The WGF in Bangkok
Posted 08 September 2006 - 04:21 AM
11 a.m. to midnight. Seven nights, six days.
It'll be gruelling (although I don't expect to see any gruel).
The World Gourmet Fest at the Four Seasons in Bangkok will kick off this Sunday with Sarah
Scaffer from Frisson in San Francisco.
After that it's 6 more nights of a combination of Peter Gordon from The Providores in London, Fatima Hal from Mansouria and William Ledeuil from Ze Kitchen, both of Paris, Yoshii Ryuichi from his place in Sydney, Michael Mina from his group in the US, Ruth Van Waerebeek from Concho Y Toro in Chile, Marco Talamini from La Torra di Spimbergo in Italy, Geoff Lindsay of Melbourne's Pearls, Emily Luchetti from Farallon in San Francisco, and Vincent Bourdin from Valrhona for the chocolates. Khun Pitak is coming down from the Four Seasons in Chiang Mai, and Philippe Agnese from the Bangkok operation will be doing more desserts.
Mina's dinner on the 12th should be something. The Chaine des Rotisseurs has booked him out for that evening.
And, as a follow up on last year, Michael Ginor of Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Nicholas Schneller (executive chef for the Four Seasons, Bangkok) are going to do another champagne and foie gras menu.
It is my avowed intent to be there for each and every night. If anyone else is around for the meals or classes, give me a shout. I'll post my ramblings for each of these as I recover from the headaches.
Posted 10 September 2006 - 04:57 AM
Okay, so I had a sugar headache from having polished off a bottle. Nothing is going to take the shine off of a morning drive into the Big Mango. Cold towel, cold water, newspapers, and a wonderful driver who knows well enough not to engage the big, ugly farang with the stupid grin.
After a brief whirlwind of getting a new tux fitted on Sukhumvit and then getting my cell phone numbers in order down on Silom, I was back at the Four Seasons and settled for brunch. This, in WGF terms, is the pre event. An opportunity to test your skills and lasting potential.
I'm in bad shape.
I lasted a bare 1 hour and 45 minutes, in which time all the damage I managed was some sashimi (saba, salmon, and octopus), grilled eel, fresh oysters, cold crab claws, cold crawfish, a handful of scallops, some trout and salmon roe, a few slabs of pan fried foie gras, a small terrine of foie gras, some suckling pig, red pork, and a few sumai. It was quite a feat, I tell you, fitting in the last few isaan pork sausages and the 7 pepper crusted short rib. That, a Bloody Mary or two, a martini, and some champagne, and I was beginning to feel the airplane induced lack of sleep beginning to catch up to me.
So, a brief nap, some time at the pool, a couple of glasses of Long Flat Chardonnay and a Marlborough to go with the masaman beef appetizer and the mango and sweet dipping sauce, and I'm beginning to wonder how I'm going to last through all this.
Oh well, half an hour until the good Ms Schafer shows us what she's got.
Maybe I could fit in one of those sweet sesame desserts they have over there.......
Posted 12 September 2006 - 10:51 AM
Frisson, San Francisco
Beringer Sparkling White Zinfandel, California
Japanese Sea Bream Sashimi
Thai Pickled Mango Salad, Tougarashi Sticky Rice, Yuzu & Galangal Vinaigrette
Beringer Napa Valley, Chardonnay 2002
Mirin & Miso Glazed Alaskan Halibut
Celery Root Puree, sautéed beech Mushrooms, Napa Cabbage, shiro dashi
Beringer Founders’ Estate Chardonnay, California 2004
Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras “p b & j”
Toasted Brioche, house made spicy peanut butter,
Pear 7 Black Pepper Compote
Beringer Gamay Beaujolais, California 2003
Marjoram and Hazelnut Dusted Rack of Lamb
Curry roasted baby vegetables, black olives,,
Sweet tomato confit, kafir lime jus
Beringer Clear Lake, Zinfandel 2001
White chocolate filled gingerbread cannelloni
Fresh cherry Salad, brandied cherry sauce, cilantro gastrique
Macallan Single Malt
12 year old
My first, and very pleasant surprise, after the initial trading of wai’s all around, was to find tha one of my friends from last year's WGF would be joining me. Thus my worst fear was put to rest, I wouldn’t have to eat alone. With the exception of buffets, I detest eating on my own. Food needs to be talked over, or perhaps its just having someone there to validate the experience (the parking lot approach to dining). I excuse buffets from this, as I’ve learned from past experience that if you have to get up and go to get more food as often as I do, you’re going to have a hard time sustaining good table conversation.
Whatever, we’re here to talk about the food and wine. The Zinfandel that we opened with was identical to the one they’d started the Manzke dinner with last year. It’s classed as a white, but comes across much more as a sparkling rose. Given that I was slowly melting in my jacket and tie (this is Bangkok after all) I was highly appreciative of the nice flute that was placed in my hands. A little sweet, but still crisp enough to make me feel better.
As always, we yacked about food, video games, and ghosts. M’s family is still transitioning out of residence living and into their own place, and the lack of proper cooking facilities has been driving them to distraction. The good side of this is they always eat out, so I’ve got a great reference guide there.
The first course, the sea bream, was just there. It came across a little oily. I suspect the culprit was the sticky rice. It was a little too aggressively crisped, and rather than contrasting texture got in the way of everything else. The galangal in the vinaigrette went well with the fish itself, and so there was hope. As Sarah had worked with Tom C at Gramercy Tavern, I wonder if this vinaigrette came from her time there?
The 2002 Napa Char that went with this was okay, but not sharp enough for the oiliness mentioned earlier. But, it was there in front of me, so I couldn’t neglect it.
Now, they followed this with the Founder’s Estate 2004 which did a much better job of clearing the palate. Good, clean cut to the palate, clearing away the prior dish.
The halibut, like the bream, was a mixed affair. On the one side, the meat of the fish came across lacking in character, which is a shame with halibut. But on the other side, the celery root puree tasted really good. It’s just that it would have benefited from more help from the fish itself.
While I was consoling myself with the Founder’s Estate, they brought out the red, a Gamay Beaujolais 2003. M and J mentioned that it didn’t do much, but I recommended that they let it have a few minutes first. This was also an excuse to try and snag some more of the last Chardonnay which I’d grown extremely fond of ……
The red was there for the next dish, the foie gras. This was a success. The combination of foie gras and peanut butter is really, really good, and raises images of a Reese’s style commercial “Hey, you got foie gras on my peanut butter! “ “No, you got peanut butter on my foie gras!” The bit of brioche under this gave just the right bit of crunch to make me happy.
Meanwhile, the red had opened up like blossom, with a really nice nose and some beautiful tones in there. I parsed out bites of foie gras to go with my wine, and was generally content with my place in the universe.
Then came the Clear Lake Zinfandel 2001. Like the Gamay, it just needed some time to find itself. But when it did, my votes still went with the Gamay.
The lamb received mixed reviews. I liked the flavours, and thought that there was something there to be appreciated, but Sarah herself did say that she thinks it would have done better with a bit more time on the heat. The problem for the Bangkok crowd is that the Asians don’t care much for lamb, particularly because of its smell, and meat this rare isn’t going to sit well with their tastes.
They offered coffees with the chocolate, but I opted for a return to the Gamay. I’m never much of one for desserts, so I won’t worry about comments. The wine was very nice.
We absconded to the lobby for the whiskey. Martin Lawrence, who’s covering the event for Prestige was kind enough to join us, and Nicholas Schneller, the exec chef for the hotel stopped by for a bit. He was looking forward to the week, as the WGF has hit a nice pace where the chefs are all talking it up amongst each other abroad, so they hit the ground in a very good mood.
Whiskey, jet lag, and good conversation took it’s toll, and I was out of the lobby and back upstairs by midnight, perhaps a near record for me.
Yoshii. This was good.
When I approached the desk downstairs to check on the room for the cooking class, M was already there checking in, so we arranged to sit together again. We’ve always got more to talk about (in this case the need for a 2nd version of Jagged Alliance…..the Canadian company had hired the write out to some Russians but….I’m drifting again).
Anyways, entering the room the whole crowd was there. CL and her brother, Ml, and a host of others. This terrifies me, as I’m horrible at remembering names, and I’m left to dangle and dance as I recognize people, but cant put a tag to them.
Yoshii apologized in advance for his English, but he was perfectly competent in his handling of the language, coming across very well. Our problem was in the Japanese ingredients that didn’t have a clear correspondent in English, and nothing would help with that.
Yoshii is part of the Sakura Investment Group, which does sound harshly corporate, but it means that there’s money for good restaurants. His primary spot is Yoshii’s on the Rocks in Sydney, and he’s opened up a second, less formal izakaya place – Wasabi.
Along with Yoshii-san was Tetsuya (?) helping with the cooking, and Aaron, who did some translation, although this was more as commentary when the chef was concentrating upon something.
The cooking. We started off with scallops carpaccio. The scallops were trimmed of any hard edges, then lightly seared and then halved, which is easy enough. Turnips were marinated in salt, pepper, vinegar, and soy. Most of the work, as expected went into the umeboshi dressing. This was started off from an obsessively chopped Japanese plum, and then worked up with bonito stock through a couple of boilings, drop everything into the mixer, and then tart it up with some vinegar, honey, soy, and white pepper.
The magic’s in the finish. Lay down the scallops interleaved with the turnips in a nice long row, then bring the dressing down the ridgeline, and come back in with some good caviar and plant it.
As a note, I love watching a good Japanese chef deftly positioning ingredients, chopsticks darting in the place something in just the right position. Really, this is little different than a good Western chef, fingers poised, putting the finishing touches on a dish, but it looks so much more intimidating the Japanese way.
A few fresh herbs to top off, and some dollops of chive oil to spot the plate, and the first item was done. It was passed around for the obligatory oohs and aahs, photos were taken, and we prepared for the next dish.
This was lamb. As with Sarah Schafer the night before, you have to be careful about this in a South East Asian setting. What we were doing was a yuzu miso lamb chop. This saw three very nice chops laid out salted, and set aside while we concentrated on the yuzu miso. Yoshii calls for white miso here as a proper match for lamb, pork, beef, or duck. Now, if you have a haunch of venison, or better yet some bear, you should move over to red miso in order to work against the stronger flavours. In the pan with some sugar, mirin, and egg yolk, you’ve got about ten minutes of constant risotto-like stirring to keep you occupied. Take that away and let it cool. Then return and bring in the paste of koshoo (a citrusy pepper), chili, and oil. Mix in some mayonnaise, and put this aside for the moment.
Then we braised a sharply squared stick of daikon with mirin and bonito stock, and prepared this for use as a boat to carry the mushrooms, bamboo shoot, carrot, and bits of herb (damn, it looked pretty).
The chops now go on the fire, and pan roast in a bit of olive oil. Get them to a rare state, then pull them off the pan and put on the paste. Crumble some brioche, and position some almonds, and then put them in the oven at around 180 C to finish.
While they’re in the oven, take the pan juices and reduce a soy shiitake sauce with some beef stock.
Everything comes out, the chops go on the plate, the daikon takes up a manly position by their side, and the shiitakes and their sauce dollop around the edges.
Then, for dessert, There was an issue. This worked in our favour. Yoshii had wanted to marinate fresh figs in red wine, and then tempura these, to go alongside of fig ice cream. But the day before the hotel’s supplier had advised them that there were no figs to be had. This was not a good thing.
So, the heart of a good chef, you improvise.
What we did instead was simplicity itself. We topped and bottomed an orange, cored it out, removed the pith from the orange pieces and cut them down to bite size chunks. The cap of the orange was put back down in the bottom to close the cup. Then the orange pieces got mixed up with sweet red beans and topped with a leaf of deep fried mint. Easy.
My mouth watered when I heard what we’d missed, but this was a far more approachable dish to prep for my own kitchen when I get back. I’d love to have the fig dish at one of the meals (and I’ll do Yoshii for dinner on the 13th) but for my cooking classes I’d really prefer to come away with things I can do.
With the class proper out of the way, we all started catching up on food stories. A major draw for me in coming to the WGF every year is the table conversation. The people coming here love food, and they love to talk about it. With a few years under my (expanding) belt here, I know enough people that it’s always a joy to catch up on what’s going on with food.
We talked about bivalves and cockles, crabs and lobsters. Which of the ingredients we’d just covered could be bought at Fuji, and which at Isetan. We bemoaned the fate of our children when they had to go away to school and live in a world without caviar.
So, how did the lunch go? They started us off with a nice Wolf Blass “Red Label” Semillion-Sauvignan Blanc from Rosemount’s 2005 Epicurean Series. This was very fruity, and very clean on the palate, and went well with the scallops when they came out. And the scallops looked and tasted just right. I might have preferred larger servings of caviar on top, but I’m a glutton. The turnip gave a good flavour with some sweetness to the scallops, and the plum and vinegar topping gave a good accompaniment. Perhaps it could’ve been improved with a bit of a citrus twist?…..
Reminiscing on roe, we got into a long discussion on ikura (salmon eggs), remembering those happy days when you could get a ladle full in a bowl of rice for a reasonable price. And M mentioned that someone was doing ikura tempura here….I’ll have to hunt that one down.
The lamb was wonderful in its flavour. For me it was a great dish, with the paste of the miso carrying the flavour and texture of the lamb, and the background of chili lighting up your mouth. Pick up a bit of the shiitake sauce to touch things up, and you’ve got a wonderful mouth of flavours there. Then have a bite of the daikon (it’s such a shame to disturb it), and start again.
On the downside, while the lamb carried none of the smell that can put off an audience, it wasn’t cooked enough for most tastes, leaning towards the very rare side of things. It’s a pity. Of the other people at my table, I urged them to try just eating around the edges, the flavours were so neat. M, for her part, did a good job on all but the bloodiest parts.
We had another Rosemount, this one a “Diamond Lable”, a cabernet sauvignon that bloomed after a few minutes of air, with lots of spice and fruitiness to stand up to the spices in the lamb.
After this they brought out another Chardonnay, again a Diamond Lable, but this didn’t please as well as the first Char had. Still, it was wet (as am I most of the time in Bangkok).
The orange cup came out with this wine, and the balance of sweet and sour between the red bean and the citrus was great.
Yoshii came by the tables to see how we were doing. Although he has a reputation as very demanding in the kitchen, he comes across as wonderfully humble at the table side, and very approachable. We talked of things that could be done with game (see above) and of the differences in his restaurants. I was curious how he’d chosen the WGF, wondering if Tetsuya Wakuda had mentioned it to him, but he’d heard of the event on the road, touring Australia and Europe as part of an exhibition. It’s good to know the WGF is gaining such a wide-spread following.
And so we broke up for the afternoon. I headed off to an oil and gas convention for grins (I have an odd sense of humour at times), and then made it back for my evening swim before dinner.
