A Chef ’s Pâté

Patrick Heuberger shares his passion for making authentic charcuterie.

Patrick Heuberger’s first attempt to make charcuterie in Singapore was 17 years ago. But when he tried to get hold of a pig’s head to make a traditional terrine, local pork suppliers thought he was crazy. Why would this guy want to buy something that only loan sharks used to intimidate people who owed them money?

At the time, Chef Heuberger had just arrived in Singapore as executive chef of Au Petit Salut. “I wanted to do bistro-style food like rillettes and terrines, but I had to make them myself because anything you import would have to be processed,” he says.

Start of an obsession

Eventually, he convinced his suppliers to sell him the pig’s heads, and that sparked his obsession with charcuterie. “I became fascinated with how you can start with a simple, common ingredient like pork intestines which are smelly and slimy, clean them inside out and transform them into a beautiful andouillette in the end. It’s endless what you can do, and you have the option to be creative.”

At Atout, Chef Heuberger has about 15 different kinds of charcuterie on offer at any one time — all made in-house and preservative-free. They are currently available on the dining menu, and will also be sold on the restaurant’s second floor once the retail counter of ready-to-eat meals is ready.

Emphasis on quality

What’s different about his charcuterie is that instead of using nitrates in the curing process, Chef Heuberger uses just sea salt from Brittany, along with herbs and spices. This means his products are better for you and still taste good, even though they look less pink than the ones found in supermarkets.

“There's a movement among young charcutiers in France trying to make fresher, less processed charcuterie by going back to the basics, and I’d like to be a part of that. Good quality charcuterie can be made available for everyone, and Singaporeans can afford it. It’s complicated in a kitchen where we do things other than just charcuterie, so I won’t be able to do anything crazy, but I will continue what I am doing now — making charcuterie that’s fresher, sexier, and tastes nicer.”

He defines good charcuterie by the use of high-quality ingredients, with as little processing as possible, and the best spices and seasonings to achieve a good taste, texture, and smoothness when cut.

While he practised most of his charcuterie skills working in various local restaurants, it was in 2015 that Chef Heuberger decided to take a trip to France, where he worked with established charcutiers he met through friends. He spent three months in Herepian, a village of about 1,500 people in southwest France; followed by another three months in Gerande, another small village near Brittany.

The work was intense.

“In both places, we started work at 4am in the morning, so you go to work when it’s still dark and cold. We would finish at about 2pm in the afternoon, then I’d do some shopping, make my dinner, and write my notes before sleeping early."

Competitive Streak

Through the connections he made on that trip, Chef Heuberger was invited to take part in the 2017 International Catering Cup, where his two-man team represented Singapore and placed third out of 12 teams — after Switzerland and France.

It wasn’t exactly a charcuterie-centric competition, but Chef Heuberger explains that in France, charcutiers are also considered caterers. “Charcutiers cannot survive on just selling cold cuts. It’s not enough, so they also sell ready-to-eat food. It goes together because when you buy a whole pig, you use some parts as cold cuts but the prime parts you may want to sell as fresh meat, like pork chops. And when your meats don’t sell fast enough, they are cooked and sold in ready-to-eat sauces,” he says.

Next on his competition calendar is the 2019 World Championship of Pâté en Croûte. For that, he has modest hopes: “I’m not aiming to win, just to be a part of it. If I qualify to enter the finals, that would be good enough.”