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Peter Green

The WGF in Bangkok

156 posts in this topic

Day 7, September 16

Marco Talamini

Chef de Cusine

La Torre di Spilimbergo

Spilimbergo, Italy

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ah, summer is here and a young man's thoughts turn to eating. The time is ripe for planning for the next WGF in Bangkok, this one the eighth.

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?

Decisions, decisions.

Oh, and Russian Standard has the bar service this time.

Cheers :biggrin:

Peter

Note: The World Gourmet Fest 8 at the Four Seasons Bangkok will run from September 9 through 16

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Ah, summer is here and a young man's thoughts turn to eating. 

Does this mean you're bringing Scud with you this time? :laugh:

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?).

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Alas, the WGF is timed so that it fills in dead space in the calendar, meaning that Scud'll be in school then (boarding in Canada this year). A pity, as I think the WGF is a great educational experience, in addition to being an excuse for wanton gluttony.

Hopefully, if I can get China squared away, I'll work out my feeding schedule for this.

I'm trying to see if I can extend the trip an extra week, which opens up a series of stomach expanding options - Penh, Vientiane, or just staying in BKK (I still need to get to Dosa King!)

Vientiane has a lot more eating, and a mot more shopping I need to do.

Penh may just be my favourite place to do nothing.

And if I just stay in BKK, I have a tailor to take care of the trousers.

Cheers,

Peter

You could always pop down for a few days from Japan! It's not that far. Otherwise you know I'm going to be gloating!

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Thanks for the heads up on the line-up of chefs for WGF8. I'm a regular partcipant at Singapore's WGS, and am planning to try to go to a couple of the WGF8 events, so your list will certainly come in useful for my research purposes!

Just my two-cents worth - I was at the Roman Fornell class when he was in town for WGS, and he was clearly very innovative, yet true in spirit to the claasical traditions. My favourite was a fantastic roast suckling pig paired with an inspired green apple sorbet. He also had fun with a dried fruits and foie gras mousse dish impersonating your typical yoghurt and breakfast muesli.

Anyway, hope to meet you at WGF8 :smile:


Amateur cook, professional foodie!

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Two presenters that I would expect to be very, very interesting would be Susur Lee and Roberto Donna. Looks like it should be a great time.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Thanks, Orange and Doc,

I'd missed Susur at the WGS last year, but he was getting some very good comments at the tables I was at. And Fornell had caught my eye from what I've been reading. Roberta looks good, too.....

Y'know, it's going to be the usual pain. There are only so many days, and so many events, and I know I'm going to have to miss one person. It'd be easy enough to say I'll miss Michael Ginor, but his dinners are always excellent.

I'm really in agony over the Russian. If he shows up with a bucket of Beluga, I'm going to be kicking myself like when I missed Vivalda's dinner because I'd already done his cooking class. He showed up pockets bulging with white truffles he'd brought with him.

Life is suffering.

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Okay,

I think I can cover

- Patrizia di Benedetto from ByeByeBlues in Palermo (dinner)

- Suzanne Tracht from JAR in LA (cooking class/lunch)

- Michael Ginor (dinner)

- Romain Fornell from Caelis in Barcelona (lunch and dinner.....I'm very interested in him)

- Malahov Andrey Vladimirovich from the Pushkin in Moscow (dinner)

- The Gala (which'll be a bunch of them...I'm waiting on the line-up)

- Paul Wilson from the Botanical in Melbourne (lunch)

- Susur Lee from Toronto (Lunch and dinner)

- Roberta Dona from Galileo and others (dinner)

Now, the heartbreak is, I'm going to miss Douglas Rodrigues (unless I can talk them into having him do one of the two unspecified lunches) and Steven Snow from Fins, out of Sydney. I'm hoping they'll be cooking at the Gala, so I'll at least get a taste.

Russian Standard is running the bar, and the Italian Association of Sommeliers will run two classes (which I'll cover) so this should be a full week.

But I have a bad feelling I'll miss someone.

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The latest update to the schedule just arrived!

- Malahov Andrey Vladimirovich from the Pushkin in Moscow is not coming. In his place they have Yuri Rozchov from Vogue Cafe (also Moscow) instead. I don't know anything yet about the place (has anyone on egullet eaten there?) but, as Russian Standard is still running the bar, I have high hopes.

- All of the other chefs are still on, and the schedule doesn't change too much. Two of the open slots have been filled: one by Katrina Kanetani from Pier Restaurant in Sydney, and the other by Nicole Krasinski from Rubicon in San Francisco. From what I've found on the net so far, Ms. Krasinski should run a fun class, and the same goes for Kanetani, who's got an excellent reputation.

- And I'm very, very happy to see Penfolds back with a "Super Tasting". I'm hoping Peter Gago comes back for this one again. The session they did back in 2003 made wine a lot more fun for me (and we snagged that extra bottle of Grange for our table at the Gala dinner later on.......)

- And they're going back to a start-up party! I just don't know the timing on it. I'm hoping it won't interfere with dinner, as the opening cocktail party used to make a great place to meet up with friends and plan out some of the week's tables.

- One item of interest, they're running the dinners in Biscotti, Madison, and Shintaro, only. I suspect this is to leave the Spice Market open for the non-WGF guests.

- Now, the only thing up in the air are two open slots in the afternoons, in case some more tastings can creep in. Of course, if those stay open, I may have some time to write........

More news as it happens.

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I get excited when I see you post, Peter.

And I bet I'm not the only one.


May

Totally More-ish: The New and Improved Foodblog

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The WGF gets under my skin, and I have to look for ways to let off steam as I count down the days until September 9. In preparation I started rooting through my old cooking class notes, my travel notes, and my pantry to see what I could get my friends to endure.

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(I suppose I could post this under “Dinner” but the rules of that call for more immediacy, and I’m too darn lazy to get things up fast enough – no rude jokes, please).

First up was fried river weed from Luang Prabang (which I forgot to shoot). This gave people something to nibble on while they watched me make a fool of myself over the oven. I like the thickness to the weed, and the crusting of sesame and garlic. Everyone bites into it expecting nori, but what they get is quite “thicker” in the delivery.

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Sitting down to the table we started off with Geoff Lindsay’s take on a Mediterranean salad. This was from WGF7 last year. It’s effectively a Greek salad, but with watermelon added to the mix of olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers, imparting a sweetness and lightness that isn’t normally there. What I also enjoy in this is working the feta into a light, whisked fluffiness with the olive oil and capping the dish with this, rather than cubes of feta, which I can find too overpowering at times. What I don’t enjoy, and which Yoonhi doesn’t let me do, is make a jello of tomato water. (I tried it once, and Yoonhi told me what she’d do to me if I made that much of a mess again). Top it all with a drop or two of rose water to get that “Gulf Air toilet” smell, and you’re there.