And back in the executive club it was another glass of the Long Flat, some Poo Min, nicely fried crab claws, duck strudel with a dark sweet sauce, and some foie gras sausage. The other items all looked good, but I have to contain myself to some extent.
Next installment, a wonderful meal of tortured animals.
Edited by Peter Green, 12 September 2006 - 08:17 PM.
Posted 13 September 2006 - 10:01 PM
“Foie gras is cruelty to animals! Foie gras is animal torture! You should be ashamed of yourselves for eating foie gras!”
At first we’d thought that it was a group brought in to serenade the dinner, their voices were so happy and cheerful. You expect that activists should be able to build up a decent level of indignation when they assault the Bastille, but there was a definite chirpiness and glee in their voices.
I looked down at the beautiful plate in front of me, two pieces of grilled Japanese eel bracing and innocent slab of terrine of foie gras quivering between their shoulders.
Overcome with glee, I dug in.
Hudson Valley Foie Gras, New York
Terrine of Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Japanese Eel
Laurent-Perrier Brut L-P
Butter Poached Lobster and Seared Foie Gras
Parsnip Mousseline and Beet Glaze
Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rose Brut
Roasted Squab and Foie Gras
Creamy Polenta and Mostarda Di Cremona
Foie Gras flan and Truffle Ragout
Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 1997
Appricot Ravioli with Armagnac Raspberry Filling
Almond Milk Shooter
Mascaron de Ginestet Sauternes 2003
Honestly, I missed most of the show. I was in a booth on the side with two of my favourite Bangkok gourmands, CL and her brother. We heard the furor, and caught a glimpse of the Canadian females being graciously ushered out by the Four Seasons. I caught just a brief glimpse of comfortable shoes as they were exited.
I suspect these were the same group that were outside of Kentucky Fried Chicken down on Silom a few days ago.
I did read in the Nation today (September 13) that Michael Ginor had heard the fuss from the kitchen, and had come out to see the protestors himself and listen to their concerns. Their view of foie gras methods and what actually happens (at least in the Hudson Valley operation) were somewhat divergent, and Michael invited them to come to visit and he would give them a tour to help them better understand what goes on.
Historically, foie gras was the dish of the Pharoahs, the geese and ducks fattening themselves in the Nile Delta prior to their migrations. They natural gorge themselves until they’re packed in fat and ready to travel.
I can relate to that.
We’d opened with the Californian Zinfandel to start again. While I appreciated the crispness and cool that I’d enjoyed the night before, I was a little concerned how this would do with the forthcoming champagnes. I was looking forward to the Laurent-Perrier. They’d been magnificent the year before, and I’d enjoyed them even more when they covered the Passedat dinner at Reflexions in March.
They opened with the Brut – 45% chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, and 15% of other varietals. It’s a good, refreshing champagne, lightened by the chardonnay. I liked this better as an opener than when they had put it in the middle of the courses last year. And with the thick flavours on the plate before me….errrr, well, that used to be on the plate before me. Anyways, it’s a good match.
I figured it was a good match with the conversation, as well, and the staff were kind enough to come by with another pour.
And then they brought the cuvee rose. This is a pure pinot noir, aged four years, and yielding in a nice even bubble field….oooh, here’s a good new term! I wonder if there’s a way to explain champagne in terms of quantum physics? The bubbles are both here and there simultaneously? I’ll have to go back to my text books.
Next up was the butter poached lobster and seared foie gras, a dish to be admired for its faultless assault upon the arteries. The parsnip mousseline gave a nice base to things, and the beet glaze just topped up the sweetness. How to describe it? A very full mouth. Match this with the baby-skin nose on the cuvee rose, and I was very happy.
And then they poured the 97 Millesime. Last year they hadn’t done any of their vintages, so this was something I’d looked forward to. 45% Chardonnay and 55% Pinot Noir with a 6 year aging process in the cellars.
And then I had them pour it again.
It was pretty good.
The foie gras came out for another visit, this time topped with roasted squab. Last year we were concerned that the bird was a little underdone, but that was by design, as shown in Singapore as well (oh rara avis). Still, know your audience. Michael brought the birds out a little more cooked this time, and the tables were notably happier. There was a beautiful glaze, and the polenta underneath was a perfect mop to pick up the juices that were leaking through.
I was so happy I had them pour some more of the 97.
I found the tenderloin had crept up upon me. It looked beautiful. And the texture on the flan was a wonderful thing in the mouth. But this wonderfully subtle dish was out of place. You would almost have wanted to take this up front, before the intense flavours of the other dishes had had their wanton way with your palate. That’s the problem in a nutshell, my tastes were becoming jaded.
I had them pour another glass of the 97.
Dessert was good, but, as I’ve noted before, I’m not much of a dessert man. It was good, I recall that I moved through it very quickly, but also I found the sauterne to be wonderful. Was it as good as the Moelleux Grave Superieur from last year? Tough question. I’ll need to find an excuse to have both side by side.
I pondered this over another glass of the 97.
At long last the champagne was done (I didn’t want to insult it by rushing away) and we retired to the lobby for whiskey. In the past we would take our after dinner drinks in the restaurant or in Aqua, but now we’re sitting in one of the most beautiful rooms in the world, with the benefit of the jazz in the corner, and the wonderful serving staff.
CL and I share a passion for books on cooking. She haunts Amazon and Kinokuniya, and her home suffers like mine, with the weight of the paper slowly bearing down upon the foundations. This means that we can spend hours trading titles and ISBN numbers, and going back over recipes and details.
But then, all too early, the Sandman came to take me. The next day would be a morning shopping trip to Pantip. I had to gird my nerves.
Posted 14 September 2006 - 03:28 AM
I am very very jealous, though I'm very glad you don't have pictures, or I might have to quit my job right now!
Posted 14 September 2006 - 04:36 AM
Two years from now, when I'm hopefully free of work contracts, I'm making my way to Bangkok for the WGF. If I ask nicely, do you think they'll re-do that foie gras menu for me?
I am very very jealous, though I'm very glad you don't have pictures, or I might have to quit my job right now!
The Four Seasons Bangkok has some of the most gracious of staff, so I'm certain they'd do their best. I'm in the lounge now with a Long Flat Chardonnay trying to catch up. The Michael Mina dinner was good. Caviar always makes a good opener.
Edited by Peter Green, 14 September 2006 - 04:38 AM.
Posted 15 September 2006 - 06:00 PM
Posted 19 September 2006 - 12:14 AM
Posted 21 September 2006 - 03:11 AM
Yup, check out chubby hubby. Those guys are pretty good, and a lot more dedicated than I about keeping up to date. However, I'll stop having fun really soon and try and catch up.
I'll switch over temporarily to "Dining Arrangements for your next coup" once I can get my stuff on a USB and to a cafe.
Posted 21 September 2006 - 10:37 PM
So, with the news all over CNN about the troubles in Bangkok, I know you’re all wondering how should one dine during a coup? I’ll interrupt my writing on the WGF for a bit, and get up to speed on this.
I’d had a very long, and not very good day. Up at 5 a.m. to get out of KL, arrived early to make the most of the day, and then found that the fellow occupying my room and who was to have checked out early was nowhere to be found. After that, after a day of shopping in order to utilize time, I returned to find that my computer appeared to be gone. It would appear I didn’t take it out of the taxi when I dragged my weary self home.
The staff were very concerned, and we rechecked the lobby and everywhere, but failed to turn up my dear old Apple. What to do?
I decided on BBQ.
Dana Carron has returned to the restaurant business, and has put up a very attractive little place on the corner of Suriyawongse and Rama IV. Three floors, the topmost of which is a clean looking sports bar, pool tables, darts, tv’s.
Dana and I talked a bit about the food. The menu comes on a large solid board, which gives you plenty of time to relax, ponder, and plan as you enjoy a beer or two. Dana’s also got a good Honey Bee Pils on tap, as well as a strong beer. He’s getting this from the same people who supply the upstairs bar at the airport…Beer House, I think.
That was always a good detour. With Don Muang closing next week and the move to Souvarnabhumi coming up, I don’t know if the pre-immigration liver wrapped in bacon and micro-brew operation will still be there. We’ll know next week when the move happens, but I’ll miss that.
Anyways, I opted on the Philly cheese steak, and crab cakes to start. Dana considers both to be respectable options, and he’s put a lot of work into the crab cakes to get them the right texture and consistency.
The cheese steak was just what I needed, comforting slices of good beef nestled under a bed of cheese. A bit of Tabasco and you’re there. What’s a computer or two, after all?
I liked the layout of the ground floor dining room. Spacious. There are way too many places nowadays that try to pack in far too many tables. Here there was plenty of room to move around for the staff and customers.
And, beer and a meal under my belt, pool seemed like a good way to focus myself.
It was while playing a game that CNN made itself known with details of a coup in Bangkok and tanks on the street.
After scratching on the 8, I decided this was a good time to get home to Sukhumvit.
I got over to Silom, and debated the Sky Train, but it seemed risky if it got cut. I’d’ve cut it if it was me and I wanted to lock things down. Taxis have their own risk, but it’s a lot easier to bail out of one and make it on foot if you have to. I made a passive attempt at bargaining, and then figured that wasting time was not a good thing.
My driver was continually talking on his cell. I interrupted at one point to get details, and he told me it appeared that the army had taken over, Khao Sarn was shut, and Pat Pong had just been shut. Oh,yeah, they were also doing things around the government buildings, but we have our priorities in what matters.
Then the chatting ladies on the radio went away (“kaaa….kaaa….”) and that familiar old music started playing.
I did need to get back to my hotel.
But the rest of the trip went well. We dodged a few jams, and made it back.
I was, of course, hungry again.
I dropped back down a few blocks on Sukhumvit, my passport secured now on my body, and checked out the streetside offerings. There were the usual noodle stands, the broth smelling quite good, fishballs cheerfully waiting for the basket. And there were the usual critter stands – crickets, roaches, red ants – but it was the stewed pork leg that looked best to me. So I ordered a bowl of that, some rice, and a beer Lao (heaven sent to Bangkok only these last few months), and watched and waited.
And nothing happened. Oh, well, I sweated quite a bit, and the meat disappeared somewhere, but generally speaking, things were pretty much as normal. Only the lack of police appeared to be a bit odd. There was word that Phetburi was closed down, but not much else.
I returned to the room, grabbed some of the pork jerky I’d bought at MBK, poured myself a glass of Wang Nam Kaew chenin blanc (quite easy to drink, from the Khao Yai area….a little fruity) and called it a (relatively) early night.
Posted 21 September 2006 - 10:38 PM
It was 8 a.m., and there was an insistence clamouring by my ear. I tried glaring at the alarm clock from under the duvet, but that didn’t seem to satisfy it. Finally, I reached over and slugged it one.
That made me feel a lot better.
I had a 10 a.m. appointment with M and her brother who’d flown in the day before. He was looking for movies and games, and I was in a mind for similar items.
But Pantip fills me with dread.
1. It’s not closely connected with a skytrain link
2. It’s hot and sweaty out
3. It’s not well air conditioned inside
4. It’s hot and sweaty out
5. the vendors are a little too aggressive
6. It’s hot and sweaty out
7. Every Westerner that comes in is immediately assumed to be in search of porn flicks.
8. It’s hot and sweaty out
Did I mention that it was hot and sweaty out?
Unable to handle the timing, I took a taxi early, and managed to arrive 30 minutes before anything happened.
This gave me an ample opportunity to observe the street food of Bangkok, some of the best in the world. Deep fried chicken, grilled pork, stewed pig’s leg, fresh rambutan, longan, and pineapple, Coconuts brutally decapitated and straws rammed into their tender innards….wait, I’m obsessing on last night’s protestors.
Okay, I was stuck streetside on a hot day waiting for Pantip to open up and get their a/c in order.
At last I met up with M and her brother, and we cut back across the street, on the walkover (minor beading action at work on my brow by this point), hung a left, navigated the simmering woks of oil (severe beading and some rivuletting going on), went down two blocks, and the left up the soi. Keep your eyes open on the left side, and you’ll see a simmering 10 gallon pot of stewing pig leg and a scarecrow of white rags shouting into an intercom system.
We were here for noodles and soup. Bamii.
I left the ordering to M. Her Chinese genes are perfect for this sort of place. Her brother and I discussed the relative attractions of Korean cinema, and how a Korean dental clinic called Old Boy would be a great idea.
Okay, with that one we’d put M off of her food a little.
The food was great. Like being in Hong Kong or Vancouver. Good moist noodles outside of the soup, and a clear consommé with good sized pieces of red pork drifting amidst the greens. I’ll have to get the photo worked in here somehow in order to do it justice. A soundtrack would work well, too, as you need that squwacking of the intercom system to really appreciate the atmosphere.
Pantip was the usual. I had many opportunities to engage in rage against the copyrights. But I was watching my watch and counting down the minutes and thinking how long it would take for me to get back to the Four Seasons.
And, of course, after giving him the card and repeating “Four Seasons….Rachadamri….Hyatt…” multiple times, the taxi driver then decided he need to take me to the Sofitel on soi 33 Sukhumvit.
After some closely avoided violence, I got him back on track and got back into the hotel by 12:15. A few panicky phone messages, and I was able to get into the class.
Let’s Talk About Chocolate (with a shrug)
I only just missed the start of the video, wherein they were discussing the harvesting and fermenting of the beans in some place that looked as hot and sweaty as Pantip.
Vincent Bourdin came out shortly thereafter. Tall, lanky, and very French. He’s been in the pastries business since ’81, when he wrapped up his apprenticeship in the South of France and went to work at Le Festival in Cannes. When he left France it was for London to work with Pierre Kaufmann in his 3 star La Tante Claire. Some more stints with good chefs, and then in 1992 he joined Valrhona and set up the Singapore office. Pastry consultant….isn’t that a great title?
Valrhona’s been active here for two years now. The beautiful sisters at Fine Foods Angliss, Khun Nuntiya and Khun Patcharin have been actively working with them and developing the market for top end chocolate here. And the chocolate and dessert classes here that use Valrhona are always booked out (but more on that when I get to Friday and Emily Luchetti from Farallon. This is the second time that Vincent has been here at the WGF, and there are many of the same faces in the audience.
Vincent would take us through three items; the classic macaron, chocolate cake (patience, patience), and chocolate soufflé. His aim is both to highlight the techniques, and the material himself. “As he says, the ingredients are the master of the cuisine. The chef is just the helper.”
We began with the macarons – macarons ivoire framboise. The macaron is an old French tradition from Italy, making use of the most ubiquitous of pastry ingredients – almond powder, found in almost all pastries in the world, a common taste from the Mediterranean (I quote Vincent).
The almond powder must be very fine. His preference, in rank is Spain, Italy, or the South of France. This causes a bit of stir in the audience, as almond powder is not commonly available in Bangkok. So, he gave directions for making it on your own, the important part is to beware of the oil that’s going to come out. Drop in a bit of sugar, and do a two pass blending, moving the mix from the first blender to a small coffee blender.
