Day 2…which is when we review Day 1 Sarah Schafer 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. Day 2 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.