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After this I reached back to 2003 and WGF4, when Mick Edwards from Nobu in London did his pineapple soup. I started the day before, enfusing a stock pot of squeezed citrus juices with caramelized pineapple and a selection of spices (cinnamon sticks, chilis, star anise, and whatever else looked good). You squeeze the whole thing out, boil the soup, and then top with two sheets of rice paper, between which you apply your aromatics – in this case cocoa and kaffir lime leaves. Pop the lid on the steamer, and the whole thing seals like a drum. Top with a dollop of ice cream and let the guests punch through.

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Then I went back to Susan Schafer in WGF7 and looked at her cooking with vinaigrettes, and moved from there to Tom Colicchio’s recipe for braising fish in a lemon vinagrette (Think Like A Chef – Sarah worked for Colicchio at Gramercy Tavern). I used a grouper, which works better for texture (and was the only fresh fish available) served with roasted red bell peppers and parsley for colour, and the oil in the braising fluid works really well with couscous which, which was all the rage last year at WGF7 as Fatema Hal (from Paris’ Mansouria) was also cooking.

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This then led, in turn, to the main.

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I started off with an Aussie tenderloin, rolled in black pepper, and grilled over low heat while I messed with the other bits.

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A local item I like to play with is fuqa, or desert truffles. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a few kilos of these every other year or so (the weather has been difficult), and then Yoonhi’ll spend her weekend cleaning them with a paring knife. We’ve talked about these in the dessert truffle thread under Middle East & Africa, so there’re more details there. I’m lifting a process I’d tried already, inspired by the Four Seasons and Michael Ginor’s liberal use of foie gras in all things. Once the meat is resting, pan fry the foie, then cook the truffles in the “butter”. I cut the tenderloin into respectably thick steaks, and finish these in any remaining fat.

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I figured these two dishes had loaded up enough fat in everyone’s palates, so we trundled out a G&T sorbet I’d had on the go (details at ). There’ve been numerous fun ices and such at the Fests that I won’t try to attribute this to any particular event.

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The it was time to finish things. We called upon Alan Koh from WGF6 in 2005 for a green tea mousse – nice and velvety. And then we ended it all with Sam Mason’s basil meringues. For these I really needed egg white powder that I could reconstitute with an infusion of basil, but we had to make do with just really finely chopping the basil. The result tasted very good, but you were left with a slight chewiness that I’d have rather avoided.

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And at that point, with everything out of my system, I could relax. And try to figure out what I’d do with the pot full of carrots I forgot to cook.

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The Russians Aren't Coming, The Russians Aren't Coming (with apologies to Norman Jewison and Carl Reiner).

The "final" schedule is out.

Given a lack of time for planning, the Russians are off. It's a pity, but it does allow me to catch Stephen Snow from Fins in Byron Bay.

It also means that it's not going to be shots of Russian Standard in the lobby in the late night. It sounds like Macallan'll take up the slack there, which is fine by me.

Things are looking interesting, and my schedule is pretty much down pat. There'll be a few full days of three events (or more), but I'll have enough time for a decent lunch on Sunday, and then there'll be the week after. I'll be able to catch all of the chefs at some point now, with the only exception being Doug Rodriguez. It's a pity, as I really enjoyed his class in 2003. Hopefully he'll be part of the Gala, so I'll catch a bit of what he has.

Wine is back, thank Heavens. The Italian Sommelier Association is going to do two classes (Friday and Saturday) which'll have me in a fine fettle, and the good Mr. Gago of Penfolds is back to do a vertical tasting of the Grange (and the note I have says they're releasing an '81 for this).

Only 168 working hours to go.

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I’ve got the menus……..

At least for the dinners. Let’s take a look at what’s coming. I won’t go into all the details, as that would just spoil things, plus, this is Thailand. You should never take anything for granted.

My first dinner will be Patrizia di Benedetto from Sicily. I like the sound of the tuna fillet with a pistachio crust. There’s a lot of ricotta in the the other dishes, but I can work with that. And this’ll be in Biscotti, which is s great room when it has a buzz.

Michael Ginor’s foie gras dinner will keep me occupied on Tuesday in Shintaro. Partway through he’s doing a pork belly with a miso marinated foie gras, and earlier there’s a nori-salt cured foie gras with black truffle……I wonder if we’ll get hit up by the PETA people again?

Romain Fornell from Caelis in Barcelona will be Tuesday in Biscotti. His menu is fairly exclamatory, and may be the one that I’m looking forward to the most. His main will be a duckly with crispy foie gras and a reduced coffee jus. Now, as Pitak will be there from the Four Seasons in Chiang Mai, and his signature dish is Ped Ob Kafe (coffee duck) I’ll be interested in seeing what develops in the kitchen.

Steven Snow is Wednesday. He’s known for his seafood from Byron Bay in Oz, and the menu reflects this with sashimi, soft shell crabs, king prawns, and Red Emperor (could that be renamed “Chairman Mao”?). I always like the Australian chefs, so this should be fun. I’ll try and get up at the bar in Shintaro for this.

Thursday’s the Gala, of course, and that’s an unknown for now. I should see if I can get in early for some shots of the setup.

Friday will be Susur Lee. His amuse sounds like fun – tomato water soup with lobster roll, and he’s working in Chiang Mai sausage into the menu later on. Shintaro will be a good spot for this.

And Saturday will see me back in Biscotti with Roberto Donna from the US. He’s opening with an octopus carpaccio that has my attention right away, and the white truffle risotto, will, I’m sure, be worth my while. And, again, I’m beginning to make a tradition of finishing at Biscotti, so this’ll be a good end to the week for me.

What am I missing? Douglas Rodriguez will be in Madison. His main will be an Argentine mixed grill, and he’ll also have a sampler of ceviche earlier on. It’ll be a good meal, but I felt that I should give Snow a try, as Doug was here in 2003.

Suzanne Tracht from Jar is in Madison. She’ll have her pot roast, but I’m hoping she’ll cover this during the cooking class.