While the blender is going, we’re told that they’ll be bringing a production line of chocolate up from the Philippines later this week for the Afternoon Tea. We’ll have the opportunity to taste the different stages of the production, and see how far away in flavour the original pods are from the finished product.
You know, at times, you have to wonder how people started eating some of these things. Really, to get chocolate, you need to let the pods ferment, which means letting them go rotten. I don’t know about you, but I don’t often eat the things I find down behind my couch. But at sometime somebody did, then they decided to dry and roast it, and then they decided to grind it. And then they drank it. Okay, yeah, I’ll drink just about anything, so maybe it does make sense.
Meanwhile, the KitchenAide was having its evil way with Etienne. Vincent turned his attention back to the work, bringing out a laser thermometer to check the temperature in the bowl. To whip the whites, you need the temperature to be write to fix the air to the fat.
Then he worked his mix of almond powder and sugar into a paste, effectively the translation of marzipan – beautifully shiny, between runny and solid.
“The French vocabulary to express cooking is uniquely French”. Liquids are always shiny, Whipped objects are matte. When you introduce air into a liquid it becomes matte, and so you can tell if something is not as it should be.
By this time we’re piping things out. He pipes vertically to display the dough on the paper. For his part, he believes in parchment paper, Silicon mats can be a good alternative, with a better chance of being round, but he’s used to what he does, so…eh, bien (how do you describe that Gallic shrug?).
We’ll be filling these with framboise, but you can do much of anything. He prefers black olives, himself, returning to the Mediterranean flavours. In France now, it has become fashionable to include foie gras in the macarons, going for savouries.
Meanwhile the macarons go out of the way, and we turn to the cake.
He uses a saw knife for the chocolate. This gives you a safe grip on the material as you break it into manageable pieces after you bring it out into the warm room. And for his part, he recommends that everyone buy a wine cellar so that they can keep their chocolate in it. As an alternative to a brick of chocolate, Khun Nuntiya was showing me later that Valrhona sells large bags of chocolate medallions, which are easier to work into a melt.
A question came up on the use of honey. As he says, it is the easiest inverted sugar to work with, one that won’t crystallize easily.
But then he launches into a tirade against the modern evil of flat bottomed bowls. How can you mix something in small quantities if the bottom isn’t round? This in turn leads to a diatribe on some people referring to cream as a fat. Logically it is as water. Cocoa is a fat, with the cocoa butter therein. And what is an emulsion? No air is introduced. The mixing of water and cocoa is an emulsion. If air was involved tit would be a foam.
As in mayonnaise you start the mixing from the middle, taking the elasticity from the middle and slowly bringing it out as you introduce more hot liquid into the middle, bringing the liquid into the powder. If he had wanted to introduce air, he would have pulled centre to edge and turned and folded.
And what is the proper temperature for the cocoa? It should be comfortable in your hand; it should melt in your hand normally.
And that lead to a serious display of continental outrage. Why would you not want chocolate to melt in your hand? By putting all of these additives into the chocolate, you are making life easier for the manufacturer, you do nothing for the taste of the chocolate which is what should matter to the consumer. You create a chewy something that is no longer chocolate.
And, while things are baking, we turn to the soufflé au chocolate grand cru guanaja. He mixed the egg whites to the point where you could do shadow puppets of beaked birds.
The final put together went without any problems, and then we all sat in anticipation of the dessert.
Okay, to get there, we had to work through the salad, which was just the right thing to start the day with….or rather the afternoon. And then the fish was alright. But we weren’t there for such trifles. We were there for dessert. No….wait…..trifle is a dessert. Never mind. We wanted chocolate.
We debated the relative charms. The cake was very pleasant, softly reeking of vanilla. The soufflé presented a wonderful crisp skin on the top, and an even silkiness in the texture once you were in. The macaron, however, was the one we liked the best, with the strong raspberry taste dominating and bringing a smile to the lips (along with little flecks of red).
And then it was time for a swim, check out the new tuxedo, and get ready for Michael Mina’s dinner.
to be continued.....
Posted 01 October 2006 - 09:28 AM
Sorry, but I wanted to concentrate on the coup while it was still relevant. And now back to the WGF.......
Day 3 – September 12
Michael Mina Bellagio, Seablue, and Nobhill at MGM Grand
Kendall-Jackson VR Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Crispy Potato Cake, Osetra Caviar
Kendall-Jackson GR Chardonnay 2005
Butter Poached Lobster
Vanilla Crepe, Sweet Corn
Miso Glazed Black Cod
Scallop Dumplings, Mushroom Consomme
Hartford Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2005
Seared Duck Breast and Foie Gras
Golden Raisin Couscous, Onion Jus
Kendall-Jackson GR Merlot 2003
Roasted Kobe Beef, Braised Short Rib
Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, Worcestershire Jus
Kendall-Jackson Stature Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
Banana Tart Tatin
Cinnamon Ice Cream
It was tuxedo time. Black and whites, and a slow stroll to Madison’s. I felt like a piece of foie gras, slowing rendering under a low, wet heat. Come to think of it, I probably looked the part, too.
Once into the relative air conditioning of Madison’s, I clutched the Sauvignon Blanc, trying to leach some of my body temperature into the wine, then thought better of that and just drank it. My body heat involves way too much salt. While this moral dilemna raged I worked my way further into the restaurant and the welcome coolness.
When I was back in Vancouver in July and touting the WGF, of the names that came up Michael Mina’s was the one that grabbed my friends’ attention. Michael Mina was born in Cairo, but his reputation has been built from his work in San Francisco and Las Vegas. In 2002 he partnered up with Andrew Agassi, and he’s been winning a number of awards since being named California Chef of 2002 by the James Beard Foundation. He does the celebrity circuit, and he’s developed a number of restaurants around his cuisine, all of which work towards the luxury end of ingredients.
I’d been hesitant about the meal, but a number of my friends had blocked off a number of tables, so I decided that any qualms I might have would be counterweighted by the company.
As is always the case, it’s a good dinner when you can sit with your friends. I love the food crowd in Thailand, it’s really like having an extended family. And, like my waist, it always grows larger. The banter was all of restaurants and new things to eat.
Doug Cook gave a short speech on the wines, discussing Kendall-Jackson, how the name came from the husband and wife who founded the winery. She left, but he kept her name and the winery. We’d had a number of Kendall-Jackson’s the year before, particularly at Roy Yamaguchi’s dinner, and prior to that Doug had been the main man over here for Robert Mondavi. I remember when we did the vertical tasting to find out that night that the house of Mondavi had fallen.
But, back to the food. Michael started with his trademark caviar parfait. A pretty little tube of a thing that can only but bring a smile to your face. Take a little of the caviar, drive your fork down through the parfait, snag some potato, daub a touch of the sauce, and pop it in your mouth. Salt and soft, with a bit of chew to the potato.
The Chardonnay was okay, but just okay. I hate to be a downer in these things, but the dish called for a better wine. I would’ve liked to have had the Rosemount Estate Show Reserve Chardonnay from the Hunter that we had from the Gala, but such is fate.
The butter poached lobster that came next was also very well put together. It had a lightness and was cooked just the right amount, pulling only slightly. The vanilla crepe transmitted the flavour appropriately, and I found myself enjoying the dish……I seem to be that way quite often. Looking back, I still like the way that the lobster meat pulled apart with a slight tension, and can taste the crepe folded over as the bite went into my mouth. The bed of sauce that it came on highlighted things very well.
Following this was the cod. Now, cod is not a fish that I have fond memories of. As a child, I recall being fed this thing that was purportedly a fish at some time, but was now a slightly different texture in the white, runny mess that my mother would place in front of me.
There’s a British boarding school line about “the piece of cod that surpasseth all understanding..” I believe.
This fish was no relative to that travesty. Good flesh, with the flavour of cod being brought forward under the cover of the miso. And I found the scallop dumping to be very nice, with just the right tone to settle your mouth with the fish. The mushroom consommé, however, I felt was just in the way. Perhaps a bit of starch on the plate such as a couscous or such to control it would’ve worked, but as was I found it a wet distraction from what was happening with the other ingredients.
The Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir came with these dishes. Doug had talked it up a bit as the Seascape vineyard, all exposed to the Pacific and dominated by vertical fields on slopes. My impression was mixed. It’s far better than what I make, but it wasn’t a particularly memorable tipple.
Next the duck. I like duck. And this one came with it’s liver on it’s back.
I suppose there’s something gruesome in that image (not the photo), given our interruption the night before by the Peta crowd, but I salivated at the sight.
The duck was just on the rare side, which was fine by me, but I could see others looking somewhat askance. The couscous underneath did an admirable job of sopping up the jus.
The accompanying Merlot opened well, and matured even better, so I was happy enough. Strangely, I seem to get happier as the dinners and wines progress. They must be getting better. I do confess, I like Merlots with meats. They’re straightforward. Some would say insipid, but I’ll enjoy them nonetheless.
I liked the beef.
Ever since that dinner at Fort Siloso in Singapore during the WGS, I’ve been lusting after more wagyu. For this dish Michael used Kobe beef for the roast. But, I didn’t capture the melt in the mouth feel that I had before. Perhaps it’s just the cut, but the richness in the roast didn’t seem quite there.
The braised short ribs, however, were very, very, very good. The meat pulled apart with the fork, and you could feel the fat rising up in globules with the steam. I turned back to my mashed potatoes, and savoured the horseradish worked into them. Move them about a bit, sop up some of the horseradish jus, and then try the beef again. That was better.
The Stature Cab Sauvignon worked okay with this. A reasonable nose, and good body. Reassuringly, when I looked back on my notes from Roy Yamaguchi’s dinner last year, I pretty much agreed with this – it’s a good wine with meat.
Dessert, the banana tart tatin, was surely best summed up by the other side of the table as “a very Las Vegas dessert”. Rich, with lots to chew on, and plenty of caramelized sugars. I found the bottom of mine a little burnt, but overall it wasn’t a bad finish.
The overall verdict? The beef was good, the lobster was very good, and the parfait, like I said….well, it’s hard to go wrong with caviar. The wines were there, but I didn’t come away with the feeling that there’d been a lot of effort put into getting the dinner and the wines to work together. Perhaps I’m being too fussy.
Was I happy coming away from the table and making my way to the lobby for the Macallan 12 year old?
Posted 03 October 2006 - 07:47 PM
Morning, time for a swim in the pool after breakfast, and then down for cooking class.
We had three dishes (as usual) to be prepared today, and these would be very particularly Italian. Or, as Signor Talamin says “Italian today. All Italian.”
It’s hard not to like the Italians. Marco has that continual smile and chirpiness about him, which goes very well with his Michelin stars. He’s had a number restaurants (it was Cibernetico in Padua that got him his second star). He also teaches regularly at the IAL Hospitality School in Aviano, and is now the Chef de Cuisine at La Torre di Spilimbergo in the northeast of Italy.
Now, Marco’s English is limited, but Gianni Costa from the Four Seasons, the new Biscotti manager, was there to translate. His manner could best be described as “ebullient”, so the two of them had the overall charm of a good glass of sparkling wine.
Today on the menu:
on Warm Zucchini Cream with Tomato Caviar
Small Tuna Bites
Wrapped in Bacon
with Asano Cheese
Marco’s experience as a teaching chef from the IAL shines through. He knows how to both execute the technique while maintaining a solid banter as he goes, even if we can only follow 25% of it.
In discussing the dishes to begin, there were a couple of notes. One: the best tuna is fished off the coast of Sardinia. No questions. No alternatives. Two: the dessert is a bit special. Melon with a special cow cheese – Asano in a salted marinade, a “200 year old marinade” as the translation came out. This led to some speculation at the table-side as you might expect. I mean, I’ve got things that’ve been sitting in my fridge for a year or so that might cure some diseases at this point, but 200 years?…….
Marco slipped easily into his gloves and ran a sideways fillet on the bass, deboning it and then thinly shaving it off, then lengthwise into long strips, and then crossways to cube it, pulling the knife away as he cuts (being inept, I admire people who can cut).
We’re admonished from using any machines. It’s important in a tartare to avoid anything that would introduce heat. And the flavours we add – lemon, thyme, soya, olive oil, salt and pepper, and marjoram – are just enough for the dish. The soy should just be the lightest touch. Like most chefs now, you don’t want too many flavours, as then you’ll never taste the product.
While this was going on, he had his fish stock heating up. Bones, mirepoix, and some of the Friuli Tesis Pinot Grigio with a bit of the thyme and marjoram. Prior to this he’d roasted the bones, but without the head. When I mention this to my domestic staff (ouch! I just got whacked.) they clamour against anything other than broth as opposed to stock, and denigrate me mercilessly for not roasting the bones and excluding the head.
The zucchini, meanwhile, needs to be quickly cooked, and then it goes into a bowl with the fish stock. As this happens, the lemon works its evil wiles upon the seabass, ceviche-ing (is that a verb) the fish slightly.
Back to the bowl, Mr. Buzzy comes for a visit and gives the zucchinis a seeing-to. Then we drain things off, set aside the zucching, and add a touch of soy and the extra virgin olive oil. In true Northern fashion, only Tuscan olive oil will do, so there’s a bottle of that at hand, the rich green showing up even from where we sit. A bit of a buzz, and you have something like a vegetarian mayonnaise.
After a touch of clowning over tasting the zucchini cream, we turn with practiced savagery upon the tomato. It’s bisected, the seeds removed, the tomato finely diced, and then the skin is julienned. Meanwhile we are lectured upon tomatoes as only an Italian can, with the importance of their sweetness hammered into us.
The tartare is ringed, the zucchine cream goes down, the ring is removed, and the fish is topped by the tomato and then a bit of thyme.
And then eat it right away.
This last is the key. Really, this is an Italian ceviche, and so the trick is to get at the fish when it’s just taking the bit of the citrus. Too long and it’ll suffer, as this recipe is meant to be the flavour of the “product”. To do this at home, I think I may go for a communal tartare. That would allow me to prepare, execute, garnish, and serve so it could be enjoyed at the right moment. Perhaps this next weekend…..
Now we turn our attention to the second dish. For this, of course, we need more tomatoes. These are cut into leaves and marinated, and then lightly roasted in the oven.
The tuna is cut into medallions, and each is wrapped in the “lardo”, which is a term generally reserved for addressing me, but I’ll let it go this time. The lardo is a slightly salted bacon fat, which gives a very smooth and tender result after you roll the tuna into the bacon.
We prepare the olives, mixing with sugar and giving it a “cha cha cha” of a shake. These then go into the oven for a longer roast, the result to be small bits of almost “carbon-looking” stuff.
