If you walk around Singapore‘s Central Business District and get hit with hunger-inducing scents of rich Italian food, thank Osvaldo Forlino. The Italy-born chef has been cooking his way into the noses and stomachs of locals for nearly a decade, most recently at the popular No Menu.
Forlino says he was “born in the kitchen of [his] mom” and migrated from his hometowns of Giarolo and Piedmont in northwest Italy to share his passion in a country in need of food “just like mama made it.” Surrounded by several local Chinese eateries and Western restaurants posing as Italian outposts, No Menu serves some of the most authentic Italian food you can get in Singapore. Ingredients are flown in weekly from different parts of Italy, pasta is made by hand, and it’s run by his faithful sidekicks, his wife, Patrizia, and his two daughters, Gaia and Serena.
The chef has worked hard to get to this point: He owned several restaurants over the years in Italy and Singapore, trained under Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Michael White at former New York City restaurant Fiamma, created a documentary with Paul Bocuse and served up meals for Joël Robuchon and former French President Jacques Chirac. His biggest achievement, however, is No Menu, a three-year-old restaurant spanning an entire block in the heart of Singapore. The eatery is a gem piece of real estate in the Central Business District, seating 35 in the main dining room and 20 in the private room on the second floor of the shophouse. It’s a full house daily for lunch and dinner as guests dine amid art flown in from Italy and an impressive personal collection of now-defunct high-end culinary magazine Grand Gourmet on the walls, with a glimpse into the open kitchen located in the rear.
When we arrived at No Menu, Forlino was preparing his family’s lunch — a daily tradition where everyone dines together before siesta and the busy dinner rush. It was a fitting setting to find out how the chef continues to craft standout Italian fare.
Everything is fresh. Ingredients are shipped from Italy weekly; the burrata is from Puglia, the tomatoes from Sicily and the Parma ham from Sicily. There are 160 to 170 select Italian wines. Every morning, the bread, chicken stock, gelato and dessert are made fresh, and our recipes are the same [as they were when I cooked with my mom as a child]. We use the same merengue and apple cake recipes passed down from my mom. The tiramisu is made with imported Italian cookies. Everything on the menu has a reason and experience behind it.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in Singapore, as a chef and restaurateur?
Every day we learn important lessons. Every culture is different. The biggest challenge is translation and some miscommunication — as our native tongue is Italian. But we try to educate our customers — teaching them about things like fish season, enjoying dessert before coffee/tea, quality imported $300 balsamic vinegar versus $3 vinegar and real grown truffles versus [mass-produced] truffle oil. It makes us happy when our customers come back and they understand.
What’s in store for you and the restaurant in 2014?
We want to go back to Italy 20 years ago. I remember when I used to make homemade salami [in Italy] — winter was for salami. We would cut the salami and slice it tableside, served with homemade bread. I want to bring back family-style dining and focus on simplicity, freshness and quality ingredients — not only eating to feed the body. I like being able to see our guests and have them see us and want to continue this different level of service into the New Year.
What is your favorite dish?
Lasagna was my favorite growing up. I grew up on a farm with fresh everything — goats — so the goat’s milk was fresh — goose, chicken and rabbit. We would eat lasagna every week. But at No Menu, the ravioli burrata is my favorite. It’s made with Sicilian tomato, garlic and extra-virgin olive oil.
Photos Courtesy of Osvaldo Patrizia