I’m also missing Paul Wilson from the Botanical in Australia. He’s also heavy on seafood, but does have a really good looking “Roasted Blackmore, Pure Full Blood Mazuzaka Wagyu Sirloin and Braised Brisket with a Tart of Caramelised Shallots, Celeriac, and Truffles” as his main. And Quinces poached in spiced wine with chestnut and chocolat mousse sounds like a dessert I would enjoy. Still, we all have to make sacrifices.

I realize now that I won’t be in Madison at all!….I hope they don’t think I’m avoiding the room, it’s my favourite brunch spot.

I don’t do Tea, but Nicole Krasinski’s savoury items – Tea Smoked Duck, Hamachi Tartare, Wild Mushroom Financier, and Caramelized Onion-Buckwheat Dumpling with curried yogurt - may cause me to change my mind. The rose petal mousse sounds good, too.

Katrina Kanetani’s turn at Tea on Saturday is cakes. Cakes, cakes, and cakes. Whole cakes – like a Valrhona Chocolate Pave; small cakes – including passion fruit Madeleines; dry cakes – Jamaican rum and coconut; and teeny tiny cakes – okay, they do call them cookies. Brownies, too.

What do I see as direction for now? There’s a lot less lamb on the menu, that’s for certain. It seemed the last couple of years that every meal had a sheep in it somewhere. What I’m noticing this year is a push on wagyu, as it’s on several of the menus. There’s also more in the way of carpaccios and ceviches – although I’d noticed this last year, too.

I’ll be interested in seeing the wines, once things get sorted out. I wonder if I can snag some of the Terrazas de los Andes Malbec……..

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7 hours away....and a short wait in a lounge

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It's good to be on the move again.

I'm at the airport now, with three hours to go until boarding. My biggest concern is whether I can buy a bottle from duty free or not. The woman at check in says no, that it's the 100 ml in a zip loc thing, while the other Gulf Air desk monitor here at the lounge tells me to check with the cashier in the duty free shop.

I needed something to worry about.

As I'd skipped dinner, my first meal of the trip was here in the lounge.

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The hot assortment was subcontinental. There were some potatoes in what I think was a sauce of molakhaya. I recognize it from that low tide sort of slime feel it can have. There were also some meatballs of indeterminate origin, but the winner was, by far, the yellow thing. It had the tiniest bit of a bite to it, and buried in the sludge were bits of something soft.

I'd like to say it tasted like chicken.

The rice was broken, my guess would be Egyptian short grain.

Still, I was hungry, and I needed something to sop up the Heiniken, my first beer in several weeks.

That taken care of, I've taken stock of the wines. My first choice, a Bellingham Chardonnay from the Coast Region of South Africa isn't a great success. Harsh would be a kind description......drano might be another. The other offerings are another Afrikaaner, a Delheim Shiraz; a Bouchard Aine & Fils Chassagne-Montrachet; and a Pierre Jouet Champagne Brut. I suspect I'll try the Chassagne- Montrachet next, and then relax with champagne while trying to find a power point I can plug into.

Needless to say, I'm up for the trip. I can fit into my tux, and the Four Seasons will be waiting for me after the trip from Souvarnabhumi. The weather is a respectable 35 centigrade, and humidity is only 74% (compared to 44 centigrade and 71% humidity where I just left).

Ah, when I start writing about the weather it's time to go look for another wine.

Cheers,

Peter

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Day 1, Act 1

The landing was uneventful. Given the cracked runways and all at Souvarnabhumi, that’s a good thing ( hey, compared to a lot of strips I’ve landed on…..at least there’s pavement to be cracked).

There are a lot of complaints about the new airport, but I rather like the change. Don Muang had become so overbuilt that, outside of the golf course underfoot as you were landing, there wasn’t much of interest (unless you’ve got a thing for industrial estates).

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But Souvarnabhumi. There you have still-functional klongs, with boats out on them, old homes still leaning precariously into the bayou (bayou, klong, sewer…what’s in a name?)…..and trees. You still have lots of greenery out here. Lots and lots of greenery.

Staring out of the window of the Four Seasons’ Merc, I was zoning out.

Okay, you have a bunch of brand new housing estates that are now complaining about the the noise from the ‘port (how long have they been building this out in Cobra Swamp? By the way, would you buy a home in someplace called Cobra anything?).

Being a Sunday, I was from the airport to the Four Seasons in about half an hour. Gone are the “four hours to Sukhumvit” days. And once we hit Suk, I noticed some signs for Bangkok Car Free Day. Now there’s a concept.

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I was greeted as graciously as you would expect of the 4Seasons, checked in, and then begged off and took advantage of a decent bath tub.

In the room I tidied up, and dipped into the fresh coconut cream mille feuilles they’d put out, along with extremely tart fresh strawberries (from the Royal projects, I suspect).

Princess Somsawalee was due to arrive at 3:00 for a closed function with the chefs. I met some of the wine press down in the lobby and caught up a bit on the weather and other pleasantries. It’s taken a turn for the warmer here, and it was getting to be a chore to be out and about. I debated waiting for the arrival, but chose instead to try and hunt down my tailor. I only had enough shirts for five days with the humidity, and so would need a replenishment.

My tailor is gone. This posed a problem. I comforted myself with a brief stop in Asia Books, where I picked up some recommended material (more on that later). Then I figured it was time to get in a swim and some nibbles.

I’ve written somewhere how much I love the executive floor here. Now that they’ve moved the dinners back to 7:30 (starting last year), I can pace myself to have a few bites from the beautiful appetizers they put out (and a few glasses of wine).

The Chef providing the spread tonight is Bundit Srikeaw, who handles the banquets. His specialty is Indian.

But first,

“Would you like something to drink, Mr. Green?”

“Oh yes”

Why do people even ask?

A pleasant Chilean chardonnay. Good for cutting through the humitdity. Echeverria, from Molina, an unwooded 2006

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My first plate is a sea bass kabob, with a lamb in a good, burning brown sauce, with crisp coconut shreds on top.

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The mango sauce is quite sweet. A mild burn. But the papaya isn’t really green, but closer to ripe. Little nam prik chilis floating in there.

I’ve a glass of the Hardy’s (South Oz) Shiraz – Cab 2005. A good little bite, and doesn’t shrink in the face of the chilis.

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The grilled paneer I would’ve preferred to have had hot, but it was good with the orange chili sauce it was with. The lamb mataba didn’t do much for me.

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The aloo tikka and the fried onion are next (the aloo tikka is behind the samosas in the foreground).

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The aloo tikka is a nice potatoish thing, with a good chutney on top. The fried onion would’ve been better hot, but I appreciate the Thai sauce of chilis, nampla, and sugar on the bottom.

