One of the newcomers to Singapore’s thriving dining culture could also be the oldest. The iconic American Teppanyaki chain Benihana has recently opened a new restaurant in the Lion City.
The American-Japanese restaurateur Rocky Aoki created the chain in New York in 1964. The chain played an essential part in promoting Teppanyaki partly due to the elaborate knife tricks involved in cutting and dicing the ingredients and the extravagant pyrotechnics used when the food was cooked and grilled on a hot iron grill.
The genesis of this technique can be traced to Japan’s postwar era when it became an inventive method to cook ingredients like meat, seafood, and vegetables.
The word mixes teppan iron plate and yaki, which means grilling or cooking.
Benihana Singapore’s beef teppanyaki course.
This allowed chefs to show their skills as they interacted with customers.
In the 90s and 2000s, this spectacle-like eating sensation of setting the food on fire became integral to cruise ships and extravagant dining establishments.
The famous garlic rice of Benihana.
Consumers have begun to appreciate the more complex and specific ingredient-based food story as the culinary landscape has changed.
The newest trend of teppanyaki chefs across the region echoes this idea and often favors the sexiness of elegance over a showy display.
Newer establishments in the pipeline are Kagayaki, created by Ishigaki Yoshida and Miyoshi from Fat Cow, both in Singapore and Kaen, Enishi in Hong Kong, and Koki in Hanoi, Vietnam.
There is a place and time for Teppanyaki’s theatrics. The amount of which is contingent on the chef’s personality and the guests’ preferences.
Chef Junichi Yoshida, chairman of The Japan Teppanyaki Association
The chefs of these establishments let the ingredients speak for themselves, gracefully increasing the natural flavors they possess through their food preparation instead of displaying a spectacle.
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In Benihana Singapore, the art of restraint has found a place.
At first, bold actions are only allowed if needed for certain dishes, like the Onion Volcano, where the chef sets an onion ring tower in a fire to caramelize and cook the ingredients.
Junichi Yoshida is the head chef at Ishigaki Yoshida in Tokyo, the chairperson of The Japan Teppanyaki Association, and an advisor at Singapore Teppanyaki Restaurant Kagayaki from Ishigaki Yoshida.
The chef Junichi Yoshida, who helms Ishigaki Yoshida in Tokyo and is also the chair of the Japan Teppanyaki Association, says: “As with other cuisines Teppanyaki is constantly changing. This is why we use the most recent technology and equipment to offer the highest quality of food and presentation for customers.”
It is his restaurant consultant for Kagayaki by Ishigaki Yashida, the newest Singapore outlet in the Tokyo restaurant. It was one of the first teppanyaki restaurants owned by chefs to receive a Michelin Star in 2015.
The intimate restaurant with 18 seats in Singapore emphasizes the finest ingredients, often obtained from select Japanese producers.
Inside the interiors of Kagayaki was created by Ishigaki Yoshida.
Masuda Kagayaki beef, when thinly cut, is renowned for its clarity and delicate flavor. It’s the main attraction at Kagayaki in the works of Ishigaki Yoshida. Photo: Kagayaki
Its most coveted item is Masuda Kagayaki beef, which is known for its transparent cuts that are delicate and soft.
The restaurant is the sole owner of the right to this breed of Southeast Asia, and each cow has its birth certificates (complete with an image of the nose) that trace its ancestry.
At Kagayaki, you can cook the meat according to the method designed by Yoshida, where every side of the steak is grilled at the start of the multi-course meal before being put in the upper right corner of the Teppan in which there is a lower heat.
Grilled steaks, cooked using Yoshida’s exclusive technique, served at Kagayaki in the company of Ishigaki Yoshida. Photo: Kagayaki
When it’s ready to serve your main beef dish, the chef can grill the steak on the binchotan charcoal to get the signature crispy crust of the word.
This results in a light bite that doesn’t overwhelm your palate by saturating it with fat.
It’s not an impressive technique but a demonstration of the skill of the Teppan and the chef’s precise timing.
Kagayaki, created by Ishigaki Yoshida’s head chef Nobuyasu Kamiko, shows the birth certificate of the Masuda Kagayaki bovine that features the nose print of the animal. Photo: Karen Tee
“Creating a great teppanyaki dish comes with years of experience, practice, technique and knowledge of how ingredients react and taste over different heat applications,” Kagayaki’s head chef Nobuyasu Kamiko.
“A good teppanyaki dish is therefore only possible in the hands of an experienced chef for whom the surface of the teppan is second nature, with an instinctive understanding of where certain ingredients should be cooked.”
In the Hong Kong restaurant Enishi, which Shun Sato Ami Hamasaki and Toru Takano founded. The teppanyaki menu is created to show their culinary history, personal experiences, and philosophy.
Enishi co-founders Ami Hamasaki (left) and Toru Takano.
A lot of the dishes are based on the food memories they have from their travels, such as in the way that Hamasaki pays homage to her fondness for Chinese dim sum in her Shirako Gyoza, which includes Hokkaido, the shiso flower as well as the crown the daisy with a green sauce.
Takano’s take on the Sichuan-style steam fish is a variation that features scorpion fish from Fukuoka with Kombu and is inspired by his first dinner at a restaurant in Hong Kong.
“We would like to introduce teppanyaki culture to a new generation by mixing cooking techniques and presentations to let guests experience a sense of homecoming,” says Takano.
The contemporary design of the interior at Enishi.
Wagyu beef is cooked medium rare on the teppan of Enishi.
“We have dishes that break with tradition, by using local ingredients and inspirations instead of just redefining the luxury experience.”
In Singapore, Miyoshi Fat Cow restaurant in Singapore Fat Cow offers a slightly different approach, reinterpreting traditional Japanese food to fit the preferences of today’s diners.
The most well-known is the smoke from straw Hokkaido scallops, first grilled on the Teppan to create a thin crust, which is smoked with straw to give it an appealing earthy scent.
The counter that sells teppan-kaiseki in Miyoshi.
At Miyoshi, the famous straw-smoked Hokkaido scallops are first cooked on a teppan grill to form a light crust before being smoked using straw to impart an earthy scent. Photo: Miyoshi
It is served lightly raw to give it more flavor and is filled with Shoyu and fresh wasabi grated, similar to the sashimi course.
Another great option is the sukiyaki, in which the thinly cut Hida wagyu rib-eye steak is grilled incredibly delicately on the Teppan to make the fat the most luxurious taste before serving it in sukiyaki sauce that is made in-house, mixed with an egg yolk that has been cooked raw and garnished with black truffle shaved.