Foodie Confidential

Give him sushi any day

Executive head chef for the Plum & Toro Group Hideki Ii can eat raw fish every day

Who: Hideki Ii, 41, executive head chef for the Plum & Toro Group, which operates modern izakaya Izy in Club Street, as well as Japanese restaurant Ishi and the new Plum & Toro restaurant and bar - both at the InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay hotel.

Better known as Chef E because of how his surname is pronounced, the Tokyo-born chef has worked under celebrity chef Tetsuya Wakuda at Tetsuya's restaurant in Sydney, as his senior sous chef for six years. Chef Ii was also in New York for three years as private chef to Japan's ambassador to the United Nations.

In 2014, he returned to Japan to open Shirosaka in Akasaka, Tokyo - a restaurant specialising in charcoal-grilled dishes alongside sushi. The soft-spoken chef is the youngest of three siblings and has a four-year-old son and one-year-old daughter.

What sparked your love of cooking?

My 72-year-old mother still runs a 20-seat ramen shop called Tachibana in Tokyo, so I grew up playing in the kitchen, helping out and eating ramen.

My late father taught me to cook and I'm happy to make people happy with my food. He started by teaching me to make stir-fried dishes, fried rice and gyoza.

What is your favourite food?

I can eat sushi every day. I don't need sushi from Michelin-starred establishments. Those from any casual outlet will do. I go to a sushi restaurant called Eat near the Roppongi district in Tokyo.

Tell us about your career as a chef.

I met chef Wakuda in Hawaii during a function. It was hard for me to work in Sydney at first because I couldn't speak English.

I just said yes to anything and everything. I had visited Singapore several times during my time at Tetsuya's and he had asked me to be part of his team at Waku Ghin restaurant, opening at Marina Bay Sands.

However, at the time, I said no because I wanted to open my own restaurant. If he comes to my restaurant here, he will probably be the scariest customer to cook for - there will be a lot of pressure.

  • WHAT WOULD YOUR LAST MEAL BE?

    Plain rice with pickled plums.

In New York as a private chef, I had to do everything from writing menus to buying ingredients. For special parties, I would cook for about 20 people.

I have been running my 16-seat restaurant, Shirosaka, for three years and it serves Kappo-style omakase dishes, with a focus on char-grilled items.

I like cooking on a grill as it adds more flavour and gives me more inspiration for cooking certain ingredients.

We tend to follow the seasons so, for example, during winter time, the food is "richer and fattier", offering the season's catch such as kingfish, yellowtail and crab from Hokkaido and Kanazawa.

What are some of your favourite foods in Singapore?

I like chicken rice, mee pok, bak kut teh, bak chor mee and meatballs from Ikea. I've also tried yakitori at Kazu Sumiyaki restaurant at Cuppage Plaza and eaten at Meatsmith in Little India.

Is there anything you would like to try?

I would love to try siew yoke (roast pork belly). I've tried to make my own, but it's difficult.

What is the most exotic food you have tried?

Deep-fried stinky tofu in Taiwan was hard for me to eat. I'll eat anything except insects.

I know many famous chefs use insects in their cooking, but I wouldn't use them.

What is your favourite dessert?

New York-style cheesecake. I also bake my own. I also like the "rare" no-bake cheesecakes in Japan.

What is your favourite tipple?

Gin and tonic with Roku Gin, a Japanese craft gin.

What do you do on your days off?

Cook pasta for my family. I love cooking pasta with different kinds of sauce, but my favourite way to eat it is aglio olio e peperoncino (chilli pepper).

If you could cook for anyone dead or alive, who would you pick?

My late father - he died before I opened my restaurant.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 25, 2018, with the headline 'Give him sushi any day'. Print Edition | Subscribe