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And now a Long Flat Shiraz. More forward than the Hardy’s but better on the palate.

Hmm….what do the desserts look like?

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Okay, a bit of coconut cream and butter cake. I can’t quite stretch to the black sesame dumpling with ginger vanilla, nor the fruits.

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I need to save some room.

Next, the Siciliians.

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Working on it right now, DG.

And I had them top up a glass of 2001 Grange from the Penfolds tasting to take back to the room to give me inspiration.

(It's a hard life).

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This must be a Thai scale I have in the bathroom. When I get on, it says “Err”. That either means something’s wrong, or it doesn’t want to hurt my feelings and doesn’t quite know how to get around to the horrid truth. It could be worse, it could smile and giggle.

Dinner last night was on the Mediterranean, by way of Chicago.

Patrizia di Benedetto

Bye Bye Blues, Palermo, Italy

Angimbe Sicilia IGT 2005 (Insoglia Chardonnay)

Tuna Fillet in Pistachio Crust

And Marsala Sauce

Benuara Sicilia IGT 2005 (Nero d”Avola)

Fish Ragout

In Saffron Sauce and Basil Olive Oil

Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT 2005

Eggplant Cannelloni

With Smoked Salted Ricotta

Sagana Sicilia IGT 2004 (Nero d’Avola)

Swordfish Rolls

Mediterranean Style and Caponata

Noa Sicilia IGT 2004 (Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot)

Ricotta Cheese Cannolo with Orange Semifreddo,

Almond Air and Bitter Chocolate Tuile with Sicilian Crystal Salt

Coffee Decaffeinated Coffee or Tea

The Chardonnay was a welcome treat after a long day, and a longer night. It was way more fruity than the Chilean I’d been enjoying shortly before, reaching back up into the mouth. It was almost more like a sauvignon blanc, with that lush sense to it.

With this we had a loaf of chestnut bread, with some good quality olive oil for the required fat content. The appetizers had taken the edge off of my hunger, so I wasn’t as savage with this as I normally might be.

ItalThai was sponsoring the wine tonight, acting as agents for the Cusumano brothers, Alberto and Diego.

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Then Gianni Costa (the manager for Biscotti) introduced the chef, Patrizia di Benedetto. The impression you get is one of tranquility. She spoke well, not with reserve, but evenly. She’s had an interesting past. Born in Palermo (in the same year as I) she worked as an accountant until she was 28, then took a sudden left turn when she met her husband, a sommelier, and went into the restaurant business, drawing upon her background in cooking with family and friends. But before opening they did the right thing, and traveled and did their internships over a period of several years, before opening Bye By Blues (more on that later).

In her words, for her the meal is “all about the fish”. And that’s what we were going to get (okay, maybe not the dessert…..)

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The amuse was a little bit on of dry smoked ricotta a crisp cracker, with a line of pesto oil drizzled across. The cheese was excellent, and I wish there was more of it (but it is an amuse, after all). Ricotta seems to be Patrizia’s signature.

The Benuara Sicilia IGT 2005 (Nero d”Avola) had come out. This was very mild, coming across very light. Still, it was wet, and this is me we’re talking about, so I gave it my attention.

As a light red it worked well with the first course, the tuna. It’s hard to go bad with a nice cut of tuna, but I was struck at how muted the flavours were. I was expecting more form the pistachios in the crust, and the Marsala sauce was almost tasteless. I was expecting a thicker, sweeter sauce (it had great texture, though) to set off the fish. Still, while there were comments, there were no complaints.

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The next wine, the Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT 2005, had a better nose, and was a darker Sicilian, less cheerful than it’s brother we’d just polished off.

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This came with our fish arancini, a pretty little conceit of a fish mousse in a fried crust to resemble an orange. I’m ignorant, so one of my friends at the table had to explain to me that this is a dish done to resemble an orange (Hey, I was right for once!) and that it’s typically a fried mix of rice, bread, and cheese. The addition of fish is Patrizia’s stamp. My reaction was “If I walked off a ferry in Palermo and I could sit down to this as my first dish, I’d be very happy”.

The Nero d’Avola gave way to the Sagana, with proper deference and all due respect. And the nose got bigger.

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The next dish was my favourite of the meal, the eggplant cannelloni. At first impact, we all thought it was bacon wrapped, but the aubergine had been done such that it carried the texture (and even the flavour) of a fatty strip of bacon. I wish I could do this!

Then the big glasses came out, and we could tell things were getting more serious. The Noa Sicilia was what I’d been thinking of as Sicilian. Thick, solid, oily, it almost feels like drinking blood (I get some strange looks at that). I was very happy at this point, and had this glass repeated several times.

We also had a good idea (I use “we” here to try and take some of the credit) and had the chardonnay repoured to sit and warm. The bits we’d had left in our glasses were actually becoming much more interesting at room temperature, and I’m always game for undertakings done in the name of science.

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The swordfish roll, however, left me muted. Perhaps I’d been expecting a firm cut of flesh, but what appeared instead was a set of tidy little “sausages” of fish meat. Nothing wrong with it, but it seemed a weak finish. However, saying that, I liked the match of the wine with the olives in the caponata.

Dessert was excellent, though, and I see why she’s taken awards for it. The ricotta gives it a wonderful clean feel, and the orange semifreddo is just plain nice. Bits of bitter chocolate don’t hurt, either.

I thought I had a photo of this!

I was just surprised that there was no dessert wine. Or a sparkling to open. But then, this was Sicilian, and I suspect I’ve been overweight for Northerners for awhile. I made do with an espresso (Illy, I believe).

I had to ask, and I did. Patrizia told me that the name of the restaurant had come from a song she’d heard when working in Chicago. Bye Bye Blues, written by the man, Louis Armstrong. She even sung a bit of it (singing is not something I have the courage for).

And I shouldn’t forget the room. Like I say, I like the buzz in Biscotti. There’s lots of open space, with enough stanchioning to give some deflection for privacy. But it was growing deserted, and I could only hope to keep on cadging wine refills for so long. Obviously there was only one course of action open.

I asked about the whiskeys.

For this we had to move to the lobby, but that’s hardly a hardship. Huge ceilings, and some of the best ambience I’ve ever found. Macalan 12 was on offer as part of the dinner, so I settled to a glass of that, with one piece of distilled ice.

Not a bad finish.

