, orange, lime and lemon -- for 48 hours.
"We put the mixture of zest on top. Make sure you leave the skin on the bottom, flesh side up. This is enough for 48 hours or 2 days. The salt will help take liquid out of the salmon. All the liquid from the zest will give the salmon the citrus flavor," Laforteza said.
The chef then removed the juice and the zest from the cured salmon, and cut the meat into thin sashimi slices using a sharp knife.
The dish was topped with a salsa made of diced red bell pepper, fresh mango, red onion and fried Japanese seaweed. A drizzle of Japanese soy sauce, fresh lemon juice, Japanese wasabi mix, chopped chives and roasted sesame seeds were also added.
Laforteza said his dish is best enjoyed by eating the salmon with the seaweed salsa.
Asked to describe his creation, he said, "It's an explosion of flavors (and) textures. A mix of sweet, sour (and) spicy because of the wasabi. One bite of everything is like riding a motorcycle in 2 seconds."
It's packed with flavor, yes, but unlike sashimi soaked in soy sauce and wasabi, there's just enough heat to make the dish tolerable. The whole concoction is very light and satisfying, and is definitely worth seconds.
Here are the ingredients for Laforteza's citron-cured salmon sashimi:
240 grams fresh salmon fillet, deboned
10 grams mixed citrus zest (orange, lemon, lime and calamansi)
10 grams sea salt
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Japanese soy sauce
5 grams wasabi
1 gram black pepper
2 grams kombu (Japanese seaweed), julienned (cut into long thin strips)
2 grams small red onion, diced
2 grams fresh ripe mango, diced
2 grams red bell pepper, diced
1 gram chives, diced
roasted sesame seeds for garnish