Chef Keith Yam tells us why he loves Italian food and talks us through some of the dishes that encapsulate his style and expertise at newly opened Giacomo.
For almost 20 years, Hong Kong-born chef Keith Yam has dedicated his career to mastering the art of Italian cooking. Last August, after paying his dues in Hong Kong’s most prestigious Italian kitchens, Yam became the executive chef at the helm of the newly opened Giacomo.
The restaurant, a sophisticated and yet contemporary venue that serves Southern Italian cuisine in the heart of Causeway Bay, represents the evolution of Yam’s style as a chef and showcases his knowledge and command of the country’s gastronomic traditions and techniques.
Remarkably, right before becoming executive chef at Giacomo, Yam was Umberto Bombana’s number two at three-Michelin-star 8 1⁄2 Bombana, the only Italian restaurant outside of Italy ever to have received the guide’s highest recognition.
We recently caught up with Yam to discuss the origins of his passion for Italian food, his vision for the new restaurant and the inspiration behind some of his signature dishes.
How did you become passionate about Italian food?
I’ve always been a massive pasta lover, which is the main reason why I decided to start my culinary career in an Italian restaurant. At first, when I was still a trainee in the kitchen, I was only allowed to wash dishes and peel fruit and vegetables, but thanks to my undying passion to discover the secrets of Italian cuisine, I kept watching how Italian chefs made pasta from scratch and I read a lot of books. I used to experiment with what I’d seen at night time, when the restaurant was empty.
It was insanely difficult at first, so hard to create the “perfect” pasta texture and taste. After some time, though, I began to understand the idea of “the profundity of authentic Italian cuisine” — there’s so much to know and explore beyond the most popular dishes. Another aspect of vital importance for me was to develop the artistry of food pairing through my own style. The learning process of understanding Italian cuisine was challenging, but the concepts and techniques have always fascinated me — and they still do. For example, the idea that simple seasoning can extract strong umami flavour from ingredients is at the core of this culinary tradition.
Simple seasoning is essential to highlight the ingredients’ freshness. Creating dishes that are true to their own taste is, essentially, the gastronomic concept at the core of Giacomo.
What’s the concept behind Giacomo?
At Giacomo, we aim to invite gourmands to embark on an exquisite gastronomic journey inspired by the light and refreshing flavours of southern Italy, in a sophisticated, neo-classic Italian dining setting.
Our team works hard to meticulously design and handcraft dishes that are true to the tastes of precious and seasonal European ingredients, such as red prawns from Italy and Spain, seasonal black truffle and white asparagus from France.
How does it feel to be at the helm of the restaurant?
It’s challenging but exciting. Challenging because I have very high expectations for myself. But it’s also very exciting, because I get the opportunity to present my ideas using the freshest and most premium seasonal ingredients.
My team and I hope to bring surprises to our guests through an exciting gourmet experience filled with passion and creativity. So far, we’ve seen a lot of guests returning, which is great.
Talk us through a couple of dishes that best represent you as a chef and Giacomo.
Since the opening, one of the most popular dishes that keeps bringing guests back is Red Prawn Spaghetti Chitarra, which is made with broiled carabinero red prawns and artisanal chitarra pasta cooked with Datterini tomatoes from Sicily and basil.
For the stock, we begin by pan-frying around 16kg of Gambero Rosso prawns from Italy with fish and clams to cook up the umami flavour of the sauce. I strongly believe that pairing stock with hand-made durum-wheat semolina chitarra pasta from Italy is a match made in heaven. As seafood plays an important role in Southern Italian cuisine, I enjoy pairing daily jet-fresh Brittany blue lobsters and sea urchin from Hokkaido with my handmade gnocchi.
In our Brittany Blue Lobster Sardinian Gnocchi, the texture of the gnocchi is a bit different from what you’d find in other restaurants in town, as it’s made with my own recipe, which uses less potato, but more wheat flour. Overall, the flavour and texture are stronger in comparison to traditional gnocchi.
As we aim to serve the best possible food to our diners, we use blue lobster heads to prepare our stock instead of other lobsters. The recipe is further elevated with a beautifully seared blue lobster to transport diners to a seaside location by the Italian coast.
Giacomo, 8 Leighton Rd, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 3980 3008
(Hero image: Marinated Red Prawn Gambero Rosso)