I wonder who’s playing at Saxaphone?

note: edited to fix my general incompetence with photos


Edited by Peter Green (log)

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The first cooking class (and lunch)

I would like to say that my body was electrified, my arms a mass of horripilation. I was eager, on edge, ready to enter the fray. As was, I woke up at 10 a.m., trying to remember just what they were playing at Saxaphone last night, and what time it was when I got home. I do remember that, at some point, I was up on my soapbox about Stevie Wonder not being “jazz”.

Okay, I won’t complain. You wake up with your wallet, your passport, and your teeth, you’re doing well, say I.

Anyways, just short of lunch time I made it to class. And this was a class I didn’t want to miss.

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Romain Fornell, from Caelis in Barcelona.

Okay, I admit it, I listen to the press. This fellow was the first Frenchman (Frank? Farang?) to be awarded a Michelin star in Spain. Prior to that he’d graduated top of the class from Toulouse, and “named Best Young Chef in the Mid Pyrennees”. He actually took his first star in Languedoc before moving to Spain (his family does claim Catalan roots) in 2002, and then opened Caelis in 2004, where he took his next star in 2005.

Not bad, eh?

I admit it, this was the guy I’d had my eye upon for this trip. Bright, young, and way too hard working, I figured.

I was right.

The dishes

The Yogurt

Duck Foie Gras, Dry Fruit Muesli

The Macaroni

Chicken, Lobster, Celery, old Parmesan

Mascarpone and Woodland Strawberries

Wines

Senioria De Alange Pardina, 2004

Senoria de Temperanillo, 2004

Palacio Quemado Cosecha, 2000

First up was the second of the book (a little out of order), the Yogurt.

This started off easy enough. A slab of foie gras knifed into three portions of 100 gm each. A bit of salt and pepper on both sides, and then a quick ride in a hot pan for colour. Pull the pan from the heat, and then give it a quick turn and pop the pan into the oven for 3 minutes.

The muesli is little more than a long toast of some bananas, raspberries, and macadamia nuts. These get put into a plastic sleeve for the proper industrial look.

There’s a chicken stock to be done (200gm), but that’s not rocket science (although, considering the current mess at NASA……)

When the foie is pulled from the oven, we all stop. This is what we want to see. Floppy, soft, internal organs, glistening with beads of fat. Heck, I’ve used the line before, but I’ll say it again “George A Romero would be very happy”.

The stock and foie gras are put together, and then take a trip to Mr. Blender for a proper seeing to. At this point we want to start getting more air into the mix, and we want to get rid of the chunky bits, to which purpose we strain the whole affair through a chinoise, mainly to get the peppers out, but also to mash through any unprocessed bits of fg.

At this point the colour has gone paler, and there’s more “fluffiness” to the thing. Still, it’s not there.

Having removed the pepper by straining, we season it with some pepper (Hey! I’m only reporting what I see).

Now it gets fussy.

We add some xanthan. What he has is Xantana, which, from checking on the net, is being promoted by El Bulli (among others). Here’s the quote:

In the kitchen products for thickening sauces, creams, juices and soups have always been used. Starches and flour are the traditional thickeners, but the disadvantage is that a large quantity has to be added, which affects the final taste. ?With the Espesantes family we present Xantana, a new product which can thicken kitchen preparations using a minimum quantity and without distorting the initial taste characteristics.

Then we put the stuff into a siphon, and put the siphon into an ice bath, rotating it obsessively (I can do that).

Then you pull out your gas canisters, which you have on hand, given that you own a siphon, and charge the puppy up. It’ll take two canisters to be up to speed. Then give this overcharged pressurized land mine a good shake (and Anthony Bourdain was scared of pressure cookers).

At this point, you can squirt the mix out into anything, top and seal it with whatever, and serve the muesli on the side.

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Piece of cake (or foie), eh?

Well, the next is best for those with OCD.

The Macaroni

We start by prepping the stock. The lobster head is quartered, and then put into a large pan with a healthy splash of olive oil, pressing the shells into the heat with his finger tips. Then, after it colours up a bit, in go the standard chopped onion, carrot, and garlic that you’d expect. Again, let the colour develop, and then add some tomato and thyme to the pan, with a splash more oil for consistency, avoiding any browning. Splash in some water, and then add reduced cream.

Give it a soft stir, and then strain through the chinois

Meanwhile we have some more cream warming up on the side that we’ll use for the gratinee, with some nice parmesan for grating, and the macaroni, long large tubes, boiled up and then removed to ice once done. This’ll firm them up to help avoid any breaking. He recommends keeping them in the fridge overnight after cooking.

So, we’ve got the macaroni, we have our lobster stock, and we have cream ready for the gratinee. We take the cream out of the pot and use that pot for doing up the filling. We toss in the celery for a short saute, the lobster meat, foie gras, and the chicken - the lobster and chicken already cooked - all diced up fine. This goes on medium heat with a plate over top for some 10 minutes, and then is removed to come down to room temperature. Once it’s “not too hot or cold” it’s mashed down to a paste and put into a pastry bag for squeezing.

We use that 10 minutes to grate the parmesan and mix it in with the cream.

The macaroni are injected from both ends, a fussy business with the viscosity of the filling working against you. I think this could be better accomplished with one of those big horse syringes like Paco Rancero was using to create his olive oil noodles.

The translation that has been underway is not quite on, and one of my friends fills in for us. What is translated from the front is “this should be done in advance” but what Romain actually says is “if you wait for the last minute to do this you’ll turn mad”.

All of this is effectively the prep. Definitely a “day before” dish.

We still have to assemble.

(My friends at the table have taken up a serious discussion as to the joys of simple cooking)

We put the cream and cheese sauce over the arranged stuffed macaroni and place the pan in the oven.

We take our lobster sauce to warm, and a little lesithin (3g), which works as a fat emulsifier. We leave this to thicken a bit, and then hit it with Mr. Buzzy, the handheld mixer, running the blades near the surface to bring enough air into it to make some foam. The saucier portion goes into the bottom of the bowl, then the macaroni are removed from the oven and oh so carefully arranged; a little olive oil is drizzled around the edges, and the foam added to the top.

I’ve gotta try this at home. I wonder where I can get a big syringe.

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And last is dessert

Mascarpone and Woodland Strawberries

This is composed of mascarpone, crumble, and a strawberry sorbet.

First the crumble. We do a hand mix of 100g of butter, 120g of icing sugar (sugar glace), 100g of flour, and 6g (a pinch) of fleur de sel. This goes into the oven at 88 c for an hour to dry out, getting broken up a couple of times to get the crumbly crustini type texture.

