It was still Suharto’s New Order when Chef Takahashi Hideaki was chosen to cook for Japanese emperor Akihito during the latter’s visit to Jakarta. Surely, he had to be chosen for his skills because even Jakarta’s iconic Jalan Sudirman was closed down so he could deliver his sashimis and entrees in person, fresh and cold.
Eleven years later, Chef Takahashi dedicates his time to putting on shows of his culinary skills in Japanese haute cuisine. Even though the title “corporate executive chef” sticks with him, he’s more commonly seen by his apprentices and coworkers as an innovator who regularly serves plates of surprises to customers.
“My cooking depends on my feelings,” Takahashi said, who decided to go with an amuse-bouche of a juicy tempura champignon mushroom with baby zucchini. Perhaps he was feeling like making a fresh and healthy teaser for the dishes to follow.
For Takahashi, the road to becoming a respectable chef was a long one. It began in a modest sushi shop in Kyoto, Japan. “I started as a busboy, washing dishes,” he said. “I [spent] three years as a busboy and one year as a server.”
Then fresh out of high school, Takahashi impressed his supervising chefs with his talents. “I became sous-chef for three years,” he said.
The first thing he was trained in upon joining the kitchen was how to slice sashimi. Thirty years of experience later, that skill remains a key part of his repertoire, reflected by the assorted sashimi that he served up when I visited the restaurant.
Next to the slices of fish, which seemed to be alive minutes they appeared on my plate, was a glass tube of dry ice, overflowing with smoke that enveloped the plate. It gave the impression of a performer taking the stage, keeping the audience standing on their toes to catch the first sight of her coming from behind the smoke.
Finally, the large arc shell of the Akagai red clam and the palm-sized scallop shell started to show their colors as the smoke dispersed. The residue of dry ice kept bubbling softly, similar to the sound of water making its way through stones down a river and bringing you to dine within Japan’s tranquil nature. Chef Takahashi meticulously designs his dishes to include such details.
From all the seven different sashimi, the dish never failed to impress my taste buds. Chef Takahashi later said the dish was just as perfect for the taste as for its visuals because he only accepts live fish delivered from Tokyo, Japan.
“We’re only using the freshest ingredients,” Takahashi said. “There is no room for bad in Kaiseki Ryori.”
Kaiseki Ryori, a traditional Japanese meal style that is akin to Western haute cuisine, was exclusively presented to prestigious guests at extravagant banquets dating back as early as the 700s in Japan.
You can be one of those guests during your indulgence of Chef Takahashi’s version of Kaiseki Ryori at SHY. Tucked away inside The Papilion in Kemang, behind its soaring glass walls, SHY is a secluded oasis that boasts of its culinary finesse. But as a pioneer of haute cuisine, SHY had to live up to its reputation beyond the classic contemporary design of the restaurant.
Nothing could have done the job better than the highlight of the royal feast. Broiled premium Maezawa steak, seared with Amiyaki sauce into a succulent savory red meat, is one tantalizing dish. Just one look at the perfectly cooked beef, the brown crusts that gradate from a mellow to a succulent pink in the middle, will have you fantasizing about sinking your teeth into the carnivorous masterpiece before breaking out of the trance and picking up your fork.
Provided you can still concentrate, it might be interesting to know that the cows that this melt-in-your-mouth Maezawa beef was made from were fed with water unique to the area, a specific type of grass and grains, and most importantly, bourbon. Only the female calves are tasty enough to be graded as Maezawa beef, making it the ultimate in quality.
What was it that got a busboy, who wasn’t even allowed to step into the workplace with shoes on, to display this quality of sophistication? “It was like a competition in Kyoto,” Takahashi said. “I had to be a cooking artist. It was [‘You have to] be good or [you] can’t stay.’ ”
Thankfully, Takahashi knows how not to overwhelm his guests. A simple and delicious dessert came without having to be ordered. With the traditional Japanese mochi and dorayaki, the night’s meal finally made its finale. All that was left to do was sit back and digest the experience, while taking in SHY’s jazzy vibe.
SHY Rooftop – The Papilion
Jl. Kemang Raya No. 45 AA
Kemang, South Jakarta
Tel. 021 719 9921