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The WGF in Bangkok


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Kobe Beef Tartare with Shaved Truffle Scented Foie Gras

Quail Egg and Chive Shallot Emulsion

I become fixated on synchronicity (and don't get me started on the number 42).

After Houston and Japan, I've been thinking that the best thing to do with really, really good beef is just eat it raw.

And then Michael Ginor has this on the proposed menu for the 23rd.

16 days until I get on that plane.

:cool:

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  • 3 weeks later...

WGF9

Like most of my stories, this one starts in a bar. In an airport. Waiting.

The great curse of modern travel is that we spend so much time not moving. We wait in lines for security, we wait in lines for check-in, we wait in lines for customs, and then we amble about aimlessly waiting for our aircraft to be ready to strap us in for that modern-equivalent of the Iron Maiden.

I was starting out in a good mood, you can tell. At least I had a cold Fosters to get me through prayer time.

Air travel aside, this promises to be a good trip. I’ll have two weeks in Bangkok, the first eight days tied up in the WGF and its precursor – brunch – and then a little less than a week on the tail end in which to further luxuriate in the hedonism that passes itself off as the capitol of Thailand.

Politics are still playing themselves out. The coup has not not yet come to a head, the prime minister has stepped down, being found guilty of cooking while on the job (Khun Samak had continued to play host on a culinary program), the PAD was still protesting – they’re just not certain what, the ex-prime minister had sold Manchester City, but he and the missus didn’t look to be coming back to visit yet, but he wasn’t too concerned as his brother-in-law was now put forward as the new PM.

I love this town.

There, my mood's reversed (as is my location, now)

I have today and half of tomorrow to my own devices. Such devices, of course, will include brunch. Dinner is still a matter of conjecture.

So many meals, so little time.

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September 21 – Going the Distance

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It was 9:00 a.m., and I was checking in. The critical thing is not to let my eyes close. That would be bad, as they wouldn’t be coming open again until after a dozen or so hours of sleep.

I don’t know about you, but (with one unfortunate exception at the Capital Grille in Houston) it is difficult for me to nod off while eating. Thus, once I’d cleaned off most of the air travel from me, brunch was the perfect solution.

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I’d recently covered the brunch in detail, so I won’t regurgitate it fully here.

While a buffet is one of those few meals that works solo (what with the coming and going) it is infinitely more fun when there’s good company. So I was very happy that Ellen (FlyingRat) could join me. She hadn’t done the brunch here before, so that made it even more fun, as the sharing of good things is one of life’s pleasures.

Dining with fellow eGulleters is enjoyable as there’s no need to hold back in terms of food geeking. I held forth on my brunch position – that it’s as much an event as a meal – and one to be extended and savoured.

For that reason, it’s important as to how you stage the dishes.

(I’ll keep the photos down to the items that I hadn’t done before.)

I’d done the wise thing, and ignored the airplane breakfast. The Thai stewardess was a little concerned, but when I told her I was saving my appetite for Bangkok, she agreed quite readily.

To open, I went for a Bloody Mary. Given my run down state, it seemed wise to be healthy and start with something vegetarian. I know, a tomato really is a fruit, not a vegetable, but I was too hungry to quibble.

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Then I began on the cold seafood. This works well, as the effort of deshelling slows down the frenzy that can otherwise break out, and the chill on the food can numb your appetite a bit, allowing you to hold back from immediate peaking.

The seafood selection had been enhanced with the addition of razor clams. In counter to the soft yielding flesh of the scallops, these provided a nice chewiness. The oysters, with their thin mucalness, the flake of the crab, and the meatiness of the prawn filled in the notches in the textural spectrum.

The Bloody Mary finished about halfway through the seafood (linger over the food, but ensure you stay hydrated) and so I continued with fruit, calling for a glass of chardonnay. It’s a lazy choice, but I’m a lazy fellow, and I didn’t want to complicate things just yet.

Back to food, the next move was to provide lubrication to facilitate the movement of food in the system. While motor oil does the job for a car’s engine, something else is required for the human body. Luckily, Nature has addressed this issue with the miracle we call foie gras….okay, the French call it that, but it sounds a lot better than just saying “duck liver”.

As a set I had a foie gras sausage, the foie gras custard (a cheerful bowl of yellow goodness), and, of course, three slabs of the seared foie gras. This, I feel, is an integral element in any good breakfast.