For the mascarpone cream we take the pan off the heat and mix up some sugar (270g) and egg yolks (120g). Meanwhile we’re heating some cream, which we then add to the mix - like making crème Anglais (why does English Cream sound better in French?).

As a note on yolks, I love looking at them here. The colour is so much more vibrant in the yolks here than the pale things I have at home.

We put 6g of gelatine in ice water and let it get “pully”.

Meanwhile we’re mixing and mixing the crème anglaise, removing any granularity that might remain. Once that’s a smooth as can be (maybe one last blend for good luck) we squeeze out our gelatin and beat it into the crème with 590g of Mascarpone, going for a really runny texture. Let this cool down, and then pour the mix into molds and pop them into the freezer. They’re using rubber molds as they’ll be easier for pushing out later.

The sorbet is simple sugar syrup blended in with fresh strawberries, then strained to remove the seeds. Into the freezer, and that’s that.

To assemble, the crumble is put into a ring mold so you can press it down a bit, then the mold is removed, the mascarpone cream is spatula’d on top, and then some bits of chocolate are topped to tart it up a bit. The strawberry sorbet is painted onto the plate, and you’re there.

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All done, we’re ready to eat.

But first, a word from our sponsors.

The three wines were poured for us at this point. Alvear was the wine of the day, with their winemaker Mr. Inigo Manso de Zuniga Ugartechea describing their products. They’re located in Andalusia, down in the SouthWest. They’re about 150 km from the coast, 90 minutes out of Seville, and at an elevation of 400m. As Mr Manso describes it “a beautiful place, but it’s the middle of nowhere”.

There are about 5,000 hectares under production. Historically, they’d done white wines for brandy and sherries. Now there’s more red being done, with the hardy tempranillo taking well to the soil. He sees their position as being on the split of Northern and Mediterranean wines.

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We’ll be drinking three today with lunch. The Pardina would be the first, as he describes it “a wine to be taken young, with good hints of green to it”. Some flavours of mint and other herbs, bringing to mind similarities with a Semillon. It’s very fresh, and fills your mouth out quite well. This would be a very nice wine for sitting outside in the patio and admiring a sunny afternoon.

The second was the Senorio de Tempranillo 2004. A medium body, not a great nose but very easy to drink. Hints of raspberry in there. A pleasant wine, with a very “local” feel to it.

The third – the Palacio Quemado Cosecha 2000 - I quite liked as a food companion. A blend of 10% granache and 90% tempranillo. This had been oaked for 9 months in American barrels. The wood and fruit was well integrated in the wine, with nice details in the nose and the palate. Lots of dark, ripe plumb, and some vanilla from the oak. Very smooth.

Everyone was getting hungry, but we wanted to hear about the wines. I was happy that they were explaining things, as in past years the wine tastings had gone by the wayside, and the wine was provided with the lunchs but without explanations. This was a welcome change.

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Still, hunger can only wait so long. The “yogurt” was taunting us, the little sleeve of muesli just begging to be opened and mixed in. As soon as the talking was over we were in.

And this was good. I could have foie gras “yogurt” for breakfast all the time. The chicken stock/foie blend is light, and the sweetness from the dried fruits works with it. Partnered with that very fresh Pardina and I was getting all perky again.

Then the Macaroni. If the yogurt was a treat, this was the whole Hallowe’en sack. The sauce was thick, gravy like, the taste of lobster fattened up with the cream and foie gras, and the parmesan accenting each bit of the macaroni. I concentrated on the Palacio with this, as the deeper flavours of that wine went with all the details in this dish.

This was fine enough that we asked for more bread, and all of us set to mopping up the sauce.

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The dessert was an afterthought for me, I must admit. The plating was different, the painting of strawberry replaced by a nice ball of the sorbet. But now the sorbet was on the crumble while the mascarpone was on a bit of what tasted like shortbread. The mascarpone cream was okay, but not really anything outstanding. I think it suffered in the shadow of the macaroni (Hmmm “shadow of the macaroni” would be a great title for something…..)

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Anyways, it was 2:30 now, and there was the Grange tasting at 3. It was time to get moving.

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The Grange Tasting

I’ve a lot to say about the Grange, but I’m going to do it later. It’s dawn here in Bangkok, and this is my fourth day. I look at my notes, and I’m falling way behind.

So, I’ll give you a brief on the tasting now, and come back later.

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Here’s what we covered.

Peter Gago, Penfolds’ fourth Chief Winemaker, gave us the history of the Grange. I’ve sat through his talks before, and he’s fun. A lot of fun. But then he has the advantage of being Australian. I think it also helps that he was a schoolteacher before he moved into wines.

Anyways, his talk wound around and about the wines and the winery, giving us time to taste and consider, while taking in more of the history of the 163 year old Penfolds.

The ’81 was our opener. He’d brought it out as an example of the slow development of the wine, 26 years and only just beginning to soften.

Then he jumped to the ’95,’96, and ‘97. The ’95 probably the least of the ‘90’s, to be compared to the ’96, which falls into the “wow” list. The thing is that the “least” isn’t too shabby at all, but you really appreciate the ’96 right after. And then the ’97 is different again, having a “leave me alone” note to it, begging for more time in the bottle (a lot more time).

The ’99 had taken 100 points, and was, I would say, quite drinkable. But it was the 2001 that really took my attention. And the poor 2002, their newest Grange (it’s released as a 5 year old) suffered in its shadow.

As I said, I’ll save the details until I can catch up on other things.

There’s a dinner to be done.

Next: How Much Foie Can One Man Eat?

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Michael Ginor

Angimbe Sicilia IGT 2005 (Insoglia Chardonnay)

Terrine of Hudson Valley Foie Gras

Hibiscus

Ginestet 2005 Bordeaux Blanc

Tartar of Tuna and Nori-Salt Cured Foie Gras

Black Truffle

Laurent-Perrier Brut

Butter Poached Lobster and Foie Gras Flan

Beet

Pork Belly and Miso Marinated Foie Gras

Ginger

Laurent-Perrier ‘Cuvee Rose’

Kobe Beef, Foie Gras, and Shitake Mushrooms

Sukiyaki

Laurent-Perrier ‘Grand Siecle’

Yuzu blanc Manger with Matcha Foam

Passion Fruit and Tapioka Pearl Shooter

Baron de Montesquieu Grave Moelleux 2003

Petits Fours

It was actually supposed to be the Bordeaux for openers, but we recognized the fruit in the Angimbe right out. When the Ginestet arrived at the table, it was quite restrained in comparison to the Italian…..that doesn’t sound too surprising, does it?