The tuna gets a taste of the olive oil, and then goes into the pan, only the tuna touching the heat for a short sear on both sides. Top with a bit more olive oil, and the put to the oven (or under your handy home salamander) to finish for five to ten minutes.
During this I admire again the chef’s tolerance to heat. As Ziebold said before, you learn to tolerate burns.
And so to dessert. Chunk the melon and marinate with anise liquor. Ouzo will do the job just fine. Break the cheese up and drop it in with the chunks, and then bring back our friend Mr. Buzzy.
At this point Mr. Buzzy makes a stab at Gianni, but he deftly avoids him.
We slowly, slowly work over the melon and cheese until smooth, and then take the result to fill a siphon 3/4 full. We test the siphon before doing the dessert, and then we’re ready.
Actually, of all the terms, siphon is the one that stumps everyone, until at last one is brought out and everyone goes “aaaaah”.
Product ready, the result can be kept for three days in a fridge. My kind of pre-prep.
The result is siphoned into a large glass, and topped with a strawberry quartered lengthwise, and top with a bit of toasted almond.
The staff brought the dessert by for the formal “oohing” and “aahing”, Marco gave us another of those great smiles, and then we were on our own.
The first wine came by, and this was a Fantinel Prosecco Spumante N.V. The Fantinels are a family business, who started up in the late 60’s with 16 hectares. Now they’re up over 300 hectares, and are starting to spread beyond their local niche market in regional hotels and restaurants to Canada and (gasp) Cuba.
Now, like a lot of you, I have certain trauma scars in my psyche from drinking way too much bubbly pink stuff as a youngster around campfires on the beach. Okay, it wasn’t really so much a campfire as the ritual torching of a telephone pole that we’d hacked down to see how the creosote would light up. Still, you get the drift. You, you’re heart-mate of the moment, and something with more sugar in it than the cotton candy machine at the Pacific National Exhibition. This didn’t make for good morning-afters.
But of recent years I’ve come to love the Italian sparklings. The softness of the bubble field as it comes up on your lips and inside your mouth is a thing of gentleness. This one, the Prosecco came across pleasantly fruity, lingering along the top of my palate, and loosening me up for the food to come.
And for the conversation. M and I were discussing properties in town with J, who’s in the business, albeit in Hua Hin down the coast. As this conversation developed, we swept over the rest of the table, and devolved to restaurant talk, trying to pin down where and what to eat.
One possibility is the Arun Residence. I’d read about this a few years back in the Post, a small restored home with a few rooms. The young lady at our table (okay, “one of the young ladies” at our table – M isn’t old at all) was their chef, and she described the food there as Franco-Thai, so this sounds very interesting.
Taling Pling comes up again as a favourite, and the lady from there, Khun Nid, has opened another restaurant with her daughter Khun Cake…..Savoury. this is neat, as the owner of Taling Pling, Khun Nid, had graduated from the Cordon Bleu School, and had first made her mark with a French restaurant in Bangkok called Savoury on Soi Pan. But, with time, this changed to Taling Pling (which has the most savoury of Thai food). Now her daughter has reopened the French motif (with some Thai and English as well) at Siam Paragon. This one is on the list for a visit.
Nittayaa Kai Yam is on the Thonburi side, near the Central over there, which may be too long a haul for me. And there’s Gai Tay over near the Open University. Rat Naan does a very good pork liver in a foie gras style, and for Italian they suggested Calderazzo, which had also been suggested by a Thai American that I’d met up in the Club. However, he cautioned that the servings had been a little small for the dour faced mob of American financiers that he’d taken there the night before. (They sounded way to serious for Bangkok).
By now the Fantinel Borgo Tesis Pinot Grigio Friuli DOC 2005 had come out, and it made a pleasant impression, especially with the tartare, which was smooth with the olive oil. I’d written earlier that this was an Italian ceviche, but the impact is much different, not running caustic on the teeth, but rather drawing out the flavour of the fish in a nice smooth finish (I am going to do this on the weekend).
Then the tuna came out with the Fantinel Vigneti Sant Helena Cabernet Sauvignon Friuli Grave, DOC, 2000 and we started running through our lists of Italian. As in Japan, Italian is probably the most popular of foreign dining options.
Giusto always reviews well, with Fabio’s risotto with foie gras and truffles being one of my favourite dishes. Zanotti is always up in the ratings, and Lemoncello is a place I’d heard of, but hadn’t found a for or against until now. M recommended Basillico on soi 33 for their version of the veal with tuna that Vivalda had done when he was here, and J seconded this as they had great parking (J is very parking conscious). On soi 31 there’s Trattoria Antonio’s, and if you go there you want to reserve the table by the window. And there’s La Piolla, which has no menu, just two big Italians who run the front while their mother cooks in the back. This has mixed reviews, but M gave it a solid thumbs up.
Meanwhile, I was disconcerted by the Cabernet Sauvignon. The flavour was reasonable, and good with the tuna (you can’t go wrong if you wrap things in pork fat) but the nose was just so-so. I’m probably too used to Italians where I can bury my nose in the glass and just go dreamy for awhile.
The dessert arrived, and I asked for a bit more of the Prosecco. The cheese did not come through very strong, which surprised me. I was expecting more of a smell and a tongue, but the whole blended together with the melon much more apparent.
And this brought about, for some reason, discussion of som tam places. The one of choice was in the All Seasons Place but Siam Square also has Papaya Nua on soi 5. For khao soi people felt that the Spice Market in the Four Seasons was still a good choice, and the Peninsula Plaza, in the place in the lobby, also did well, but they’re only there for lunch. If you’re willing to go out to Rama 9, one of the kids from the khao soi place on Thanon Faa Ngaam in Chiang Mai has opened up in one of the sois in a house there.
By this point, M needed to meet her friend for tea in the lobby, and I was noticing that the hall was pretty much empty. It was obviously time for a break.
After all, there was more eating to be done soon.
Posted 05 October 2006 - 11:21 PM
Yoshii on the Rocks
I was off to a bad start. For some reason I was on autopilot and so was in a panic to be at the restaurant by 6:30. I met Lubosh in the elevator on the way down, and we chatted and walked together to Shintaro. There they were a little confused, but asked if I’d like to take a drink in the lobby. I was a little confused, as I looked at the 6:30 mark on my watch. We both were a little confused, and then it registered that the dinners weren’t starting until 7:30.
There’s a downside to building up regular routines.
I made my apologies, and returned upstairs to get out of their way.
At the appropriate time, I then went back downstairs, and was now graciously shown to my seat at the bar and offered a glass of the Rosemount Estate Semillon Chardonnay 2005, a nice little thing.
As I sipped on that, a thought struck me. One item I had lamented regarding the Four Seasons was the lack of a bar, proper. There is Aqua, and for those that are not perspiratorially challenged it is a lovely setting, but I need something both more intimate and better air conditioned.
I gazed up in rapture at the list of sake that was available in Shintaro and thought, this is where I should be coming when I want a tipple. I love the 2001 Obelisk look to their sake menu. It makes me want to throw bones and things.
I shook myelf out of that dipsophiliac moment and turned to the menu.
Deep Fried Ume Boshi Stuffed with Snapper Mousee Tempura Style
Tuna Sashimi Marinated with Soy and Truffle Essence Sauce
Smoke Salmon and Peach Wrapped with Kimizu Sauce
Sweet Potato Infused in Oragne Juice with Foie Gras Mille-Feuille Style
Roasted Wagyu Beef served with XO Sauce and Grated Daikon Dressing
Beringer Sparkling White Zinfandel
Served with Ume, Truffle and Grape Seed Oil
Wolf Blass ‘Red Label’ Semillion Sauvignon Blanc 2005
Steamed Tomato Stuffed Prawn Mince
Served with Lemongrass Bonito Stock
Rosemount ‘Show Reserve’ Chardonnay, Hunter Valley 2005
Yusu Miso Lamb Dengaku
Rosemount ‘GSM’ Granache – Syrah – Mouvedre, McLaren Vale 2002
Mascarpone Cheese Mousse with Soybean Powder
And Black Sesame Powder
Once the restaurant was settled a bit (although I was flanked both sides by empty seats) Lubosh stepped forward and took up the reins, introducing Yoshii, and also Sawada and his team who would be supporting in the kitchen. Aaron Ching, the director of operations for Saqura Investment said a couple of words, and then we all settled back to wait for the first courses.
While this was going on, there was the usual coming and going of people in safari suits dropping off keys and scuttling about. There was a good hum about the restaurant, but I was slightly discomfited by the open space on either side of me. The staff were very nice, asking if I would like to move, but I was my usual anal Canadian self, and couldn’t bring myself to move beyond where I’d been placed.
I sort of felt like a hungry ghost.
The appetizers began to arrive. I liked the deep fried ume boshi, that soft pickled plum that’s to be found in almost every Japanese home. But this wasn’t as “plumy” as I’d expected. It was crisp, as expected, and the texture and finish came across much more as if it was a good mushroom.
The tuna sashimi was very good indeed, but suffered from the wine. The Zinfandel wasn’t right for this flavour, and I switched over to water (I know, your jaws just dropped) for a bit. The flesh is nicely firm, and lingers in your mouth. I slurped up the juice in proper fashion, taking in the tang of the soy with the truffle as a nice sideline.
The salmon came as little cannelloni tubes of fish with roe sparkling on top in the kimizu sauce.
The sweet potato mille-feuille looks beautiful, but I find the texture too granular for my taste, although I suspect this is what he was aiming for.
And the wagyu comes served on a heart shaped betel nut leaf, which lends a wonderful distraction to the dish as I masticate the leaf with the melt of the wagyu and the light crunch of the diakon dressing.
Okay, this was working out well. I was even beginning to appreciate my splendid isolation, as it afforded me room to write as well as a convenient spot for Aaron to come by and sit. He and I chatted a bit about the Yoshii’s restaurant and their aims. This also gave me the opportunity to correct my spelling, as the new restaurant in Paddington is Wasavie, not Wasabi. They’re focus is on the more casual Japanese dining, with kitchen favourites being the emphasis. They also have a third restaurant, Himizu, under their helm. Himizu is interesting, as their focus is on “organic” ingredients, including organic wines. They’ve got a number of other projects on the go, and this should make for some interesting options in the near future.
And it becomes more and more obvious that I need to get back down under sometime soon. My problem is just that I make it to Bangkok and never quite get to that connecting flight.
The scallop carpaccio comes out next. The scallops are very good, it’s hard to go wrong with a scallop, but there’s a bitterness there in the back somewhere that I can’t nail down, and that perturbs me. With this is the Wolf Blass which would function well here if not for this niggling bitterness…..
The next dish was controversial. Steamed tomato with prawn mince. I queried some of my friends that were here on another night, and they dismissed this dish as catfood. For my part, I loved the smell of it. Overall it has a very Italian Thai feel to it. Sweet, thick, everything that your typical tomato-plunked-onto-the-side-of-the-plate-beside-the-beans is not. Forget the mince, just do the meat of the tomato and slurp back the stock.
The chardonnay was a good choice with this, but then again, I’ve always been fond of the Hunter Valley. The Show Reserve is crystal clear in the glass, only dimmed by the beads of condensate pearling on the outside. In the palate it lights up the sides and back of the tongue, and has the sensuality of an old lover come back to visit.
Aaron came by again, and I asked him about the Australian wagyu. “It’s everywhere now. It’s all over Oz, and you’ll find it on most menus in Japan, China, Oz, everywhere…” They’re using Vic’s Meat as their source, and Aaron passed on the website to me www.vicsmeat.com.au I’ve got it up on the screen, and, as I generally don’t know much, there’s a lot there of interest.
I’ll paraphrase some of the relevant parts.
There were two classes of wagyu. F1 and F2. F1 is a cross between a wagyu (Wa- Japan, Gyu – cattle) and something else, generally an Angus. The F2 is a further reinforcement of the wagyu bloodline, and is now called “Purebred”, going through multiple generations after the initial cross with no new blood introduced. Recently, they’ve started releasing what are called Fullblood, which is purely derived from Wagyu stock.
Okay. To me it seems that the terms should be swapped around, but they’re the ones doing the work.
There are three bloodlines they refer to; Fujiyoshi (Shimane) and Kedaka (Tottori) Lines, which give a large framed cow, but inferior marbling. Tajiri (Tajimi) Line, which is the bloodline of choice for the high end Australian product (and the bloodline for Kobe).
Vic’s also provides a grading chart showing the scoring for different grades of marbling. This has got me both drooling, and living in anticipated disappointment over my next trip to the meat counter at the commissary here. All we seem to be able to get here now is Brazilian.
In a cool aside, Vic’s website will also point you at www.securityfoods.com who are advertising Kurobuta Pork, considered the world’s best quality pork. But Kurobuta is drawn from the Black Berkshire, from Reading in England. Now, in most of the world they’ve almost been bred out of existence, but the Japanese and some Australian enthusiasts have been keeping them going, and they’re on the comeback trail.
Okay, let’s get back on topic here.
The Granache is poured out, and the nose is good. It just needs a few minutes to wake up to the world. The initial taste puts a lot of fruit (plums) up on the top of my tongue.
And the Yuzu Miso Lamb Dengaku is back. But this is a much different course than what we had in the cooking class. There it was about the contrast of the chilis and miso with the (underdone) meat. Here it’s about the meat. The lamb is near perfect, just the right texture for me, not too well done, not too pully, and the flavour is spot on. You taste the lamb, with detailing from the spicing,
There are two small piles of shiitake mushrooms on the diagonals of the plate. These impart a slight bitterness to highlight the meat. And the brick of daikon with it’s miniature condiments freshens your palate, taking away the bit of thickness from the miso that you pick up.
By now the red has opened up, and it’s a very nice match with this dish.
Dessert comes out as a duet of mascarpone. On the right it’s encased in a soy powder, and on the right in black sesame powder. Dab in the middle is a bit of black cherry ice cream. Dotting the plate is a sauce made from sweet beans. This is great. I can combine my dessert and my cheese plate in one go! Being a heathen I wave in a double espresso to go with this, and my joy is complete.
The topping is almost more of a dusting, just the thinnest of coats, and it yields to the tines of the fork at the first touch. In the mouth, and you get that lovely full frontal fat experience of the mascarpone. Take a bit of the ice cream to stretch that around, and then a sip through the crema of the coffee to contrast with temperature and bitterness.
I waylay the two lovely young things passing out the whiskey chits, and retire to the lobby for a few Macallans.
My overall feeling of the meal is positive. Of course, my overall feeling is in part based upon a full tummy and a certain level of inebriation, but that’s part of what it’s all about, isn’t it? As I’d mentioned in the cooking notes, I like Yoshii. He comes across very gentle, with a quiet, stubborn streak in him. That can make for some very good food.
Edited by Peter Green, 05 October 2006 - 11:40 PM.
