Chef Fernando Arévalo’s Monochrome menu at Preludio is not dull at all — it delights the senses with a burst of flavours, textures and stories

SINGAPORE (Feb 18): Every health magazine and dietician advocates the same thing: Eat a rainbow diet and you will get all your nutrients. A plate filled with a wide range of colourful food and fruit is supposed to meet our daily vitamin requirements. So, when an invitation arrived for us to sample a degustation meal at Preludio, which offers a Monochrome menu, we were keen to accept. The meal would be based on black-and-white ingredients along with wine pairings (wines from grapes grown on white or dark volcanic soil).

I had previously tasted executive chef Fernando Arévalo’s creations at his former restaurant, Artemis. Upon entering Preludio, we are greeted with a black-and-white theme, from the art on the wall to the centrepieces and staff uniforms.

The restaurant can seat up to 44 in the main dining area, 12 in the private room and another 10 in the wine lounge. Preludio, with its décor of wooden furniture and classic Venetian terrazzo and marble slabs, exudes elegance. The stark geometry of the grand barrel ceiling is softened by the curves of the Marmorino stucco walls. This new jewel in the financial district that opened late last year will be the place to host business meetings, and many deals, we are certain, will be sealed here.


Preludio, with its décor of wooden furniture and classic Venetian terrazzo and marble slabs, exudes elegance. The stark geometry of the grand barrel ceiling is softened by the curves of the Marmorino stucco walls

Preludio is Spanish for “introduction” or “prelude”, alluding to the constant beginning of something new. The restaurant combines the creativity of its offerings with the dependability of a strong team and the best produce the world has to offer.

Before we begin our eight-course culinary journey, we have to get into the mind of the chef and the story he wants to tell through his food. Monochrome is the first chapter that Arévalo has come up with in a concept called Author’s Cuisine, and will last 12 to 18 months. After that, he will write a new chapter and it could be anything, even a “hot and cold” theme, he says, although he declines to elaborate at the moment.

The tall Colombian-born chef says his cuisine does not have a regional definition. “It’s not European or French or Spanish. I plan my cuisine around the ingredients, as I don’t want to be known for only one type of cuisine. For example, European guests may have certain expectations of what European food should be.” Author’s Cuisine, a movement Arévalo came across in Europe, allows him to express his creativity and showcase the ingredients in his own way.

Working with limitations

Arévalo realised over the years that when limitations are imposed on him, he is at his most creative. When his investors or guests make requests that contain constraints, he would think out of the box to come up with something original. He says he and his team feel excited and -energised when they work with challenges. For example, instead of the usual Christmas or Valentine’s Day promotions, they are inspired by the limitations or themes presented in the chapters.  

Arévalo prefers to write his own chapters. He describes this as akin to fashion’s haute couture, where a garment is stitched by hand from start to finish, paying close attention to details. “Much like a couture house that launches a new collection every season, Preludio will release a new chapter every 12 to 18 months. Thus, the creativity and boldness of Preludio’s artists will remain constantly challenged, while maintaining the finest quality in each and every dish,” he explains.

Preludio will not simply transform into a different restaurant with every new chapter; rather, it will grow with time and evolve and learn, as each new venture will be met by a team that is constantly striving to exceed guests’ expectations.

Each dish that emerges from the kitchen is given the same attention to detail. Arévalo’s creations are always new — bold yet subtle, artistic and simple, combining flavours and ingredients in ways that always surprise diners. Besides, there are the stories that accompany each ingredient. The personal stories of food growers and producers are the inspirations for the cuisine at Preludio. Whether it is the provenance of an ingredient or a memory, Preludio’s food tells a story. Flavours take on depth, context and a sense of place, paying homage to the people who work the soil.

Why monochrome? Arévalo says to remove colour from an object is to strip it down to its fundamental quality — everything is raw and pure. “I would like a guest to feel that his black-and-white meal is his most colourful experience yet,” he points out.