And this was not a meal about restraint.

How Michael Ginor manages his pace, I will never know. He’s doing planes, trains, and automobiles for months at a time, and then hits the ground and starts organizing, socializing, and just getting things done. And all with perfect aplomb. When he fielded the PETA protesters last year he was the perfect gentleman.

But anyways, let’s get down to the food.

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The first dish was an eye catcher. A deep red jelly of hibiscus around a medallion of foie. Sweet, we almost thought there was beet root in it, and some cranberry, but it was all hibiscus, with small salt crystals setting off the terrine like jewels.

We dropped the Bordeaux white and moved to champagne, the Laurent-Perrier doing a fine job of cleaning the mouth.

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The next dish, the nori cured foie gras, is one of my favourite flavours so far. The mix of fat from the foie and the tuna was haunted by a snake of wasabi flavour that ran through it. I asked Michael about this, and he had used a wasabi oil to get the flavour muted enough to work this well. The truffles were there, just running a little bit on the front of the palate, a hint of earthiness.

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The lobster was pretty, and the flan worked very well. Michael had done the flan last year, but at that time I’d felt that it’s delicacy was buried under the other dishes that were going around it. Here, coming after the tuna and accompanied by the buttery flavour of the lobster, it held it’s own.

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Pork belly? How can you go wrong with a piece of pork belly? And the miso comes through with the foie gras. This idea came from Nobu Matsuhisa, who’s very fond of miso marinades.

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The Kobe beef is good, but not quite right. The idea had been to hit the dish with the hot consommé, and let that finish the cooking. But when the soup came out it was tepid. I still wouldn’t complain, the flavours were good, but I know some of my dinner companions felt that the this would have been better hotter, releasing more of the aromas from the mushrooms and oils.

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And we wrap up with the blanc mange, soft, light, and very green teaish, the macha worth scouring out of the bowl. And the tapioca got us off on a discussion of who has the better Bubble Tea, Vancouver or Hong Kong (M says Hong Kong, I won't argue with her).

Working with Michael was David Britton, from the Spring Water Bistro in Saratoga, upstate New York. He stopped by the table, and we chatted about his place. He’s taken the approach that, given there’s so much good produce in his immediate area, he’ll work with what he has available by the day, which is the perfect attitude to have when your friend Michael Ginor asks you to pop out with him for a bit of traveling cuisine.

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Bubbles always put me in a good mood.

Shintaro was a good choice for this. Usually Michael’s dinners are in Madison, which is a larger room. Here it’s a pretty small venue, and the food was staged out at a very leisurely pace. This gave me plenty of time to catch up on gossip with M, one of my favourite foody friends. She was getting me all interested in Singapore again, particularly a place called Sin Huat Eating House (I think that’s the spelling) which is getting referred to as the Nazi Café (M has since modified this to calling him "moody"). Nothing to do with swastikas, but you have no choice in what you eat. The guy there tells you “this is it” and you take it. Or get out. Or wait two hours and then get out. I think there was a Seinfeld episode related to this somewhere (but that was soup). She’d also done Arum, with the wheelchairs and IV bags. She agreed that this wasn’t necessarily the best idea for Chinese sensibilities.

We wrapped up, thanked everyone for an excellent meal, and headed for the lobby for some whisky.

Note: editted to update the Sin Huat piece...I gotta get back to Singapore soon.


Edited by Peter Green (log)

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Nicole Krasinski – Rubicon – San Francisco

I don’t suppose it’s a bad thing being one of the first restaurants in the US to take a Michelin star, and Nicole as well has enough awards – Rising Star I think is appropriately appropriate for a pastry chef.

And she wasn’t alone here, either. Stuart Brioza, Rubicon’s Executive Chef, was on hand as well, supporting Nicole and doing a fair share of the talking. And I like listening to him talk. I was getting a feel of Home Improvement at times. The two together do a great class, with good explanations and a feeling of general fun. I like it when people enjoy what they do.

Is it just me, or do pastry chefs always seem a lot happier than everyone else? I know from Emily Luchetti (Farallon, San Francisco as well, from last year’s WGF) is that part of it is going home every day smelling of sugar, cinnamon, and everything nice……

Nicole and Stuart ran us through three dishes to tie in with their theme of a tea service which they were handling in the lobby.

Hamachi Tartare

Qinoa Crepe, Pickled Carrots, Crème Fraiche

Caramelized Hazelnut Rice Pudding

Caraway Brown Butter, Apricot Compote

Bittersweet Chocolate Croquettes

Szechuan Pepper Sabayon, Honey Roasted Pears

The crepes were first up. Nicole got this underway, having Stuart brown the butter while she took over the talking. She looks to create texture in her crepes, and does this with spices, in this case crushed coriander seeds. Also they’re using quinoa, from South America. They were referring to it as “a perfect protein”. Looking it up it’s quite interesting. It’s a pseudocereal, not really a grass, but a variant of goosefoot. Besides being extremely well balanced in terms of nutrients, it’s also gluten free, so I could see how this would be getting popular in these times of endemic allergies.

(I’m curious if anyone’s tried using this instead of rice in a larb? Any comments from out there?)

The browned butter went into the crepe batter (just milk, eggs, and the flour), and then she mixed in the crushed spices and the quinoa, some sea salt, and Tabasco (which they consider third in line after béchamel and mayonnaise). A pan got a light wipe with an oiled paper towel, put on medium heat (not too hot!) and then spooned in as a pancake style, rather than over the bake of a pan.

A salad was done up quickly on the side, sunimono style, with shaved carrot pealings lightly pickled in rice vinegar, sea salt, sugar, and some EVOO. Then it got hit with some coriander and mint, just to keep our noses awake.

The hamachi (a nice fatty fish that they got as a wild catch from Japan) was sashimi’d.

The crepe went on the plate, the salad went on the crepe, and the hamachi went on the salad. A drizzle of some EVOO, a bit more sea salt, and then the cream fresh like a drift of Christmas snow on top of everything. Pretty.

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I already mentioned the general glee that pervades dessert chefs. Every time something worked well, we’d get a triumphant sibilant “Yesss!” from Nicole. We got that a lot.

Then we did everyone’s old favourite, rice pudding. For this she was using Arborio rice for the same reason as why we’d use it for risotto. The rounded grains hold well, and they give up their starch just they way you’d want for this sort of dish.

