Top Pair: Modern Sushi and Sparkling Sake

top pairing
by Jeff Harding with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 36
May 2013   

It’s usually the celebrity chef that finally gets his (or her) eponymous restaurant. But at Iggy’s, the Singapore resto that consistently ranks among the world’s finest, Sommelier Ignatius “Iggy” Chan runs the show. Wine and Service Director is his official title, but owner, founder, or namesake all work for us. Intimately collaborating with Chef Akmal Anuar to maintain fresh and clean flavors and drawing from his own extensive travels around the world, Iggy’s menu is playful, unconventional, and always outstanding.

Almost 30 years in the wine business have led Chan back to the classics. He loves the versatility of Riesling for the type of food Anuar serves. “The wines range from dry to very sweet, and we can adjust that depending on the spiciness of the dish,” says Chan. He also has a long-standing affinity for Burgundy, and, as of late, finds himself on a more conservative bent. “In my younger days, I was bolder and tended to seek out more adventurous wines,” says Chan. As for the nascent and controversial natural wines category: “The priority is that the wine taste good. If something we like turns out to be biodynamic, then that’s a bonus. Most of the good producers are naturally biodynamic. The culture [that natural wine vintners create] is good for the body, the soil, and for sustainability.”

Sommelier Ignatius Chan

When asked what he drinks on his nights off, the award-winning sommelier, restaurateur, and founder of Iggy’s, Ignatius Chan slyly replies, “Yes.” The wine cellar at his landmark restaurant at The Hilton Hotel in Singapore holds 25,000 bottles, and Chan currently has 8,000 labels on his list. The opened-minded and convivial entrepreneur adheres to one important mantra when selecting pairings for a menu: “It’s never absolute, and it’s all relative.” It has taken a career that spans nearly three decades to develop that simple yet supremely wise sommelier rule to live by.

Chan began his professional life as a waiter at Singapore’s historic Goodwood Park Hotel. He pursued a formal culinary education after receiving sponsorship from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel to attend courses at the Singapore Hotel Association Training and Education Centre. Upon graduation, Chan continued his career at the Mandarin, where he worked in the hotel’s French restaurant, Fourchettes. In 1989, his diligence and dedication began to bear professional fruit. Chan won a scholarship to stage at the Ritz-Carlton in Madrid, Hôtel de Crillon in Paris, and Hôtel Royal Champagne in Reims. During this time he also toured and studied in Beaujolais, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. The next year he won a second scholarship: the prestigious Veuve Cliquot Champagne Scholarship, and in 1991 he became the cellar master at Raffles Hotel, playing a key role in the reopening of their Grand Dame restaurant. Chan is the first Asian member of the Grand Jury Européen and in 1999 was inducted into the Jurade de Saint-Emilion.

The last time Chan worked for someone besides himself was as executive director of Vinum Fine Wine Merchants. He left that position to open Iggy’s in 2004 at The Regent Hotel. Since then, the restaurant has doubled in size (mainly increasing in kitchen space) and moved to the Hilton. Chan has been a prominent and influential player on the world culinary stage ever since.

Mizubasho “Pure” Sparkling Sake, Gunma, Japan, NV
Chu-Toro and Saba Sushi (Tuna Belly and Mackerel)
Pairing Note

“Mizubasho ‘Pure’ is an avant-garde sake, possessing a floral, melon-like aroma. On the palate it has a silky, sweet attack; a delicate, refined mid-palate; and a clean, dry finish,” says Chan. “‘Pure’ has the finesse of a daiginjo sake with bubbly characteristics that make it a unique and contemporary style of wine that pairs perfectly with our unconventional sushi.”

“Tuna belly is always garnished with wasabi and chrysanthemum flower, and mackerel is often garnished with grated ginger,” Chan explains. Typically, the heat of the wasabi and savory notes of the flower balance the fatty tuna. Mackerel, also rich in oils, can sometimes have a dry aftertaste, and the classic pairing of ginger can help mask lingering fishy notes. But that balancing act and masking isn’t necessary for Anuar. He creates a soy meringue, pipes it into individual rice-like grains, dries them, and uses the meringue to form sushi rolls—a twist typical of Iggy’s style of sushi.

The crispy meringue “rice” wakes up the palate, and Chan’s exuberant pairing gives the dish an energetic spark. Mizubasho’s “Pure” Sparkling Sake from the Gunma prefecture is rice wine made in the methode traditionelle. This progressive style of sake makes a thoughtful and frolicsome pairing. The space created by the tiny bubbles in the meringue generates a crunch, and the bubbles mirrored in the sake make the flavor pop. The crackle and fizz are also great counterpoints to the sumptuous, fatty texture and flavors of the fish. “The crunchy soy meringue and the umami-filled, tender, juicy texture of the tuna works well with the purity and fine taste of this sake. The delicate effervescence gives it balance and refreshes the palate,” says Chan.

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