Posted 06 October 2006 - 05:54 AM
Lunch With Geoff Lindsay
Pearl Restaurant and Bar, Melbourne, Australia
Pearl at the Peak, Hong Kong
Watermelon, Marinated Feta and Sunflower Shoot Salad
With a clear tomato jellly
Blue Water Barramundi
With Gingered Wong Bok, Lup Cheong and Shiitake
Turkish Delight and Rose Petal Ice Cream
Pomegranate Seeds and Persian Fairy Floss
I was shocked! Shocked, I say!
There, on the stage before me, was a very familiar looking box of Turkish Delights. Familiar enough that I still carried the receipt for them in my wallet.
I’d picked these up on the way over as a gift for Khun Tatiya, who, along with Lubosh, handles a lot of planning and organization for the Fest from the F&B office. Of greater importance, she always makes sure that my bookings and room reservations are in order. Given this much work on her part above and beyond, some sweets wouldn’t be out of order.
But here they were, offered up as part of the class?
It seems that Khun Tatiya had the box about when the predatory Aussie, Geoff Lindsay, spotted them. In less time than it takes to say “vegemite” he’d laid claim to them as the perfect ingredient, one he’d been scouring Bangkok to find without luck to this very moment.
At least she got to try one piece. I suppose it’s all for a good cause.
Geoff’s another of these chefs that does well on stage. He gets on the telly a fair bit in Melbourne and he’s got a couple of books out now. This background makes for a good experience in the class, as he can keep things moving all through.
Coming from Melbourne, he’s got a keen interest in different ingredients, drawing upon the Asian population, and upon the middle-eastern influences in the town (Melbourne has one of the largest Egyptian populations outside of Cairo and Alex).
The first dish up, the watermelon salad, is a take on the traditional Eastern Med salad of feta, fruit, olive oil, and veg, the classic Levant combination of ingredients. Casual in its manner and consumption.
But, just making a salad would be kind of dull, so the challenge is to twist it a bit to make a splash (or a wiggle, in this case).
First up, tomato jelly. The trick here is to disguise the tomato. To do that, we draw out the water from the nice, big, fleshy tomatoes he has in a bowl. We drop in a bit of salt to extract the water, then give them a seeing to with Mr. Buzzy. The slurry goes into a cheesecloth, and this drains for a couple of hours into a basin, providing the nice clear water that holds the essence of the tomato.
Now, for the sake of getting this class over in an hour, he’s got some water already drawn on the side, but we did go through the steps.
Then we take the water and set it into a jelly with some gelatin leaves. These just get dropped into the tomato water after a short minute’s soak in water. Then it’s pour off into molds and it’ll come together on its own.
Meanwhile we’ve had the feta marinating in some good extra virgin olive oil. This gets a whipping in the blender in order to lighten it up a little bit.
The watermelon (seedless preferred, but I won’t have that option) is cut carefully into even cubes, and a drop of rose water is introduced to sweeten and add aroma. But just a drop. Geoff’s comment here is that the “dish is an exercise in restraint”. A dash of black pepper, and a bit of lemon to cut through the sweetness we’d just brought up.
He’s in favour of sunflower shoots. They give a nutty flavour to the mix. And some shredded mint to set off your palate.
Construction begins with the melon cubes and some nice big Spanish olives on the bottom; the feta as a medallion on top of this; the sunflower shoots and mint; and then the wobble of the jelly on top of everything.
Now that took a little bit, but that’s what you’d expect to see in the restaurant. If, however, you just wanted something to pass a sunny afternoon on the patio, you could just as easily drop a wedge of watermelon, some greens, tomato, lemon, and feta on a plate and dig in. Which is just what he does, and then has the dishes passed around for contrast.
Next up, Blue Water Barramundi with gingered wong bok, lup cheong, and shiitake.
Now with this, Geoff waxes a bit on the pleasures of Oz. A big part of this, for a cook, is the spread from North to South of the country. You can find just about anything if you look about, given the range of climates. And in Melbourne you have the added extra of seasonal dining, as the region there goes through a definite Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter cycle. This range has driven a lot of the upsurge in cuisine that’s taken place in Australia for the last fifteen or so years.
The Barramundi is a fish from the North, found from Cairns to Darwin. Like the salmon it runs into the estuaries from the sea, and like the salmon it’s relatively high in fat. For his money, he’d rather have the sea-caught Barramundi, as the muscle texture is better before they go into the rivers to spawn (hmmm, a similar description of myself before and after marriage).
In preparation, he had a nice method. He flensed the skin away, keeping it whole, then cut the fish down lengthwise into tenderloin like pieces. Then he stacked the three of these on top of the skin and rolled it back up in its own skin. Get a bit of string, and presto you’ve got “fish in bondage”.
Okay, if I was a fish, I’d be reading this open-mouthed in horror. But the result is very neat (in the tidy sense). You end up with a roll or maki of fish, which can be evenly portioned out in the kitchen, avoiding the problem of who gets the end piece. This would be a neat approach to take with a salmon, and I’ll have to try this when I get back to Vancouver (I avoid experimenting too much here with my limited supply).
Cut this into steaks, and marinate overnight in soy, white pepper, and sugar in order to get it to bind together better. The sugar will help it caramelize when the cooking comes.
So, that’s already been done for the one we’re going to work with. We get some ginger infused oil heated up in the wok, and slide the fish into the hot oil for five minutes and then remove. There’s no flour involved to suck up the oil, so the result won’t be greasy at all.
Now we direct ourselves to the stir fry. In another wok, use a touch of the oil from the fish, and work up some Chinese pork & liver sausage (lup cheong - the one that’s a little sweet); some Chinese cabbage (wom bok) rolled out and cut into bite sized pieces; and some of the dried and reconstituted shiitakes to give that chewy flavour. Toss in some ginger, and add some sugar to the outside of the wok to caramelize and burn slightly to give a nice glaze. Add in the chicken stock, and you’re there.
To put it together, make a bed of the cabbage and sausage and nestle the fish on that. Top the fish off with a nice beret of a shiitake, and then spoon the sauce out around the base.
And so we come to the larcenous beauty of dessert. Turkish delight and rose petal ice cream with pomegranate seeds and Persian fairy floss.
Did I mention Geoff’s predatory nature?
One of the Middle Eastern inspired elements that Geoff finds particularly inspiring is the use of flowers in cooking. Roses in particularl. Melbourne is a city of roses. They’re everywhere. In particular, they are to be found all around his restaurant. One the things he tasks his staff with on a daily basis is to “harvest” the odd rose as they come to work. Somewhat akin to locusts scouring the countryside.
So, we’ll be doing some things with rose petals.
Likewise, Khun Tatiya’s Turkish Delight is another attractive element for him, with it’s softness and strong forward fruit flavours.
We start with a custard base for the ice cream custard base (egg, sugar, cream/milk). The milk and cream is brought to the boil with a bit of sugar to retard the boil and stop burning on the bottom, and then the egg yolks are whisked in. We cook it until ti passes the spoon test, where you can blow on it and see the ripples and waves form. We let that cool off over an ice bath, then mixed in a little rose water. “Put a good lug of it in there”.
That’s the hard way. The easy way would’ve been to buy some vanilla ice cream and let it soften, then fold in the different flavours we want to develop.
The Turkish delight is diced, and the pomegranate is gently opened, and the little jewels are carefully extracted and isolated (careful as otherwise you’ll be wearing pomegranate red for a long, long time). This goes into the ice cream.
He then pulls out the most beautiful thing. Persian fairy floss. It’s like cotton candy, only a lot better. There’s no tackiness to it, and while cotton candy always looks so much like a bad hair day, this looks like the sort of thing you just want to reach out and stroke.
Geoff constructs it as a tower. The base is a bit of diced candied ginger. The ice cream with it’s pomegranate glints and the chunks from the Turkish giving it form comes next, and then the fairy floss giving it that hydrogen peroxide blonde look. Some rose petals fall around the outside, and damn it looks good.
The dishes do the rounds as they pour the Penfold Bin 2 Shiraz – Mouvedre. This is a little bit much for the salad, but on the other hand it tastes really good, so I won’t complain. And the Koonunga Hill Chardonnay from Penfolds is actually the one I’d rather have with the salad. The shiraz-mouvedre works well alongside the heaviness of the fish, which does have a very good, very rich flavour to it.
But the dessert is the fun part. I have to try and source some of that candy floss. I looked later around the Arab district on Soi 3 and 5 of Sukhumvit, but didn’t have any luck. Mind you, that area is much more Arab than Persian, so I’m not too surprised. It has no tackiness at all when you touch it, but the taste is a sublime melt of sugars on your tongue.
But, this wrapped up lunch. Time for a swim, and then the Gala.
Posted 06 October 2006 - 04:07 PM
All this time, I've just been glad you didn't have any pictures to make me feel worse for missing this. And now you post pictures!
He then pulls out the most beautiful thing. Persian fairy floss. It’s like cotton candy, only a lot better. There’s no tackiness to it, and while cotton candy always looks so much like a bad hair day, this looks like the sort of thing you just want to reach out and stroke.
Geoff constructs it as a tower. The base is a bit of diced candied ginger. The ice cream with it’s pomegranate glints and the chunks from the Turkish giving it form comes next, and then the fairy floss giving it that hydrogen peroxide blonde look. Some rose petals fall around the outside, and damn it looks good.
That Persian fairy floss looks a lot like the sugar stuff used in Roti Sai Mai (I think that's the name)--have you ever had it? If you go to the food floor at the Emporium one of the stalls sometimes has it. It's like cotton candy (but with better flavour) rolled in thin pancakes.
I think I'd love that dessert--I'm a sucker for anything with cotton candy!
Edited to add: I just did a search and according to one site, roti sai mai has Islamic origins, so I guess the Persian floss and sai mai must be related!
Edited by prasantrin, 06 October 2006 - 04:10 PM.
Posted 06 October 2006 - 08:57 PM
Thanks for the info on the Emporium. I always get in there a few times, so I'll go hunting when I'm through in a couple of weeks.
I haven't had roti sai mai, but it would make sense that there'd be some influence, as there've been a number of Persian families in Thailand for some time.
Next comes the Gala.
Posted 12 October 2006 - 08:42 AM
Ruth Van Waerebeek-Gonzalez, Sarah Schafer, Marco Talamini, Michael Ginor
Fanitnel Vino Spumente Extra Dry Prosecco N.V., Spilimbergo, Italy
Caviar Parfait, Crispy Potato Cake, Osetra Caviar
Forrest Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2005, Marlborough, New Zealand
De Bortoli Sero Chardonnay Pinot Griggio 2005, King Valley, Australia
Scallop Sashimi with Watermelon
Yuzu, Coriander, Nam Phrik Num Dressing and Pickled Watermelon Rind
Rosemount Estate ‘Show Reserve’ Chardonnay 2005, Hunter Valley, Australia
Robert Skalli, Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, France
Sea Urchin Egg Cup
Ravioli de Bar au Basilic Thai, Condiment Poivron Citronnelle, Bouillon de Coquillage
Sea Bass Ravioli Flavoured with Thai Basil, Capsicum Lemongrass Condiment, Shellfish Broth
Roasted Eye Fillet of Hopkins River Natural Beef
With Naked Ravioli of Gorgonzola Blue and Silver Beet, a Beefy Broth
Concha Y Toro Trio Merlot Carmenere Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Chile
Penfolds RWT Shiraz 2002, Barossa Valley, Australia
Lamb Tagine with Eggplants, Olives and Lemon Confit
Gingerbread with Apple Marmalade and Cider Sabayon
Laphroaig Single Islay Malt Scotch Whiskey
Illy Coffeee and Decaffeinated Coffee or Tea from Dilmah’s ‘T’ Collection
12 Hours Baked Apple with Galangal, Lemongrass Cream
Chocolate Crumble and Manjari Ice Cream
Valrhona Petits Fours & Valrhona Special Good Night Box
I always enjoy the Gala.
Everything just looks so good. The crowd is decked out in their tuxedos and evening gowns. And it’s a different crowd, in part. Just as there’s a very regular lunch crowd (who’s company I adore) there’s a slightly different group that come for the dinners, and then there’s a very different crowd who come for the Gala.
In part it’s that the Gala is an ‘event’, with its associated charity auction for Princess Soamsowali’s charity, “Save a Child’s Life from AIDS Project” (in conjunction with the Thai Red Cross). As such, a certain amount of society that might not be as enamoured with the chefs themselves does come to take part.
But the chefs themselves are a big draw. As the formats for the WGF have changed over the last couple of years, focusing now on individual dinners by the chefs, the Gala remains as the opportunity to sample a large number of them in one go. Likewise, you can look for some interesting things as by this time they’ve been working around each other in the kitchens for several days, and a bit of synergy can come to play.
So, I was wound up. I smiled my way quickly into the foyer of the Ballroom, minimizing my exposure to the charming humidity of the external passageway, snagged a glass of the Prosecco, admired the light fizz that accumulated on the surface, and worked my way to my favourite spot of years for now, right under one of the air conditioning vents. I sniped at the canapés, but cannot say that anything was particularly memorable.
We entered a room of red. Red drapes, red tables clothes…okay, the flowers were more of a magenta, but the overall effect was pretty red.
M and her grand uncle and grand aunt joined me on my right, and a very pleasant trio sat down to my left. The elder of the three is in property development, and the younger couple (husband and wife) are in television production. Given that she cuts with Final Cut Pro we had lots to talk about, beyond just our common interest in eating.
Our first dish was a reprise of Michael Mina’s caviar parfait from the dinner on the 12th. Again, a very mouth friendly way to begin, with a briskness of salt there to justify another swig of the Fantinel Spumente. They’d poured the Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinot Gridio, but I liked the bubbly acidity of the Italian with the caviar.
Then Peter Gordon’s scallop sashimi arrived. I regretted that I’d had to miss his dinner, but it’s not physically possible to hit all the chefs and their classes, and with the last minute shuffling of schedules, he’d unfortunately fallen by the wayside. I enjoyed this dish, but I’m easily amused by scallops. However, the pickled watermelon rind worked very nicely, and wasn’t something I’d have ever thought of (which we shouldn’t be surprised at).
With this I thought the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was the better match, just a bit soft on the palate. The De Bortoli was nice enough, too, and I saw no reason not to drink that as well. I gave the matter some thought, and decided it would be best to conduct further comparisons. The waitress came by with the bottles just as I thought of this.
Yoshii’s egg is just plain pretty. I’ve had dishes like this, Nicolas Joanny’s beautiful amuse bouche from our dinner the year before coming to mind, the baby’s diarrhea texture of uni, and that marvelous taste chasing about my mouth with the egg. As for the edible gold leaf, well, it’s a noble thought (sorry for that).
William’s dish was softly elegant. The shellfish broth held its bubbles and delivered a taste that took me back to my youth (which is a long way to travel) gather shellfish on the beach and starting a fire, the clams, oysters and cockles popping open with the heat. The ravioli itself came over very well, the French methods taming the basil a tad so that the flavour of the bass still came through.