She does the rice like a milk risotto, heating the milk in a pan, then grating in cinnamon and nutmeg, and then whisking in the rice, boiling for a minute, then reducing the heat and stirring for two minutes. Then she lets it simmer for 45 minutes with the occasional stir to keep it from sticking. When that’s done, it goes straight onto an ice bath, where she continues to stir as it cools, developing the creaminess.

Nicole likes to stir.

She did a caraway brown butter to tie into the tea service. Easy enough, just lightly toast some caraway seeds, and then add the browned butter (it’s a good idea to keep browned butter around with these two).

The apricot compote was simple enough, using dried apricots. Any dried fruits could be used for this. Taste the fruit for sweetness, and add the appropriate amount of sugar to a cup of water. She cooks it just enough to plump the fruit up and start the breakdown, and then adds lime zest and lemon juice (“Yesss!”), and then it takes on a nice sheen with the sugar all dissolved. Then spoon this out and mix it with the brown butter and caraway.

The tuile was the fun part. This is a twice baked tuile, so we’re going for a lighter caramel. Sugar, cream of tartar, and enough water to make a wet sand is heated up to a until the bubbles get larger and slow down (Hmmm…..that sounds like me).

Note that a lot of these things are all going on at the same time. Nicole feels that a successful dessert operation keys off of multi tasking. If you can manage five or six things simultaneously, you’re going to be successful (“Yessss!”)

The caramel got poured out onto a silicon mat (God’s gift to dessert chefs), and then, once cooled, ground down. Some ground nuts were whisked in, and a touch of salt to counter the sweetness. You keep this covered, as it’ll suck in any water in the air.

After that breakup, sift it and then it gets heated up again, an annealing process. 325 degrees for a bit, pull it to shape, and then use it in the dessert.

Put the rice in the bowl, put in the compote (which was reheated so it didn’t solidify), and then garnish with the tuile.

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“Yesss!”

The third dish had me really excited. Anything with Szechuan peppercorns gets me really excited. And peppercorns get Stuart excited, too, so we’re a pretty worked up crowd.

Stuart was particularly admiring the fresh green peppercorns of Thailand, the ones we’ll find clustering like grape shot in our curries and other dishes.

They’re getting high quality Szechuan peppercorns now in San Francisco, which is a blessing. It seems that the US Food & Ag people had banned the little devils, and only opened things up again 3 or so years ago.

The peppercorns are steeped in heavy cream, removed from the heat and wrapped for 30 minutes before being strained out. Then the cream is chilled in an ice bath to be used in the sabayon.

The ganache recipe she uses is a favourite of hers. Pretty much foolproof, with no breaking. She’ll work with two types of chocolate to give her some play on the balance, generally a 58% and a 72%. In terms of makers, she’s got the normal preference for Valrhona, but also is quite happy with Scharffenberg across the bay (who were out here at the WGF in 2006 and 2004 respectively). A pinch of salt in the chocolate as it sits over the baine marie.

Eggs, egg yolks, sugar are beaten with appropriate joy, and then the chocolate is scraped in and whisked some more. Add the butter, and look for it to get shiny. Once it’s all beaten up, into the fridge for a couple of hours.

The pears are peeled, except for the crown, and put standing in a pan with honey, butter, sugar, and lemon zest, and then it’s like roasting a chicken. You roast it standing for 30 minutes, flip it to one side for 20 minutes, then flip it to the other for 20 minutes, and finally bring it back to standing, at which point you baste it every 10 minutes until the top turns black.

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The croquettes are formed by taking the ganache in a ball, and putting it into an egg-washed sheet of brick dough. “What’s brick dough?” we all shout. “It’s a specialty item from France” says Nicole, “probably the only thing we don’t make in our kitchen”. “What can we use instead?” cry we.

Phylo is the best bet. Use two sheets as a replacement. The brick dough comes in the sheerest of sheets, and is designed to fry crisp very quickly (and very crisp).

They fry these things in rice bran oil. This is a new product out of California that’s proving useful, as it has a high smoking temperature while being neutral in flavour.

You can do this wrap the day before, and fry close to the time of serving. But they’ll stay warm for awhile.

Fry the packet up, and it’s like a crispy, chocolate filled spanikitopita. Heck, if we use phylo it is a chocolate filled spanikitopita. My one caution would be that you could end up with the “glass shards” texture, that’s one reason for looking for brick dough if you can find it (I can’t).

Nicole is ready for the sabayon, whisk clutched gleefully in her hand. She likes beating things. The cream is strained of the peppercorns beforehand, and then whipped to medium peaks. A sweet wine, here a Muscat, is put in a pan with some sugar to dissolve, the pan tilted and rotated about to dissolve. Then the egg yolks are in a bowl, the wine is poured in, and she’s whisking again. Then this is thrown on an ice bath right away, and she continues whisking. She wants the mix the same temperature as the cream so they’ll blend. We get that lemon curd, ribbony look, and we’re there. Fold in the cream now and keep it chilled.

“Yesss”

Her notes recommend serving the sabayon in a small picture on the side of the crocquette, but here she plated the pears first, poured the sabayon over these, and then put the croquette atop.

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The meal hits the table starting with the crepe. Everyone else messes about with knives and such, but I make a minor calculation and figure it’s smaller than my head, so it should go in one bite.

I need to work on my calculations.

But it was a nice way to do it. Nicole was quite right that the crème fraiche was a key to the flavours.

Next they brought out the duck. They found out the night before that they needed to have a full lunch for this class, so they “put this together”. Crusted with cumin, peppers, ginger, rosemary and garlic. This was roasted, and then served over curried caramelized onion.

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The result of this impromptu decision was an incredibly “beefy” duck (loads of meat) with no gaminess. The spices took away much of that, and the bite of the pepper reminded you that you were there (now, if only they’d used Szechuan peppercorn on this).

The rice salad was good, but I actually would’ve preferred it without the compote. I found that the sourness of it detracted from the rich creaminess and sweetness of the pudding.

Mind you, we were told this would bring back memories of our childhood meals. We all had memories, but none of them were good.

We also started talking about how you can sometimes get Bhutanese apricot jam at the Nai Lert Bakery.

And Philipe is sounding good for a nice French dinner.

The final dessert was what I was waiting for. The sabayon, pear, and croquette. The Szechuan peppercorn came through pretty muted, but maybe that’s best for this sort of thing.

Now, when I get done with this trip, I think there’s a Szechuan peppercorn ice cream to be done up.

“Yesss!”

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