Executive Chef Massimo Pasquarelli on His Caviar Encounters and China Travels
Anyone familiar with Massimo Pasquarelli’s culinary creations would find it challenging to picture the accomplished chef’s modest origins. As a young boy, Pasquarelli spent the majority of his childhood by the countryside. Since the mountains did not provide easy access to raw fish and seafood, the idea of making caviar was a distant dream, and the dish remained shrouded in mystery and allure.
When Pasquarelli embarked on his culinary career thirty years ago, caviar was such a revered ingredient that it was almost taboo for the name to grace the lips of younger chefs. Only the older, more experienced masters had the privilege to handle and prepare it. Naturally, the inquisitive Pasquarelli found himself instinctively drawn towards the forbidden fruit.
Pasquarelli’s curiosity was finally sated at the age of 23, during his stint at Le Cirque 2000 in New York—an upscale French restaurant owned by Italian Sirio Maccioni. The hub for high society, Le Cirque “was the place to see and to be seen”. There, the menus boasted an opulent selection of caviar, which was ordered and consumed almost casually. Pasquarelli notes amusedly: “A former US President would come in with his wife and young son almost every Monday and order a tin of caviar, and his son would scoop up the caviar with the traditional mother of pearl spoon and eat it as if it were a cup of yoghurt.”
The chef vividly recalls the moment he fell in love with the delicacy. As a reward for outstanding service, the Le Cirque team was treated by the Head Chef, who placed a spoonful of caviar between each of their thumbs and index fingers, insisting that “good caviar should never leave a smell on your hand”.
Gourmet caviar has always been an elusive dish on the table of plebeians, having been thrust into high society by Russian Tsars and shared only amongst European elites by upperclass Frenchmen. But although the origins of caviar is largely understood to have its beginnings in Russia and France, the modern era has seen its production powerhouses firmly rooted in China. In a quest to uncover more about the premium delicacy, Pasquarelli thus ventured to the humble land of Qingdao in Hangzhou, China.
The trip to the East proved life-changing for Pasquarelli, who gained valuable insight on the ins and outs of caviar production. “We spent three days at the lake and visited the farm where we saw how the sturgeons were selected and bred, as well as how the caviar goes through the various stages and processes of harvesting - which I found really fascinating,” the chef recounted fondly, “The farm was also very clean, well-organised and sustainably run.”
All that was left for Pasquarelli to do was to figure out the best way in which he could channel all his knowledge into fine art of preparing caviar. The golden opportunity arrived when he took on the role of executive chef of The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore.
Asserting his wish to bring the dish to the masses and “make caviar accessible for everyone to enjoy”, Pasquarelli introduced three kinds of caviar with differing levels of saltiness. “I prefer when the saltiness of the caviar is not too intense, so that the flavour is nice and delicate,” the chef states, “That way it is palate-friendly and an easy introduction to caviar for our guests to enjoy.”
Indeed, patrons to the elegant Republic Bar will find three variations of N25 caviar—namely, Baerii, Oscietra and Schrenkii, artfully paired with blinis and condiments like egg mimosa, olive oil caviar, sour cream, chives, and shallots that accentuate the delicacy’s distinctive taste. Keeping the diners’ first-time encounters in mind, the bar’s caviar servings foreground its natural taste, prioritising simplicity and authenticity over elaborate embellishments. As Chef Massimo’s philosophy proclaims, “Food should be simple and natural.”
Before ending up in an aesthetic display amidst the resplendent Republic Bar setting, the N25 caviar undergoes a strict selection process. Should the caviar be on par with the N25 standard, it is then aged in Germany, where the final cut takes place. This unique ageing process unlocks the key to N25’s complex flavour profile—fermentation releases the sublime nutty and floral tastes with the right balance of saltiness, creaminess, and sea flavour, making every spoonful a umami experience.
Pasquarelli also adds that the restaurant is keen to inject experimental elements in the future, bringing back caviar nights, where the delicacy was accompanied by onsen egg, crab, and steamed cod. The upcoming New Year’s Eve countdown party at Republic also presents a thrilling opportunity for the team to work on creating an opulent caviar tower.
With regards to his beloved dish, Pasquarelli affirms: “Caviar is definitely making a comeback. It used to be in vogue say twenty or thirty years ago. Back then, you would just open the tin and eat it straight from the tin. It’s the best way to eat caviar. It’s simple, it’s elegant and it’s the best way to really taste and appreciate the flavour.”