Tasting notes

That was exactly how we felt at the media tasting session. Over an eight-course meal, our traditional view that we should eat a rainbow diet was changed. For example, we started with Elude, a dish of French white beetroot combined with Artigiana burrata and Sturia Primeur caviar harvested from Siberian sturgeon. The beetroot may look white, but it tasted much sweeter than the one we are familiar with because Arévalo cooks it whole with olive oil, salt, pepper and water for 2½ hours in moderate heat. Artigiana burrata is from Puglia, Italy and only 20,000 pieces are made each day.


Elude comprises French white beetroot combined with Artigiana burrata and Sturia Primeur caviar that has been harvested from Siberian sturgeon

Arévalo personally sources for ingredients through his travels all over the world. He reveals that after he graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, he worked in the Michelin-starred kitchens of Daniel Boulud, Bill Telepan and Mario Batali. These restaurant experiences brought him face to face with the producers and so began his journey to source for only the best ingredients.

Every dish we taste has an interesting story behind it, such as La Cortina, which is agnolotti (pasta parcels) with butternut squash and amaretto filling, parmesan sauce and almond snow, with just the right amount of 25-year-old balsamic vinegar to bring the flavours together.


​La Cortina is pasta parcels with butternut squash and amaretto filling, with parmesan sauce and almond snow infused with balsamic vinegar to bring the flavours together

La Cortina is the place where Arévalo stayed when he visited Cristina Crotti, the producer of Il Borgo del Balsamico, in Reggio Emilia, Modena. He says he wanted to highlight her produce and there was an interesting story that had to be told.

Autumn is a dish that features lampascioni, or hyacinth bulbs, a delicacy of Puglia, Italy

More stories and dishes arrive and we next savour Autumn, a dish that introduces lampascioni, or hyacinth bulbs, a delicacy of Puglia, Italy. Arévalo pickles them in sherry vinegar and red wine vinegar for three days to a week. To get to your lampascioni, you must first break the jasmine rice cracker sitting on top of it. All of Arévalo’s dishes are time-consuming and the rice cracker is no exception. Jasmine rice is cooked until soft, then spread into a thin layer and dehydrated. Subsequently, the rice cracker is deep-fried and topped with coriander flower and viola flower.


Irezumi — salted black sesame quenelle ice cream sitting on a bed of sesame snow and yuzu white chocolate ganache — completes the meal

Even dessert is not spared the black-and-white treatment and we secretly wish Irezumi was served in a bigger portion. This delicious end to our meal features salted black sesame quenelle ice cream sitting on a bed of sesame snow and yuzu white chocolate ganache, served with fresh strawberries that have been marinated with syrup, lime juice and lime zest.

Growing up around food

Arévalo’s early memories of food are of that served in his home in Bogota. “My grandparents were from Italy and I remember Lasagne Thursdays, when my grandmother would make the dish and invite the family over. Her lasagne was so good that we requested for tapao.” He laughs. After six years in Singapore, Arévalo is clearly comfortable with using colloquial Chinese — and correctly too, we might add.

Cooking was not his first choice; he studied engineering, but switched to culinary arts when he moved to New York at the age of 22. He confesses to growing up with a strong female presence — his grandmother, mother and two sisters have been very influential in his life. He is still close to his mother, a jewellery designer, and goes to her for cooking tips.

These influences probably made him what he is today: a creative chef with an eye for detail and a knack for turning the way we look at food on its head. Today, we may feast on his black-and-white menu; in the next 12 or 18 months, he will surprise us with another chapter in his culinary repertoire.


Preludio
182 Cecil Street
Frasers Tower #03-01/02
preludio.sg
Opening hours: Mondays to Fridays
(lunch: 11.30am to 2.30pm);
Mondays to Saturdays (dinner: 6pm onwards)
Closed on Sundays and public holidays

This article appeared in Issue 869 (Feb 18) of The Edge Singapore.

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