Not every chef will be confident setting up shop in a sprawling three-storey colonial house. But Patrick Heuberger is not every chef.
The 44-year-old veteran has called Singapore home for the last 17 years. He started his career here at the former Au Petit Salut in Dempsey. Now, he’s come full circle to revive his first home under a new name — atout.
It means ‘trump card’ in French, and Heuberger is riding this chance of success with an old trick. “I’m going safe with charcuterie,” says the chef who was also behind the hugely popular Le Bistrot du Sommelier. “People know me for certain recipes, and they won’t be disappointed.”
Indeed, Heuberger has carved a name for himself with his talent for curing meats. The Swiss-born chef was self-taught before he took a trip to Brittany in 2015 to train under family-run Charcuterie Traiteur. Work began at 4am in the morning, when it was still dark and cold outside.
“(Charcuterie) is such an amazing trade. And it’s not very well-known, either. People don’t realise that it’s so complex,” shares Heuberger.
Take the pig head terrine. When Heuberger first tried to source for a pig’s head here to make a traditional terrine, local pork suppliers thought he was raving.
Who was this chef hunting down an animal part often used by loan sharks to intimidate their debtors?
It took awhile to convince the suppliers he wouldn’t be hanging these pig heads on peoples’ doors. Instead, Heuberger would saw the heads in half and cure them. “I served it at my restaurant (Au Petit Salut) for a long time, and it was nice. People liked it,” he says with a grin.
“But when I went to France, I saw how the guys there would debone the head and cure all the different parts separately,” says Heuberger.
“I learnt that curing the parts separately would make a better product.”
The ears, for instance, take a shorter time to cure than the snout. Top of the list is tongue, which can take up to two full days to cure. “Have you ever seen a pig’s tongue? It’s really big,” he gestures. “And if you don’t cure it properly, it’s very tough when you cook it.”
At atout, Heuberger cuts the tongue into two to speed up the curing process. “I understand the French techniques, and combine it with my own. Now, the pig’s head terrine is fantastic,” says the chef with a chuckle.
You won’t find new-fangled variations of charcuterie here. The 15 different types at atout are classics, made with love. No nitrates are added as preservatives. Instead, Heuberger only uses sea salt from Brittany and good spices for seasonings.
“You can tell when charcuterie is not fresh,” says Heuberger. “They have this intense, strong flavour and are very mushy.”
“It’s a bit like opening those rillettes that come in tins and smell like cat food.”
Good charcuterie, shares Heuberger, should have a more subtle flavour and is less salty. The texture should also be rough, so there’s more bite. “It’s like natural wines made without adding sulphurs. They are so smooth and easy to drink,” says Heuberger.
“Preservatives are really hurting you, those things. When you eat and drink easily, you feel good. That’s the difference.”