They’d brought the Rosemount Chardonnay. As I’d mentioned at Yoshii’s dinner, I’m fond of the Hunter Valley, and of chardonnays. I admire their edge. And this was a very nice chardonnay. I called for more. Meanwhile, I checked the nose on the Robert Skalli, but it needed a little time. And I wasn’t quite ready for the red yet.
Next, a nice bit of beef, with some broth in a tea cup on the side.
This was Geoff Lindsay’s work. I searched for any of the Turkish delight, but it wasn’t to be found in this dish, at least. The naked ravioli was cute, the little ball of gorgonzola and beet glistening beside the meat. The meat itself was just right for me, with a good texture and background flavour to go with the quartet of sauces and the greens. The broth made a nice finish to each bite, tipped back between chews and swigs of wine.
And now I’d turned on the French Cab Sauvignon from Skalli. It was nice enough, but by now I also had the Concha y Toro Trio and the Penfolds Shiraz on the table, and this was tough competition. Of the three, I found myself leaning towards the Trio. Then I shook myself and straightened up for another bite.
I gave the comparison of the three some thought, and then asked the waitress to pour me some more of the Rosemount Chardonnay while she was there.
Fatema’s tagine came out next, a very pleasant presentation. I can’t but think of burlesque accouterments anytime I see a tagine.
The meat was disappointing in appearance only. The tagine provides an excellent method for long cooking, self-basting the dish as the moisture condenses in the cone and falls back down. It imparted a slightly drawn appearance, but biting in the lamb came apart in that way that just starts you drooling.
The dish was very salty, and that came from the olives that were used. For myself, I loved the flavour, but I could be content to sit around a saltlick with the cattle for a few hours.
By now I’d rieved my way through the reds, and had called the waitress back for another comparison. The Trio was definitely coming out as my preferred wine, the mix of Merlot, Carmenere, and Cabernet Sauvignon giving a good balance in accompaniment with the meat dishes that I’d been working over. Every now and then I’d come back for a touch of the Rosemount, just to even things out, you understand.
The auction then came up, and things went very well this year. They went so well that I was completely blocked out for once. No stupid Mercedes road trip for me. I wouldn’t be hosting my friends to dinner in the Ratchadamri Suite, and I wouldn’t be flying Yoonhi out to the Shanghai or Hong Kong or anywhere. The good side of this is that they did raise a fair bit of cash for the charity, so I don’t feel too bad (but that magnum of Grange would’ve been a nice thing to bring out and ask about corkage…..)
Emily’s gingerbread was quite pretty, and I mourned the lack of a dessert wine to set off against this.
The whiskey was a bit of a mystery. I like Laphroaig, mind you, but it’s a very strong flavour, with that “Look, Jimmy, why don’t we just toss a handful of peat into the glass” taste about it. This in comparison to the Macallan, which is very smooth (although I’ll still swear fealty to Dalwhinnie as an icon of gentleness).
By this point I was gregariously teetering from table to table, and returned to find that I’d almost lost my petits fours and the “good night box”. I hastily had them brought back, and took a bit of coffee to stabilize myself.
Then I figured it’d be best if I took a bit more of the Rosemount to counter the evil effects of the Laphroaig.
With my glass topped up with the Chardonnay, it occurred to me that I’d best not go too much in one direction, and so had them top up the whiskey as well.
I seem to remember getting to my room and thinking that this was the most admirable of nights.
What did I like? Is there anything I didn’t like? No, I could find good in everything I ate. The caviar parfait would have had more wow for me if I hadn’t had it just a couple of days before. But it had more caviar on it tonight, and delivered that combination of salt and starch that works so well.
The scallops stand out for the innovative use of the watermelon rind, and Yoshii’s egg was just so damned pretty.
Ledeuil’s ravioli was something to linger over….maybe I actually liked the broth more than the ravioli. And Geoff’s beef was a manly interjection in the course of the dishes.
Fatema’s lamb pulled apart just right for me, and the salts awakened my thirst for wine….although I don’t recall that thirst going particularly dormant at any point.
And Emily and Vincent’s desserts were both excellent, and I’m not a dessert person.
And, as a big bonus, I made it back to my room without hurting myself.
And was that a tumbler of Laphroaig I found tidily covered beside my computer the next morning?
Posted 16 October 2006 - 09:11 AM
No, I’m not sidelining in a dominatrix course. This is Emily Luchetti, the pastry chef for Farallon.
And people wonder why I’m intimidated by pastry chefs.
Lunch with Emily Luchetti
San Francisco, USA
Note that the term is intimidated. Not really afraid, but I’m always put off by the precision of pastry. So many grams of this, so much of that. As I tend to work in handfuls, tads, and a slightly drunken topping off, precision can leave me in its wake.
This has always been the great schizophrenia of the kitchen. As Cyrus Toddiwalla was saying last year, chefs go to one side of the kitchen, or the other. When he was at culinary school, it was common for the savory chefs to bribe the pastry chefs to help them through (but there was no word of it being required in the other direction).
Still, even though I’m most likely going to continue to abdicate all baking duties (and, come to think of it, the bulk of all duties, beyond the standing around and directing and occasionally stirring parts…oh, and the eating) to my better half, this is an opportunity for an education.
And I’m always in need of an education.
With Moscato d’Asti Sabayon
With Coconut Ice Cream
Milk Chocolate Towers
Ms. Luchetti had started off on the greasy side of the kitchen, training and working in New York, taking a year in France, and then in 1984 joining up with Stars Restaurant in 1984, still working on the savory side.
But in 1987 she found her calling in pastries, and hasn’t looked back. As she says “now, at the end of the day, I smell like chocolate and strawberries rather than garlic and shrimp”.
In 1997 she moved over to Farallon, and has been there ever since.
Checking her credentials on the web, beyond her series of books, her numerous awards, and her recipes in the national press, she’s also been a spokesperson for Northwest Cherries, the Butter Board, and the Sugar Association.
How can you not admire a woman like this?
And she does try to put us at ease about baking. It is a case of following instructions, with a little bit of freedom allowed (if we behave).
The recipes for the desserts can be found in Emily’s books, and she’s given Chubby Hubby (www.chubbyhubby.net) permission to reprint them on his site, so I’ll stick to my format and just talk about what we were doing.
First up was the walnut cake. And the first thing to do there is to toast the nuts to help bring out the flavour. For this, use the oven. You can toast them in a pan, but you’re not going to get the even distribution of heat you’ll get from an oven.
Then in go the eggs and the sugar, whisking to a thick, ribbony texture. Once this is achieved, the walnuts are folded in, and the lightly pulsed to mix. Bring together the flour and some espresso powder, and at least part of the equation is under control.
In a clean bowl, she whips the egg whites.
As a note on storage, unless your cake has a mousse or cream filling, don’t keep it in the fridge. Fridges have a succubus-like ability to suck the moisture out of anything they can get at, leaving just a dried out husk to show for your efforts. (There’s a Stephen King story in there somewhere).
Then its time to fold the eggwhites in. Lighter on top of heavier, and avoiding too much, so as not to deflate. The first mix is aggressive, and then she gets gentler.
We then run into the usual Mars probe confusion regarding units. 180 on the C, or 350 on the F. The batch will bake until you can do the skewer test, passing a small one into the cake and extracting it clean.
And so we turn to the zabayon, or in Italian, zabaglione, originating in the province of Reggio Emilia’s, and having crossed several borders since that time. The traditional Italian would be made with a sweet Marsala and taken warm over strawberries or figs.
Last night, at the Gala, over gingerbread, Emily did hers with a combination of cider, Grand Marnier, and calvados. If cider hadn’t been available, she figured she could’ve made do with apple juice and more liqueur or wine.
This of course got us going on the idea of substitutes, and it was generally agreed that we all liked champagne. It probably didn’t matter what we did with it, as long as it had champagne.
As a side note, when I was in KL later I noticed that the Ritz-Carlton was doing a Moet et Chandon Moon Cake. I should’ve bought one and tried it, as I even now have trouble wrapping my mind around that combination.
Emily then set up her bain marie, appropriating a metal bowl. Always use metal. Glass holds the heat, whereas steel will conduct away quicker. However, we then had an amicable tirade against these dumb bowls that have flat bottoms. The whole purpose of a bowl is to provide the proper shape for mixing, whipping, and doing other exciting things. Put a flat bottom on it to accommodate countertops, and you no longer have such a surface.
She worked over the zabayon, and we returned to the topic of champagne. It’d go quicker, and give you a really, really nice bubbly aspect to the custard (really, this is just a light custard).
We plopped the whole thing into an ice bath to bring the temperature down, and thought about how good this would be layered in a trifle. Maybe a pear Riesling trifle, with the pears baked down to bring up the caramel….(this is Emily thinking here…I stopped thinking years ago).
And then we fold in some pre-whisked cream (soft peaks), set a wedge of the walnut cake onto a plate, pour over the zabayon, and voila! You’re hungry again.
Next we were going to make little tiny ice cream sandwiches. For this we needed
1. to get the meringue chewy
2. call it coffee meringues instead of little, chewy ice cream sandwiches (although I like that name a lot better).
Emily is a big fan of home cooking (as am I, but I have no choice). You cook in a restaurant, and everything is controlled and done under pressure. At home you can be more relaxed. You’re in a good mood, Your guests are in a good mood. And the food just tastes better in these conditions.
Emily meanwhile was drawing out circles on parchment paper to set out her targets, then flipping the paper over to avoid anything getting on the meringues.
Now, like me, she really likes to eat ice cream. And her newest book has a lot to do with ice cream, and things you can do with it in the making. Take some fresh mint and infuse it in the milk. Bananas. Coconut. My evil mind turns to such things as pomegranate, mango, squid and tobacco ice cream.…..
I snap myself back into focus and pay attention again. I take a moment to wipe away the drool.
Here (Bangkok, that is) she couldn’t get cream, of all things, so she just used more milk, and added some toasted coconut. Lots of toasted coconut, and some kosher salt, ‘cause once you freeze things, the flavours are muted. So you better make sure your flavours are over the top to begin.
Using kosher salt for this avoids the iodine taste of many salts, and its not too “salty” a salt, so this works well to bring out the coconut flavour.
Emily’s talking a bit about Farallon, the restaurant, named for the marine sanctuary off the coast of California. 75% of the menu is seafood. But 100% of Emily’s world is desserts.
She’s had a number of excellent books, all about desserts. The first was Star Desserts (1993), followed by Four Star Desserts (1996). These are out of print, but are soon to have selections republished as Classic Stars, a book that’ll see light in the Spring (Amazon is taking pre-orders now). She did her part for The Farallon Cookbook (2001), and then she brought out A Passion For Desserts (2003), and then A Passion For Ice Cream (2006). This recipe is from the ice cream book……All that passion….. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the whips and paddles.
Be firm when thickening the egg whites. And be assured when you put them into the piping bag.
And you should use a piping bag; your results will be more even.
She dabbed the corners of the parchment down with bits of the meringue.
And don’t overfill the bag. You want only enough so that you can make a solid pull down, jerking it up to get a clean edge. Slowly (but not too slowly) she showed us the method, spiraling the meringue out onto the marked parchment.
From here the meringue could go into either the oven or the freezer. Its normally too humid out for meringues to do well, but given that life in Bangkok is like being in a 24 hour steambath, it becomes somewhat crucial to get these under cover before they deflate. Best to get them cooking right away.
The recipe called for the ice cream to be softened slightly, and then placed between the meringues and refrozen. This would then be topped with a cocoa sauce. But she changed her mind on this and went for a raspberry sauce. This requires some self-constraint, as it would be easy for the raspberry to dominate.
Emily took a breather, and lectured us on the use of whips and paddles. When you want to whip something, you want to increase the volume. That’s the time for a whisk or whip. If you’d rather mix things, that’s the time for a paddle. Beating, creaming. But sometimes it’s a personal preference.
Moving on from this highlight, we come to the milk chocolate towers.
We’re going to get our share of chocolate today.
The basis for this is the ubiquitous chocolate cake. You can use it anywhere. It can be a cake, it can be a brownie. You use this as a base for lots of stuff. This fits with the underlying common sense of a good chef. Find something that works, and reuse the idea.
She mixes the butter and sugar first and then the eggs one at a time. You could alternately add wet and dry with some serious spatula action. This’ll give you a great texture.
The mixing is done at low speed, to avoid it hardening up. And we were warned about the KitchenAid “bump” catching the butter.
Okay, I couldn’t help myself. Rereading this I had to go into the kitchen and look at our Kitchen Aid. Sure enough, there’s a bump. But it’s designed to counter the offset of the attachment, so it makes sense once you look at the design.
The mousse is also a simple thing. You just have to watch that you don’t overwhip the cream, or get the chocolate to seize and get “chippy”. Here she uses water to avoid seizing, but coffee, orange juice, or - better yet - rum could do the trick (I like Emily more and more all the time).
And once the chocolate is melted, you don’t want it too hot, otherwise it’ll affect the cream, which you’re going to use to cut the richness of the chocolate. You want the cream to be on the soft, dollopy side. If you go too far on this, then you can save it by folding in some unwhipped cream.
All of this goes to the rule that texture is going to matter more in desserts than elsewhere. The mouth is going to register things before the brain does.
To get the shape right, she rolled up a tube of parchment paper, and then hadded in the cream and chocolate, working in small amounts due to the temperature differentials.
This’ll take around 4 or 5 hours to set, but you can speed things along by putting the molds in the freezer ahead of time. You can also play with different angles by tilting the molds, and achieve
some neat effects.
For the top of the cake, we mix in some rum with the cream (alright!), to give an edge to it. Put it on the top, and push down a little (but be careful). And then top with almonds.
This led us into a small discussion on chocolate.
For melting chocolate, the “medallions” that Valrhona is marketing are great. They melt quickly and evenly. On the downside, her hubby hunts them down and eats them, so there’s a certain need for hiding skills.
And, while it’s very good chocolate, Valrhona isn’t the be all and end all. Like wine, there are a lot of different brands, each tasting slightly different, and with different purposes. And, like wine, just because something’s cheap, doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s just means you need to find its proper use.
Lunch was a pleasant combination of a green salad with generous shavings of parmesan over the greens and corn, and a nice, crispy piece of bacon with a brioche on the side. My only regret was the lack of a wine.
This was followed by a respectable piece of fish; sea bass, I believe. Quite serviceable, but I was now ready to kill for a glass of the Rosemount Reserve.
My concern dissipated like everclear in the hot sun. They brought out the Grand Marnier to go with the desserts, and I snatched everything my working friends weren’t indulging in.
I like Grand Marnier now that I’ve learned the simple logic of dropping in an ice cube. It will remove all the high end volatiles, and allow you to wallow in the orange-iness of the thing.