Next, I broke with tradition, and in a rather daring move, went for the grill early. I’d been mentally wrestling with this choice for some time, as my normal tactic is to put off the meats for later, as the harder to digest protein can fill you up and get in the way of other foods.

But my rationing was that too often I don’t have enough craving (or space) left in the final stretches of the brunch, and can’t really do justice to the meats. By taking it early, it might cost me a bit in the intermediate stage, but with three hours to go, I felt that I would have overcome this initial setback.

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Still, restraint is the key to surviving a brunch. I passed the chefs my order. I took only a slice of the roast pork, which called to me with the twinkle of its crackling. Apple sauce, unlooked for but most welcome, came in a dollop on one end to hold the pig in place. I asked for the smallest chunk of tuna they had, and had that lightly seared and presented with a cream sauce, and then indulged in a lamb chop.

With an Australian Syraz in hand, I worked steadily through the plate. The result was a success, with only a bit of the edge of my appetite dulled. But with this out of the way, I could dally over the various sundries.

I ordered some sashimi, looking for the cold freshness together with the nose-cleaning properties of wasabi to rejuvenate me. Octopus, tuna, salmon, and mackeral did nicely for me, paired with a martini that I’d asked them to deliver when the fish was served.

While I waited for the sashimi to arrive, I went heavy again with a plate of grilled eel, using a steamer of Chinese sumai (dumpling) to lighten things up. Feeling the need for a vegetarian element in advance of the martini, I opted for another Bloody Mary.

The sashimi brought me up to the surface, and I was feeling generally human by this point.

Ellen’s company helped, too, as it gives you a reason to kick back for a few minutes from time to time and compare notes, giving your body time to regenerate the enthusiasm you need to make it through a brunch of this sort.

I’m on record as having a weak spot for sausages, and so the Thai station lured me in with cheerful little sai krod grilling over charcoal. With this there were also chicken meatballs, which looked to be worth a try. The moo ping (pork satay) also looked good, and they had miang kam in a shot glass, the ingredients heavily loaded with a sweet syrup which held everything together. I usually only add a couple of drops – but I couldn’t argue with what they’d done here, it made it much more of a “sweet” than usual, which helped with the generous use of chilis in the sai krod.

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I was beginning to flag, but there was still an hour. Just as oil should be topped up from time to time, I realized that what I needed was more foie gras. But this time it was only three slabs of the pan seared, with a flute of Jeanne D’Arque sparkling to revive me.

I chased that with a half dozen oysters, and that was enough to pull me back from the edge, the chill snapping me awake.

The incident had taught me caution. I’d do better with the cold dishes now, and keep the quick energy of fat close at hand. With another glass of syraz in hand, I turned to the cheeses and charcouterie. While indulging in the full fat experience of good, runny cheese I had time to linger and talk some more, and the carnal red of the meats kept me alert enough to keep functioning.

Next was a plate of the Four Seasons smoked salmon. It was good, but I’m a Vancouverite snob about such things, and still have my preferences. I loaded up on marinated mushrooms, and took heart in some artichokes.

We were approaching the final stretches. Madison was beginning to empty, now only perhaps half full, and there was just another half hour on the clock. I ordered a final plate of the foie gras, and then turned my thoughts to dessert.

As you know, I’m not a “dessert guy”. But everything looks so pretty, and the sight of the Grand Marnier bottle by a crepe pan was enough to get me excited.

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I took the crepes with fresh mango and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A glass of the sparkling gave a nice edge to the sweetness on my plate.

This left only a pair of puddings and some chocolate truffles between myself and the finish. Ellen asked for some coffee, and I, in turn, ordered a final martini, this one gin with a twist of lemon.

And there we were, safely through the process, emergent on the other side none the worse for wear.

Okay, I might’ve become a little bigger…….but travel is meant to be broadening.

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Next: Disaster Strikes

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September 21 – Diversion

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I’d told myself not to close my eyes. I’d made myself promise not to look at the inside of my eyelids…..

One of the problems with talking to yourself all the time is you stop paying attention.

I closed my eyes.

When I woke up, it was 7:30, and I’d missed canapés in the lounge. My dinner plans for the evening had fallen through earlier, when people I’d hoped to be meeting were hung up in Shanghai.

