Cover Chef Ricardo Chaneton of Mono with a dish inspired by his baby son's first experience of solid food (Photo: Gavin Yeung)

What is the essence of fatherhood? How does a chef's identity as a father and a son figure into their cooking? Ahead of Father's Day, we tasked three chefs with creating an ode to fatherhood through the medium they know best. Recalling past experiences and hopes for the future, here is what they created, in the process demonstrating the power of food both as a trove of childhood memories, and a vessel of familial love

Hiroki Nakanoue, Sushiyoshi

Bara-chirashi with katsuo, maguro, aji, shima aji and tamago

Traditionally made in Japanese households for children using leftover produce, bara-chirashi holds special significance for chef-patron Hiroki Nakanoue of Sushiyoshi, who inherited his family's sushi restaurant upon his father's untimely passing just six months into Nakanoue's fledgling career as a sushi chef. In the process of preparing seafood, there would inevitably be odds and ends which—despite falling short of a mouthful by themselves—could be transformed by Nakanoue's father into a meal for his son and the restaurant's employees, who were also considered as part of the family.

"My father had a large influence on my cooking style," says the two-Michelin-starred chef, whose reputation for boundary-breaking omakase precedes his mop of bubblegum-pink hair. "The most important thing he taught me was the importance of making the cooking process transparent for our guests, from the provenance of the produce to the method of plating a dish."

Although Nakanoue doesn't yet have children, he nevertheless carries on his father's tradition today by preparing bara-chirashi for his staff in Osaka, Taipei and Hong Kong, in his role as the "father" of the restaurants. Laden with katsuo (bonito), maguro (tuna), aji (horse mackerel), shima aji (white trevally), and tamago (egg) atop a base of sushi rice, the meal is served bento style in a lunchbox fashioned out of dried bamboo leaves—a curiously traditional exception to his repertoire of sushi that has long defied categorisation.

Sushiyoshi, 1/F, The Otto Hotel, 8 Cameron Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong

Agustin Balbi, Ando

Medio Mundo

Placed squarely in the middle of Ando's dinner tasting menu is Medio Mundo, a dish whose name translates from Spanish as "half world". It's named as such for the hemispherical fishing nets that chef Agustin Balbi and his father would use to catch fish from the Atlantic Ocean, during summer trips from their native Buenos Aires.

"For him, it was a very casual activity, but he never imagined the impact it would have on a kid," Balbi recalls. "I'm 33 years old today and I still remember [those trips] back when I was 8 or 9."

At Ando, the chosen fish is the kinki, prized for its high fat content. A fillet is seared 'a la Plancha' for crispy skin on one side and succulent meat on the other. It's then plated atop two concentric circles—the larger one consisting of smoky romesco sauce made with piquillo pepper, and the smaller one a black olive-based version—creating the illusion of a fish eye. A minute bushel of nanohana, a Japanese broccoli-like spring vegetable, peeks out from under the fillet.

Though his father remains in Argentina half a world away, Balbi, now a father of two, is undergoing the same trials and tribulations of parenthood—his weekly ritual consists of bringing 4-year-old son Lucas to Ando every Saturday morning to help out with kitchen prep. "He'll clean some peas or cut some mushrooms—just silly jobs, but for him it's work and he's having fun, so he says his whole week is [spent] looking forward to coming to Ando," says Balbi. 

Ricardo Chaneton, Mono

Oca and Carabineros prawn "ceviche"

Within our lifetimes we will consume tens of thousands of meals, but few if any among us can remember the very first food we ate. Fewer still can boast of a father who would commemorate that moment in a dish worthy of a restaurant on Asia's 50 Best—such is the case with Mono's Ricardo Chaneton and his 5-month-old son, Adrien. 

Tasked with creating a dish inspired by fatherhood, the Venezuelan native naturally gravitated to a milestone in his baby's gastronomic development. "The actual first solid that my son ate was oca. I wanted to create a dish that he might not be able to eat right now, but hopefully will be able to in the future," he tells Tatler Dining. 

Hailing from the Andes region, the oca (Latin: oxalis tuberosa) is a colourful, yam-like root vegetable that naturally falls into Mono's remit of modern South American cuisine, and forms the basis of Chaneton's dish for Adrien. Like an autumnal forest floor, thin slices of red and yellow oca—some cooked for starchy sweetness, others left raw for a refreshing crunch—overlap atop dollops of shallot sour cream, half-spheres of avocado flesh, and supple, cardinal-red Carabineros prawns. Drizzles of cider and cherry vinegar, olive oil and lemon juice brighten with effervescent tang, while caviar provides a grounding kick of umami. A final garnish of redwood sorrel leaves (which grow from the same plant as the oca) furnishes the dish with a handy metaphor for fatherhood.

Though the dish's complexity far exceeds the palate of any toddler, Chaneton has always approached the presence of children—and even dogs—in his fine dining restaurants with humility. "We always say that the kids are the guests of the future, so if they eat properly, in the future they're going to be the ones that set the bar very high in the world of gastronomy."

Even more importantly, however, is the matter of Adrien's formal induction into the world of South American cuisine. "He's going to be so lucky because he'll tell everyone that the first solid food he ate was Peruvian oca while he was in Hong Kong!" Chaneton says.

See also: Why Asia Is The Future Of Caviar