And, of course, there were the desserts themselves.
The walnut cake came across a little dry and crumbly, which is just the right match for the zabayon that accompanied it. The meringue was, indeed, a little bit chewy as desired, and the raspberry was enough to highlight the dish rather than bury it.
And the chocolate tower, with a bit of GM to offset it, was bordering on existential.
Not a bad lunch at all.
After the class I stopped by the lobby to see the chocolate display that was put on for the Afternoon Tea.
Valrhona had brought in a complete line of examples from the Philippines for this. They had the original pods.
There were the fermented products, and there was the cocoa in different stages.
The Scharfenberg rep had brought out some small samples back in 2003, but this was way more over the top. It makes quite an impression getting a table of the fermenting pods out there for you to get your nose over (and I need more room for my nose anyways).
They’d also brought out different samples from different countries, to give an idea of the range of flavours.
I’d been lusting after cocoa buds for awhile, and Emily was there to take me over to where they’d done some tuiles with these imbedded in for texture.
Then she proceeded to torture me with tales of how Michael Ginor was doing chocolate tuiles around a foie gras center.
However, as I was on my knees at this point, she then elevated me by offering to bring me some of the buds from the kitchen. “We’ve got bags of stuff”.
So, in the lobby of the Four Seasons the deal went down. Quietly she passed me the baggy, and I slid it inside my coat. With a quiet nod we’d conducted our business. Security none the wiser.
Okay, I did stop for a photo and to get my menu signed, so maybe it wasn’t that surreptitious.
I’m going to try these in a mole with a good turkey. I can taste it now…….
Posted 19 October 2006 - 03:08 AM
September 15, 2006
Ruth Van Waerebeek-Gonzalez
Concha y Toro
Concha y Toro Frontera Chardonnay 2005
Chilean Seafood Tasting
Ceviche of Flash-Cooked White Fish, Shrimp and Calamari in Lime Juice
And Celery Caribbean-Style
Tuna Ceviche in Spicy Coconut Milk and Pomelo Mini Corn Cakes and Avocado Mash
Concha y Toro, Caillero del Diablo, Chardonnay 2004
Airy Mousse of Scallops and Salmon
With a Hint of Ginger, Crisp Vegetables and Tamari Beurre Blanc
Concha y Toro Trio, Merlot, Camenere, Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
The Traditional Chilean Emanaditas
Fried Turnovers with Mixed Seafood, Chorizo and Olive Filling
Pungent Green Herb Salsa
Concha y Toro Tio, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc 2005
Spring Lamb Casserole with Tomatoes, Sweet Spices and Trio Merlot Jus
Tangerine Rosemary Adobo
Crisp Baked Polenta, Bitter Green and Aged Goat Chesse Shavings
Concha y Toro, Marques de Casa Concha, Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
Frozen Chilean Sweet Rice and Milk Pudding
Over a Spiced Red Berry Soup with Trio Merlot Wine
This was a tough meal.
I’m not saying anything here about the food, but rather where I found myself in my week.
You see, once the Gala is done, there’s almost a feeling of gasping for breath. I was timed to go out on a solid note on Saturday, but here it was Friday, and I was feeling somewhat adrift.
Likewise, there were things to be done, and they were catching up to me. I’d been out at the Food Ingredients Asia convention (I’m a junky, I admit it), and even though I’d had a swim, I was still feeling a little bit stressed.
Luckily, that feeling lasted for all of about two minutes, and I was hailed down by some of my friends in the lobby who were waiting on a different meal.
A glass of the Frontera, cold and clear to cut the sweat already beading my brow (it doesn’t take much), and some good conversation, and we’re joined by friend M. I was dining with her and her uncle’s party, which was going to make for good conversation.
Ruth Van Waerebeek-Gonzalez (I’m going to Ruth at this point, and forgive my false familiarity, it’s just my fingers are getting tired) was one of the chef’s that caught my eye early on. First, she’s Belgian, and has, in addition to her Chilean Kitchen book another on Belgian cooking, Everyon Eats Well in Belgium. Now, having spent a long weekend in Brussels, and never having anything go past my lips that wasn’t excellent, that’s a title I can agree with. I think it’s genetically impossible for the Belgians to cook poorly.
And Ruth has been around. Born in Ghent, she attached herself to a yacht in her 20’s and sailed just about everywhere, earning her keep by taking up cooking stints at ports of call en route.
Then she went back to Belgium for a bit of work, but couldn’t keep herself in one place, so was back across the Atlantic to the West Indies and the US.
In New York she settled in long enough to establish a reputation not only as a chef, but as a teacher and as a proponent of the Nuevo Latino movement.
For some reason, talented, good looking, intelligent women who can cook wonderfully don’t seem to stay single. I wonder why that is? Ruth married a Chilean and was off to the Southern half of the Americas, taking up residence in Chile’s central valley. And you can’t very well be in Chile without coming in contact with Concha y Toro, so…..by 2000 she was established as their official chef for corporate events. Good choice.
Our setting tonight was back in Shintaro, but at the tables now. M’s family had the room at the back, and several of the other tables as well. I took one of the external tables, and settled into a long food chat with R, part of the family from Djakarta.
In the State’s I’d long ago realized that sports was the great leveler. Two guys form completely different places and backgrounds can sit down and comfortably discuss the proper use of linebacks, first basemen, and steroids. Abroad, I’m finding it’s food. Okay, maybe I’m being a little disingenuous here, seeing as I’m at a food festival, but I’ve had great times with the widest range of people without once having to try and figure out the meaning of “off side” or “leg before wicket”.
Our first dish was a duet of ceviches. Rodriguez had worked me into a lather over ceviches way back in at the WGF5, and I was interested in seeing if there
could be a new take.
The fish was alright, but not strikingly different. Nothing wrong, mind you. The squid and prawn came through pleasantly enough, and the pomelo corn cakes were the right touch to clear the caustic from the back of my teeth.
The tuna was perhaps a little heavy on the coconut milk, and I can’t say that I noticed a particular spiciness.
Along with the pomelo corn cakes (actually a really nice combination) the avocado mash mellowed the mouth enough to appreciate the Devil’s Cellar Chardonnay. The name came from the old guy’s trick of scaring the help away from his cellar back in the old days of Concha y Toro.
I like Concha. Have I mentioned that? They’re affordable wines for everyday drinking, and can carry foods quite well. They’ve also made me some money, as their previous presentation back in WGF5 concentrated much more on branding and marketing than it did on the soil and grapes. Okay, call me a callous capitalist, but I like it when people can cut past the fancy jargon and show that they realize that this is a business.
And I liked the wines, too, so there. Like Emily Luchetti said, "wines don't have to be expensive to be good."
Next was the airy mousee of scallops and salmon. Okay, and there were some interesting flavours in the sauces around the side. R was so-so on this dish, but I found there were things in there that I liked. And, as at the Gala, the Trio of merlot, Carmenere, and Cab blended well with the ginger and salmon flavours. My only misgiving was that the scallops were buried.
Ah, the empenada! Or a Chilean empanaditas. Call it a Cornish pasty, or a Russian perogui, or get back to Spanish ground anywhere from Mexico to the Philippines and it’s an empanada (or a little empanadita like this one) again.
I’m a sucker for these, I admit it. And the olives in the stuffing helped. Cut into three, dabbed up a bit of the salsa to set off the seafood and sausage inside, and then look at my friends’ plates with that “You going to eat that?”-Richard Dahlmer look. (It didn’t work).
I suppose it’s a good thing they don’t do seconds on the food. I’m not handy enough to let out my clothes on the spot.
I wonder if I could get my taylor to do tuxedo pants with a stretch band waist?
This was with another Trio, but of Cab, Shiraz, and Cab Franc. Nice, a little more forward on the palate. It felt a little disconnected from the dish, but I figured I might change my mind after another glass or three.
And so to the casserole. Casserole, stew, slow cook….what’s in a name? I hear casserole and I start to have nightmares about things at church buffets, but that’s I trauma I try to put behind me. This was good, but the lamb was just there. The polenta, however, was great, having taken up the juices from the meat and adobo marinade. The tangerine peels gave a nice contrast, as well, as did the goat cheese. The Marques de Casa Concha – their higher branding – gave a good finish as I liberal swirled it about in my cheeks between bites of the polenta.
And dessert, the rice pudding, disappeared as R and M and I yacked over what was the next best thing to eat (we’d already covered the bests). I tried a bit of the Trio Merlot to see if I could pick out the flavour in the pudding, and caught a glimmer of it.
A nice meal, enhanced by the company, definitely. The ceviches were good, but nothing that really shook me up. The mousse benefited from the wine, working well as a complete package.
The empanadita qualifies as comfort food, and so is above criticism. You like these or you don’t. I like them. The lamb wasn’t my favourite, but if you consider it purely as an ingredient in producing really, really good polenta, then it was very nice, particularly with the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Llike I said, a nice meal. What I also appreciate is the coupling of a house chef with the wines. Ruth has had a long time to study the flavours in Concha’s products, and her decisions on what to produce in the kitchen are driven around the wines, rather than having to work on the fly.
M and I had raided the young ladies of their whiskey chits, and I joined up with the gang in the lobby for some more Macallans. She had to leave, but she made me promise to hold onto some of the chits for her for the next night.
I was actually fairly well behaved, and I will swear in court that I have no idea where those whiskey chits went. But then it struck me that it was Doug Harrison’s 20th anniversary of Bourbon Street over in Washington Square, and that I should wander by for a drink or two.
But that’s another story.
Posted 19 October 2006 - 04:32 AM
"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"
eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea
The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos
Posted 19 October 2006 - 05:56 AM
I appeared to have spent a little more than “a few minutes having a drink” with Doug Harrison the night before at Bourbon Street.
There was a mess that I suspected was mostly my clothing strewn about the room, and an insistent clamouring coming from my phone. Why did I want to put an alarm on the thing in the first place?
I shambled out of bed, confirmed that it was still morning and I had time for a swim, if not coffee and breakfast, took a shot of the Laphroaig, and, feeling much better now, went to hose myself off.
My last cooking class. And this one with the very well respected William Ledeuil from Zee Kitchen in Paris. Part of the latest wave of French fusion that has made the bistro scene in Paris so exciting (I’d like to say this century, but the bistro scene is always exciting).
Fusion. Is that a dirty word? It’s maligned often enough, but I’m noticing that it’s made a comeback this WGF. Ruth Van Waerebeek-Gonzalez is very much about marrying classic Franco-Belgian techniques with the flavours she’s found over her yachting years. Tetsuya Wakuda and Yoshii are looking for the right tastes and textures, regardless of where they originated. Michael Mina, an Egyptian by birth, is cooking anything that’s good, and making it look beautiful in the doing. The Australians – represented by Geoff Lindsay – are the most muscular of the crowd, unabashedly looking for what will work with what. I still remember one of my favourite meals was a flambé of crawfish in Thai spices at Casuarina in the Hunter Valley back in 1990……
So, what’s the problem? Heck, we’re in Thailand, a country that has happily taken whatever worked (tomatoes, chilis, bamboo worms) and turned it into one of my favourite cuisines in the world.
But, enough talking. Let’s get on with it.
Ze Kitchen Galerie
Beet Root and Confit Gingeer Gaspacho, Stuffed Cucumber and Salmon Roe
Sea Bass Ravioli with Capsicum Lemongrass Condiment and Shellfish Broth
Mango Cappucino, Coconut Ice Cream and Banana Papaya Emulsion
“The most important thing in the kitchen is the view…the colour”. This is a translation through Nicholas Schneller. William concentrates on cooking, not on learning English, but he had enough that it was a mix of translation and the right words for the meanings. Whatever, everybody understood what the point was.
And that point is the title for his book; Les Couleurs du Gout, the Colours of Taste. They passed around a copy, and it was a beautiful study, something I’ll have to look for when next I’m near a good bookstore.
What he’s looking for is what is fresh, what is correct for the moment. His concern isn’t in representing French cuisine, but in cooking good food, whatever cuisine it should happen to be. The framework, however, is good, solid French technique. The ingredients will change, but the method bins the milieu.
We start with the gaspacho. I’ve given the English title in the intro, but the French sounds so much better: gaspacho de betteraves gingembre confit, farci de concombre, oeufs de saumon. I mean, doesn’t that sound more fun?
We start with the gaspacho, with oil and lemongrass, sweating the citronelle (lemon grass) in the oil, both breaking down the citronelle while infusing the oil. And then the classics, oil and peppers are also sweated.
Once they’ve reached the right stage, some rice vinegar, chicken stock, and mirin. Our purpose is to bring out the bright red of the beets, while also contrasting their natural sugar with the vinegar. That will simmer for some 20 minutes to an hour, and be out of our sight.
For the cucumber, once skinned we have a beautiful, soft green colour. Balance this against the saturated colours of an avocado for the puree.
For the puree we boil some kaffir lime leaves and mix with extra virgin olive oil. Blend the avocado with lemon juice and the olive oil and kaffir lime, and then sieve it.
“Now in Paris you can find Thai ingredients. Four years ago, non.”
We turn to the confit ginger. For this we “infuse always the oil with a little garlic, and lemon grass”. Then we put in very, very thin slices of ginger, the mirin, rice vinegar, and slowly, slowly cook.
We turn back to our stuffed cucumber, cooking them slowly in olive oil, again flavoured with lemon grass.
William Ledeuil likes lemon grass.
Ah, I’ve forgotten to mention the Thermomix. This is the wonder tool of the century. Herve has one over at Le Beaulieu on Sukhumvit Soi 19, and I got a better look at it there a couple of days later.
Effectively it will measure, grind, blend, and even cook your food. It is particularly good at low heats, and addresses Ducasse’s interest in controlling temperature accurately on the low end.
Coming back to the gaspacho, we add in some prepared beet root juice. This is important to retain the colour that William is looking for.
As he says, it is not enough just to prepare the ingredients, but you must put the ingredients to the food. To see the colours and composition.
The technical is in how to obtain and retain the colours. The expression is in what you do with the ingredients once they are ready. How do you build your plate?
A spear of asaparagus is lightly cooked in – you guessed it – lemon grass oil.
“The first sense is the view, to see the colour. Two different chefs see two different dishes. “
“You cook with your emotion”.
I like that last line. Generally, when I cook, I’m two glasses of wine in and grinning like an idiot.
Maybe that's why people say my food always tastes a little funny.
A word on the chef. He’s very, very amiable. No pretension, no grand man about him. He just really, really likes his food, and wants everyone else to like their food, too. What more can you ask?
Next is the ravioli. We’d had this dish at the Gala dinner, and I’ve already ranted about how I loved the broth.
