Foodie Confidential

Pioneering Tokyo-Italian cuisine in Singapore

At his restaurant Terra Seita, Japanese chef Seita Nakahara serves Italian cuisine cooked with Japanese ingredients.
At his restaurant Terra Seita, Japanese chef Seita Nakahara serves Italian cuisine cooked with Japanese ingredients.PHOTO: TERRA SEITA

Japanese chef Seita Nakahara fell in love with Italian food when he was five, and it was his housewife mother who sparked it.

She did it with a dish she called "The Italian", which was chicken with rosemary, cream and cheese.

When he was 12, his father was posted to Singapore to work in a multi-national corporation. He moved here with his parents and two brothers, and attended a Japanese school here.

Eventually, after living in Singapore for a decade, the family moved back to Japan and he later worked all over Italy; in Tuscany, Sicily and Piedmont, over four years.

He returned to Singapore in 2010 to work as executive chef of Enoteca L'Operetta at Boat Quay.

  • What would your last meal be?

    My mother’s signature dish, The Italian.

Last month, he opened his own casual restaurant called Terra Seita.

The 36-seat restaurant in Tras Street serves what he calls TokyoItalian cuisine, or Italian dishes made with Japanese ingredients.

One signature dish is sea urchin pasta using uni from Hokkaido, together with yuzu, an aromatic Japanese citrus, and grey mullet fish roe which he cures himself. In Italy, the dish would be made with sea urchin from Sicily, lemon and bottarga.

The chef, 35, also offers an omakase menu, where he creates off-menu dishes based on seasonal ingredients.

Chef Nakahara, who is married, says: "I want to spread the word and brand Terra Seita as the pioneer of Tokyo-Italian cuisine in Singapore."

How did your interest in food start?

It started when I was four years old and I helped my mother in the kitchen. Since then, I've always been in the kitchen and I've not looked back since.

What were your fondest memories of food as a child?

It has to be The Italian which my mother cooked for my birthday and other special occasions. I'm still not sure of the recipe though. She has not taught me how to make it.

Since you grew up in Singapore, what are your favourite local dishes and where do you go for them?

My favourite local food is the chicken rice at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre and durian.

What are some dishes you must have when you go back to Japan?

I go back to Tokyo once a year and look forward to eating my mother's cooking and also visiting Antica Braceria Bell'italia, a restaurant in Meguro, for its delicious homemade pasta.

What is your guilty pleasure when it comes to food?

I think it's eggs. I have about five eggs every day and have it scrambled, hardboiled and poached. A lot of people say it's not very healthy to eat too many eggs, but I can't help it.

What was the most memorable meal you have ever had?

It was a Caprese salad that I had in Capri, when I was working in Italy. It was a very simple dish.

Before that, when I ate the same dish in Japan, I did not find it special.

But when I ate it in Italy, I was blown away by the freshness of the mozarella and tomatoes, which were delicious.

I finally realised why Caprese salad is so big in Italy. I can't remember which restaurant I had it in though.

What are your favourite ingredients to work with?

I really love to use sea urchin, because it's such a tricky ingredient to get right. It must not taste fishy.

Sea urchin is an acquired taste, so I try to perfect the taste. When you finally succeed, it's very gratifying.

What's the most challenging dish to cook?

It would definitely be the omakase menu. Since I don't have a specific menu, I talk to the diners and find out what they want in their special dishes. This would mean a lot of creative thinking on the spot.

It also gets especially tough when different tables order omakase meals at the same time.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 15, 2015, with the headline 'When Tokyo meets Italy'. Subscribe