When Zaiyu Hasegawa went to Alba the first time it was just a very short visit lasting less than 5 hours. He had been at an event in Milan and couldn’t resist a visit to the temple of the white truffle. Little did he know that some time later he would be invited to cook with one of his idols Enrico Crippa, chef of the three Michelin star restaurant Piazza Duomo in Alba.
Collaboration and sharing knowledge is one of the secrets to success in life. And when this happens in the kitchen of one of the best restaurants in the world, then magic is bound to happen. That was the case of the four hands dinner between Crippa and Hasegawa in Alba last week.
That this would be a match made in heaven was to be expected. The Japanese chef of Den is known for his playful style of modern kaiseki. He also has access to produce grown in his sister’s garden which supplies his restaurant. On the other hand, Enrico loves Japan and Japanese culture and has worked for three years there in the past so the alchemy was all there.
It is not usual for Enrico to welcome so many people in his kitchen but this was an occasion to enter into the world of the two chefs. At Piazza Duomo, there was an invasion of journalists and photographers as the two chefs and their teams prepared for the four hands dinner. “I’ve never had so many photographers and journalists in the kitchen at the same time,” he said jokingly.
But for three days Crippa opened his doors to Hasegawa and a group of guests could follow the two chefs as they prepared for the dinner. Hasegawa was fascinated by Crippa’s garden, tasting and selecting his herbs and vegetables, soaking up experiences, exchanging views and eating pasta (which he adores). When he then got down to cooking, he created four dishes which showed how he had not only understood Italy and Crippa’s cuisine but also paid homage to Italy using a traditional Japanese style.
While the previous time, he had to rush away from Alba, this time he had the time to experience dinner at Piazza Duomo (more about that in an upcoming article), taste different pasta dishes, a visit to the splendid Ceretto La Casa Dell’Artista in the middle of the vineyards of Tenuta Monsorda Bernardina and of course foraging and choosing herbs and vegetables from Enrico’s garden.
When they settled down to plan the menu for the four hands dinner, Zaiyu was tempted to serve pasta but then decided otherwise even though he still played with the idea till the end. Two of his creations were gnocchi or no gnocchi and penne or no penne.
On the other hand, Enrico had to complement the creations of the Japanese chef and this he did to perfection. Enrico’s final savoury dish of lamb with an asparagus lettuce, a mushroom broth and cereal was the perfect closure of a journey that had started with Zaiyu’s shitake starter.
The meal started with a range of antipasti that were prepared by Enrico Crippa and his team. All served in quick succession these were the perfect appetisers that would set the ball rolling for the four hands dinner. From tartare of prawns and veal served in the shape of olives to a cream of gingerino (a non alcoholic drink Enrico drank when he was young) with fois gras, this was the perfect prelude to the dinner.
The first dish was a creation that is bound to be served in Piazza Duomo shortly. Sea urchin for me is always a winner and in this case it was the perfect start to the evening. The CapRIccio was not only visually stunning but also perfectly balanced. Enrico served sea urchin with a tomato gelatin, a cream of pecorino and burnt onion and pepper oil. With it, he served black bruschetta with squid, a sea urchin and squid ink mayonnaise and seaweed.
Zaiyu then served shitake mushrooms with a bechamel cream sauce and mushroom herbs. The texture of the mushroom was perfect, a reminder of Japan, the bechamel reminding us of Italy while the mushroom herbs were an addition from the Piazza Duomo garden. That morning, walking with Enrico in his garden, the Italian chef had offered me a taste of this herb which I had never seen before in my life let alone tasted. The taste was surprising and cooked it matched the perfect flavour and texture of the shitake.
What followed was the Uova in Carpione or egg served with vegetables that had been soaked in vinegar. This is a typical dish of the region and one which worked well after the mushroom dish.
At table, I was sitting with a group of Italian journalists and the conversation was flowing. But what followed was a dish that pleased pretty much everyone at table and even had them commenting about “how Zaiyu had spent a few days in Italy and got our food and our culture spot on.” Joyeta, the chef that accompanied Zaiyu for this four hands dinner explained that this was Gnocchi or no Gnocchi. On the menu it was described as Beetroot.
What the Japanese chef served was a beetroot puree that was mixed with milk and Kuzu to give it a pinkish shape and Japanese texture. The beetroot had the texture of gnocchi. Mixed to this was a cream of robiolo cheese at the bottom, beetroot cooked with Barolo chinato on top and an addition of Enrico, an anchovy. Given that beetroot is not my favourite ingredient, this was one of those dishes that you wished would not finish.
What followed was a masterpiece. This was the second Enrico Crippa risotto I had tried in two evenings and they were clearly the best I have ever tasted. This one was served with fresh caviar, grated dried caviar and lentisk oil and in terms of its presentation was a tribute to artist Francesco Clemente.
Next up was Zaiyu’s Cod or Tara. He served this with a stunning dashi that he had prepared in the morning with ingredients he got with him from Japan, the cod was wrapped in swiss chard and the hot dashi barely cooked the courgettes that had been picked from Enrico’s garden in the morning and chopped very thinly. So what was the pasta or no pasta? Zaiyu surprised Enrico by serving one penne and a penne made with the stem of the zucchini which was cooked and edible and shaped in the form of pasta.
What followed was another exceptional dish. Enrico presented lamb with an asparagus lettuce which he grows in his garden. This is called so because the stem of the lettuce has the shape and form of a white asparagus though it is not edible. It had the taste of fava beens. To accompany this dish, Enrico served cereal and also a mushroom broth which matched the start of Zaiyu’s first dish.
For dessert, Zaiyu matched peach with chocolate and amaretto in a Japanese style but perfectly reinterpreting a Piemonte classic while Enrico served a Lucky Sweet, a lady bird of stunning beauty stuffed with a ‘Zuppa Inglese’ or English custard.
The round of applause the two chefs received when they visited the room was well deserved. The two chefs had created a masterpiece and one which will remain in the memories of those who were present for a long time.
The wines served during the evening all came from Ceretto including a new dry Moscato that the winery has prepared to accompany Enrico Crippa’s salad, a splendid Riesling from the Langhe region as well as two exceptional Barolo Bricco Rocche 2005 and 1990.
For more photos of the four hands dinner see below or follow our Instagram account.