The broth was put together by taking mussel juice, really an interpretation of the classic moules mariniere, going back to his position on using classic French technique. But here he’s modified the menu from the print, and rather than shallots and white wine goes with kaffir lime leaves, lemon grass, and coconut milk, a combination that I’m fond of in Vancouver, as well. The quality of the mussels here is very important. Once the mussels are cooked in this, strain everything out, and work only with the juice. Bring the broth to a boil, and infuse with – yes – more chopped lemon grass and kaffir lime leaf. If you want this creamier, use more coconut milk. If you want it juicier, it’s up to you.
When you emulsify, put the fat to the liquid and combine to finish the broth. For this he falls back on good old Mr. Buzzy.
For the condiment, the original plan was for watercress, but this was not good in the market that day. So, change of plan. Go with pepper with basil, garlic, lemon grass, capsicum, mostada, sugar, and rice vinegar. Blend for texture.
For the ravioli, we dice the fish and season with basil, coriander, artichoke cream, some of the nori, olive oil, and celery salt.
He never cooks his herbs first, but lets them develop the flavours with the sea bass.
Once the ravioli are built, he sprinkles a little olive oil in his steamer and places the pasta in.
Allow them to cook for three minutes, and then build the plate by putting the ravioli in first, then the condiment, and then the emulsified broth.
For this dish, he prefers to serve the condiment cold. But usually, in France, if the broth is hot, then the condiment would also be hot. Here he’s looking for the contrast.
So, whereas the first dish was all about colours, here he’s looking for contrasts in texture and flavours.
And for dessert, mango cappuccino. He prefers to work with desserts like this, not doing pastries himself, leaving that to others. Give him some fresh fruit, any fruit in season can work. If he was in Paris, he would do apples now, with a ginger and prune sorbet. Strawberries in summer, with wasabi and balsamic emulsion….
In Japan he’d tried a sweet miso with wasabi.
We’re all getting kind of hungry.
Back to dessert. Dice your fruit, whatever it may be, blend, and sieve. Don’t forget to add some lemon grass.
What they call coconut ice cream is actually more of a sherbert made of coconut cream, coconut milk, and a syrup of condensed milk and corn syrup, all mixed up and frozen.
The emulsion is made from a blend of coconut juice, bananas, guava, vanilla, and sugar, all fairly thick ingredients. This is mixed in the blender with milk, cream, and mascarpone. (You just can’t go wrong with mascarpone). Add in the fruit you pulped, and look for a runny ribbony texture.
To construct, put the mango mix on the bottom, then carefully layer on the emulsion on top.
Then push the dollop of sherbert into the emulsion.
And, the most important part, add a stick of lemon grass. It’s not just there for show. With each spoon of the dessert, take a bite of the lemon grass.
With the foods done, we chat a bit more. William is a good talker.
He’d “discovered” the Thai and Vietnamese ingredients on a trip, years back, and had been very excited about what he’d tasted. When he returned to Paris he headed straight for Chinatown and started to try things with different ingredients, finding that there was more to the world than foie gras (there is?).
From there he made a very conscious effort to introduce flavours from Asia, and, as he says, he can no longer cook without them.
His idea of cooking is to be free. He’ll use the products that he likes (has anyone mentioned lemon grass?), and he sees no reason to stick by rules.
But the caution here is the difference between rules and technique. Behind his freedom of ingredients lies the solid framework of French technique. As with the graphic arts, once the initial discipline is in place, you can be emotional with your food. “Cooking is to have fun. To have good moments.”
On the side of wine he cautions the industry. He sees that wine makers are going to have to look to their products to match the new ingredients coming to Europe. The cuisines of the world are not going to change to match the wines. They are already here.
And then we all shut up, because the gaspacho is here.
It’s really, really pretty (even if somewhat Freudian).
And it tastes good too.
This is one of the first things I tried when I got back to the Middle East. The flavours worked just as well as William said. My problem lay in my impatience, not straining out the fibres of the ginger adequately. That and I always manage to make the kitchen (and myself) look like Dracula’s bloodfest whenever I do anything with beets. But that’s part of the fun (I don’t do clean-up, obviously).
The ravioli was, again, very good. It stood up well for a second tasting, but lacked the solid punch it had benefited from when it made its premier at the Galal. Instead, I could linger over the textures in the rest of the dish.
De Baroli, from the South East of Australia, had opened with a nice DB Selection Rose 2005. Rose is probably one of the biggest growing markets in Australia, being quaffed with almost everything as a friendly fit, and this was a good opening choice.
After that, with the gaspacho, they served the Sero Chardonnay Pinot Grigio 2005, and then the Sero Merlo Sangiovese 2005 with the ravioli. Both were quite serviceable, and I enjoyed the Sero Merlo enough that I called for another glass. Of course, I had to contrast this with the white, so I called for another of those, too. And how could I leave the rose out of the trinity?
My only concern was that the Noble One would’ve made such a nice match with the dessert. Where was that winemaker?….
It occurred to me that I needed to meet some friends at the Londoner. This was going to be an interesting night.
Posted 19 October 2006 - 08:15 AM
"Nobody loves pork more than a Filipino"
eGFoodblog: Adobo and Fried Chicken in Korea
The dark side... my own blog: A Box of Jalapenos
Posted 19 October 2006 - 08:22 AM
Peter - Empanada recipe pm'd to you in your inbox. Those mangoes in your picture look like carabao mangoes from my country - Philippines.
Got it! Thanks again, Goddess. I believe the mangos are the same varietal in South East Asia, slightly different from the Pakistanis we get over here.
My favourite are the Africans. We had a mango tree in our yard when we lived in Cairo. Every year we'd have to guard our tree from the local police, and for two weeks we'd have these massive, ripe mangos to hand out to our friends. I refused to sell the crop until our last year, when I realized that the grocer would put his own kids on guard to keep the police away from the tree.
One of them caved in our landlord's windscreen, but that's another story.
Posted 19 October 2006 - 10:16 PM
Chef de Cusine
La Torre di Spilimbergo
As in karate, it’s important to have a good finish.
I like Biscotti. I particularly like Biscotti when the WGF is on and there’s a talented Italian chef in residence. The room buzzes. You can feel the fun that people are having. So, there was little debate in my mind on the final meal.
It had to be Marco Talamini.
Fantinel Vino Spumante Extra Dry Spumante N.V.
Sea Bass Tartar on Warm Zucchini Cream, Tomato Caviar
Fantinel Borgo Tesis Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave, DOC, 2005
Mosaic Terrine of Octopus served with a Warm Potato and Celery Salad
Fanitnel Vigneti Sant Helena Sauvignon, Collio, DOC, 2004
Black Ink Ravioli with Vegetable Ragout, Sweet Red Capsicum Foam
Fantinel Vigneti Sant Helena Refosco Dal Peduncolo Rosso, Friuli Grave, DOC, 2003
Small Tuna Bite Wrapped in Bacon, Confit Cherry Tomatoes and Black Olives
Fantinel Vigneti Sant Helena Cabernet Sauvignon, Friuli Grave, DOC, 2000
Melon Frappe with Asino Cheese
Tiramisu Scomposto Della Torre
Fantinel Borgo Tesis Verduzzo Friuli Grave, DOC, 2005
I was prepped. I was upbeat. I was looking forward to a really good meal.
I was six beers in, having met up with my Peace Corps friends over at the Londoner and having caught up on what was happening upcountry, in their lives, and generally discussing everything else, including the availability of Beer Lao.
But, I was in a great mood. Not only was M there with her aunt, but one of my other dining friends, D, who I’d met on the first night of my first WGF four years ago.
D’s my role model. He’d had enough of a well-paying job he didn’t like, and was one of the few people I’ve met who’s smart enough to say “I’ve got enough” and get out. I hope I can be that wise (four years, eleven months, and 7 days to go).
We gossiped in the lobby for ages. Finally they had to drag us into the restaurant. Another bonus here at Biscotti is that both D and I are reasonably well know (I’ve been out drinking Beer Chang roadside with the staff in previous years), so they can anticipate when to come out and drag us to our places.
You know, this is a difficult dinner to write up.
1. I’ve already covered half the menu in Marco’s cooking class.
2. We were having so much fun eating and talking, that my notes are atrocious.
So, I’ll be brief. Out of character, I know.
The Fantinel Extra Dry was indeed extra dry. I wonder if this migh not’ve been a better wine for Yoshii’s dinner the other day. Anyways, I believe I’m already down on record for my appreciation of what the Italians are producing for sparklings.
The sea bass tartare tasted even better than before, and the zucchini cream continued to smooth out the flavours.
The pinot griogio Friuli Grave that came with the tartare was very dry, and quite appropriate, and contrasted the the Vigneti Sant Helena Sauvignon that followed, which was a very good Sauvignon.
Now, the Sauvignon came with a beautiful octopus terrine. I wish I could take a decent photo, as the presentation on this, with the circles of red and white meat of the octopus sitting with the colours of the drizzle was a thing of beauty.
However, in the flavour, something wasn’t quite right for me. I found that the octopus was lacking that little squeeze of retained brine I like, and that, with the potatoes and celery underneath, left me gasping for salt. I know, I know, it’s a horrible thing to call for salt at your table, but in this case I had to relent. That little bit perked it right up, and it was a wonderful dish.
With this we’d now brought in the Sant Helena Refosco al Peduncolo Rosso, Friuli Grave 2003, which made a marked impression on D. His comment was “this is a serious wine”. Myself, I thought it tasted quite good, too. The nose was very nice, and got better and better. I would keep it at the side after the octopus, and just breathe it in from time to time. Not as full as a a good Barollo that’s been open for awhile, mind you, but also nowhere near the cost. This is a wine I may be when I'm back in October.
Then another striking dish. The ink ravioli stuffed with a vegetable ragout and surrounded in a sea of red bell pepper foam - although the colour comes out as orange, it’s still pretty.
In three bites they disappeared. The ravioli themselves, with only the ragout for stuffing, were helped a lot by the texture and taste of the foam.
And then our now-familiar tuna bites from the class. Wrapped in pig fat, how could you go wrong?
The Sant Helena Cabernet Sauvignon 2000 came with this. Good, solid, and in competition with the Refosco, but I’d still give my choice to the Refosco.
I called for more of both. And for some of the Sauvignon while they were about things.
As a table, we’re very happy with the Friulis. This area, east of Veneto, borders the Adriatic, Austria, and Slovenia has a wine history going back to Rome. Friuli as a name comes from Forum Iulii, “Julius’ Forum”. See, I can look things up!
As with Ruth’s dinner the night before, what we’re benefiting from here is a chef who knows the wine very well. Marco himself is from the extreme North of Italy, bordering Austria, and he did his schooling in Belluno.
The melon frappe arrives, and satisfies as it did in class. And then there’s a tiramisu to follow. What would dinner be without a tiramisu, I ask?
With these we’ve been putting back the Borgo Tesis Verduzzo Friuli Grave 2005. A good finishing wine, I could say, except I’ve got four other glasses at my setting that I’m working over.
And then, of course, we must have chocolates. How could we not. I call for more of the reds. I like red wine and chocolate.
Marco came by the tables, and sat with us for awhile. I asked about the octopus, and he agreed, without the internal brine the plate would benefit from a few small pilings of sea salt.
Overall, it was a great meal. Good food, good wine, good company, and we snatched a dozen or more of the whiskey chits from the confused looking girls in black.
This of course led us to the lobby, and the end-of-the-party atmosphere that creeps in as we come to appreciate that it’s all, pretty much, over. I would have a plane to catch the next day, requiring me to be up at 6 a.m. Most of the chefs would decamp for Chiang Mai, one or two remaining for the brunch, but really, the event was done.
We discussed the sorry state of wine taxes in Thailand (they’re abusive, even worse than Canada), and touched on local politics a bit (which is to be found in my coup write-up from last month), and then, for some reason, one of the wine representatives and I decided that the lobby of the Four Seasons at midnight was just the right place for a martial arts demonstration.
Just so you can rest easy, no furniture was harmed in the making of this demonstration.
A good week.
Posted 21 October 2006 - 02:13 AM
Great documentation, Peter! Definitely not what I'd think of in connection with Bangkok.
Thailand's international food scene languishes (if I can say that) in the shadow of their national cuisine. Let's face it, if you only have a week or two in country, perhaps for a very rare excursion abroad, you want to mine the motherload of one of the world's best cuisines. And Thai food outside of Thailand never tastes quite "right".
But if you have the time (or you're really jaded) Thailand attracts a lot of people in the food and wine business, who come for promotions, vacations, or just to settle. This works in conjunction with a very well educated upper middle and upper class, who aren't afraid of things foreign, and genuinely love food. Like Singapore, it's almost a nation of egulleters.
So, if you have the interest, you can find a steady stream of Michelin starred chefs regularly cycling through town, and some very interesting wine dinners promoting some very good vineyards (where I'll be this Tuesday). Add to that the most charming service you'll ever find, and you have a wonderful place to eat.
For other non-standard Bangkok reviews, check out my Catering Your Next Coup series that I did last month (and which delayed this somewhat).
I'll have to figure out what I'll call the next six days. My target is 22 meals in 5.5 days.
Posted 23 May 2007 - 08:12 PM
They've just sent me an advance (after some earlier discussions) of the forthcoming press release, and here's the initial lineup of confirmed chefs:
Romain Fornell, Caelis, Barcelona, Spain
Susur Lee, Susur Lee, Toronto
Douglas Rodriguez, Ola at Sanctuary, Miami Beach
Roberto Donna, Galileo, Washington DC
Malahov Andrey Vladimirovich, Pushkin, Moscow
Patricia di Benedetto, ByeByeBlues, Palermo, Sicily
Paul Wilson, The Botanical, Melbourne, Australia
Steven Snow, Fins Restaurant, Sydney, Australia
Suzanne Tracht, JAR Restaurant, Los Angeles, USA
Michael Ginor, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, USA
Douglas Rodriguez has been here before, back in WGF4, when he introduced me to ceviching, and he was also the one that got me stocking once a month, so I'm looking forward to seeing him again.
And Michael Ginor is the main pillar of the WGF, his foie gras dinners are something I always make time for (even if they did come with protesters last time).
I've eaten at Pushkin before, and enjoyed my meal. What I want to know is if Malahov is going to bring a tub of caviar with him?
The others I know only by passing comments. Caelis in particular sounds very, very good. Which ones should I put on my do not miss list? Which ones should I do lunch classes with? Which ones should I try to clone myself in order to catch?
Oh, and Russian Standard has the bar service this time.
Note: The World Gourmet Fest 8 at the Four Seasons Bangkok will run from September 9 through 16
Posted 24 May 2007 - 12:12 AM
Ah, summer is here and a young man's thoughts turn to eating.
Does this mean you're bringing Scud with you this time?
Well, still 3 1/2 months before I have to be jealous of you again. I'm beginning to feel really sorry for myself! But one day, I, too, will attend the WGF (it's not invitation only, is it?).