It’s interesting how much one can learn about the star in the kitchen just from a single meal.
Onion focaccia, made with Italian Caputo floor, is chef’s favourite bread. The Tomato Balls filled with cold gazpacho is a nod to his summertime favourite. The Calvisius caviar sitting atop his Butter Cone with Scallop Tartare and Caviar comes from his home province of Brescia, Lombardy. The Snail Ragù with Martini Sabayon is presented in emptied eggshells sitting in a nest.
Every element is artful. Every ingredient is treated with respect. And at this juncture, we’re not even into to our first course yet. We’re still talking snacks.
At one Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Buona Terra (which means “good earth”), there is no such thing as ordering à la carte. For lunch, the menu simply lists “Carta Bianca by Chef Lucchi”, with a three-, four- or five-course option; while for dinner, the big draw is the five course onwards “Buona Terra Experience” that changes based on the availability of ingredients.
Simply put, to dine at Buona Terra means to entrust your taste buds to Resident Chef Denis Lucchi, who builds his multi-course menus like a composer structures a four-movement symphony.
Among the courses that did make it to the table today was the beautifully plated and delightfully refreshing Hairy Crab, with Green Tomato, Zucchini, Avocado Mousse, Cucumber Sorbet; the divine Chargrilled Dry Aged Mieral Pigeon with Peaches, Pumpkin, Amaretto and Moscato Sauce; and for dessert, Pear and Ricotta Cheescake. These summertime dishes — or rather, variants of it — headline Buona Terra’s summer menu until third week September.
With Chef Lucchi extolling seasonal produce sourced from Italy and around the globe, there’s nothing same old about the food here, even as the Scotts Road restaurant turns eight this year. He’d even say his repertoire and approach is continually evolving — something he credits to him growing both as a person and a chef.
Whet our appetite. Tell us about the summer menu.
Buona Terra’s summer menu features many seasonal ingredients, not only from Italy, but from Europe as well. Now, we are working with produce like fruits (e.g., Sicilian lemons, Italian peaches and figs), French tomatoes and vegetables including zucchini varieties and zucchini flower.
What do you want your diners to experience when your dishes are brought out?
I hope diners can enjoy the overall experience, which is why Buona Terra only offers Chef’s menus instead of à la carte. We want them to enjoy the sequence of the menu starting from the snacks and how the flavours progress from beginning to end. We hope to give them an experience where they can relax and have fun for a few hours, rather than having a single dish to fill their stomach. Buona Terra is more than just its food and wines; service and approach is just as important to give the diner the best experience we can.
How would you describe your culinary approach?
I try to intrigue and make an impression without overcomplicating my food. Not progressive or fusion cuisines, but Italian food the modern way with my interpretations of recipes I grew up with. We want to present honest but elegant food that is visually appealing with familiar flavours you can connect to. To me, it is a different kind of simplicity.
How does the artistry of cooking make you, as a creator, feel?
When I’m creating food, it feels like I am giving a piece of myself to the diner, and expressing myself through my creations. Sometimes, one is able to understand the personality of the chef more through the food as opposed to just reading a menu. Maybe just like how an artist feels when they are painting, I think it’s amazing to be able to express who we are through the art of food.
What’s it like in the kitchen though?
The kitchen is an intense place where you need a lot of concentration. Many things can happen within just a few hours of service. I tell this to my team as well. I make sure that I’m mentally ready to be able to concentrate and deliver the best to our customers. There may be some tense moments, but I try to be calm. It’s a different approach from when I was younger and would respond instinctively in a more hot-tempered manner. Now, I’m more relaxed and direct the kitchen the way it should be run. The kitchen is like an orchestra — everything needs to be in perfect rhythm, else there will be mistakes.
We hear you love discovering produce and visiting with suppliers.
If there’s the possibility, there’s nothing better than learning first-hand about the ingredients from people who produce, harvest or hunt them. Before developing a dish, it’s good to hear from the producer who uses their knowledge and passion to explain the whole process to you. It’s a must if you want to showcase a quality product.
What do you think of foraging then?
When I was younger, I’d search for mushrooms, chestnuts, and wild berries that can be found in the mountains. Not heavy foraging, but activities I enjoyed as a little boy. I have not foraged in Singapore before as I’m not familiar with what is available out there, but if I have the chance for someone to guide me, I’d be happy to!