Chef Keith Yam tells us why he loves Italian food and tells us about some of the dishes that epitomize his style and expertise at the brand new Giacomo.
For nearly 20 years, Hong Kong-born chef Keith Yam has dedicated his career to mastering the art of Italian cuisine. Last August, after paying his dues to some of Hong Kong’s most prestigious Italian kitchens, Yam became the executive chef at the helm of the brand new Giacomo.
The restaurant, a sophisticated 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 mastery of the gastronomic traditions and techniques of the country.
Remarkably, just before becoming Executive Chef of Giacomo, Yam was number two in Umberto Bombana at the 3 Michelin stars 8 1⁄2 Bombana, the only Italian restaurant outside of Italy to receive the highest recognition from the guide.
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 cuisine?
I’ve always been a big pasta lover, that’s the main reason I decided to start my culinary career in an Italian restaurant. At first, when I was still a cooking intern, I was only allowed to wash dishes and peel fruits and vegetables, but thanks to my undying passion to discover the secrets of Italian cuisine, I continued to watch how Italian chefs made pasta from scratch. and I read a lot of books. I used to experiment with what I saw at night, when the restaurant was empty.
It was unbelievably difficult at first, so difficult to create the “perfect” texture and taste of the pasta. After a while, however, I began to understand the idea of “the depth of authentic Italian cuisine” – there is so much to know and explore beyond the most popular dishes. Another aspect of vital importance to me was to develop the art of food and wine pairing through my own style. The process of learning to understand Italian cuisine was difficult, but the concepts and techniques have always fascinated me – and they still do. For example, the idea that a simple seasoning can extract a strong umami flavor from the ingredients is at the heart of this culinary tradition.
Simple seasoning is essential to highlight the freshness of the ingredients. Creating dishes true to their tastes is essentially the gastronomic concept at the heart of Giacomo.
What is the concept behind Giacomo?
At Giacomo, we aim to invite foodies to embark on an exquisite gastronomic journey inspired by the light and refreshing flavors of southern Italy, in a sophisticated neoclassical Italian gastronomic setting.
Our team works hard to meticulously design and craft dishes 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 in charge of the restaurant?
It is difficult but exciting. Difficult because I have very high expectations for myself. But it’s also very exciting, as 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 gastronomic experience filled with passion and creativity. So far we’ve seen a lot of guests come back which is great.
Tell us about some dishes that best represent you as a chef and Giacomo.
Since opening, one of the most popular dishes that keeps bringing guests back is the spaghetti chitarra with red prawns, which consists of grilled red carabinero shrimp and artisanal chitarra pasta cooked with Sicilian Datterini tomatoes and basil.
For the broth, we start by pan-frying around 16 kg of Gambero Rosso shrimp from Italy with fish and clams to enhance the umami flavor of the sauce. I firmly believe that pairing broth with handmade durum wheat semolina chitarra pasta made in Italy is a perfect match. As seafood plays an important role in southern Italian cuisine, I like to pair fresh Brittany blue lobsters and Hokkaido sea urchins daily with my handmade gnocchi.
In our Sardinian gnocchi with blue lobster from Brittany, the texture of the gnocchi is a little different from what you will find in other restaurants in town, as it is made with my own recipe, which uses less potatoes, but more wheat flour. Overall, the flavor and texture are stronger than 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 enhanced with a beautifully seared blue lobster to transport diners to a seaside spot on the Italian coast.
Giacomo, 8 Leighton Rd, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 3980 3008
(Image of the hero: Gambero Rosso of marinated red prawns)