What would I eat?

This is Bangkok. There’s always something to eat.

Back near Asoke and Sukhuvit, there’d been an interesting looking stall I’d passed a couple of times when I was staying near there in July. That would do quite nicely.

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This stall had drawn my attention for two reasons:

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First, the innovative lighting solution. There’s something just a little jarring about a naked fluorescent tube, and this sarong of noodle wrapper just took the edge off.

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And second, of course, were the ingredients. On a bed of ice there were river prawns, crabs, cockles, squid, oysters, and, of course hot dogs.

Hot dogs just fit in so well.

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But what I was really looking for was the offal. They had a nice pile of pig intestine over to one side, and my heart (and liver, spleen, and perhaps one kidney) were set on guts.

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They came out boiled, with hunks of fat still clinging to them, resistant to the wash. A nice appetizer, chewy and greasy, with fresh vegetables to aid in the digestion.

Kent Wang had raised the question awhile back as to Where's the offal in Thai cuisine?

For some reason, while it’s readily available here, you don’t see it on the menus outside of Thailand (often).

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Cockles are always a good choice, so I had a plate of these, mouths agape and orange tongues spiting me to eat them (which I did).

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Squid in basil over rice was meant to fill me out, and went partway to accomplishing that task. A good, solid burn to this, with enough chilis to satisfy, but not to put it over the top.

But this standard prep gave me an idea. I went back and asked for more of the entrails, but this time fried in the same manner.

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This worked admirably well. The frying took away more of the fat, and firmed up the intestinal walls, and the burn from the extra chilis in this woke me up enough.

At least awake enough to grab a cab and get back home. I needed to close my eyes.

Next: Day 1 – Almost

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Aside: An Explanation, Not An Excuse

By now a few of you may be asking "Where's the WGF in this?"

There'd been a change of schedule to the WGF, with the start being pushed back to Monday. And with Monday, there'd be no lunchtime class, only the opening dinner.

But that's okay. As I'd said, there were plenty of places to eat, and I wanted to get some good Thai food in me before settling into the alternative cuisines of the WGF.

So, bear with me for one more Thai meal, a lunch, and then we'll get into the functions.

Next: One More Thai Meal

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September 22 – A Final Diversion on the Road to the WGF

Kinnaree

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As I’d mentioned, this first Monday of the WGF found me without a lunch class to occupy my time. But Bangkok is the great Waster of Time, so I had no fear of being left with nothing to do.

Waking up, for instance. That wasn’t an easy thing. When my eyes did become unglued, it was to find the angry red clock lights accusing me of it being 11:00 a.m. I took that as accurate advice, and washed, swam, and then did some writing.

And then the phone rang. My nephew, Clark, had arrived from Canada. Things were heating up. I called Ellen to see if she could do lunch at Kinnaree, as it’s quite convenient for her, then I took my jet-lagged groggy nephew in tow, and set off for a quick intro to the BTS and getting around.

Kinnaree was as I’d left it, which means beautifully laid out, and very quiet. I was very happy to be here this time, as, with Clark and Ellen, we could start ordering more. I’d felt bad about only having a handful of dishes last time, so I’d asked Ellen to start ordering, and we’d top up.

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Sitting on the table were a nice yam som o and a krathong tong. The yam som o was, as always, enjoyable. How could it be anything else? In part I like that mix of sweetness and sour, although I find the pomelo here so much sweeter than what I can buy back home. For the other part, I can never approach this dish without thinking of the human effort that goes into separating all of the pieces of pomelo into their individual bits.

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The krathong tong, those little waffle cups topped up with minced chicken and corn, and finished with that little bit extra that I like about Kinnaree, in this case a perfect leaf of coriander topped with one sliver of red chili.

When I was here last there were a number of items on the menu that looked tempting, but I’d limited myself by dining solo. Now I could give more play to the order.

This was my nephew’s first Thai meal in Thailand, so there were some things we had to do (besides yam som o). One was tom kha kai. The rich comfort of good chicken stock with coconut milk and galanga. A small drizzle of chili oil in the mix, but not that it would burn. This is more a soup of comfort than a full frontal assault.

They had Neur Pun Saparod – thin slices of meat wrapped around pineapple and grilled. How can you say anything bad about a pineapple?

And there were river prawns wrapped in pandan leaves – gung ho bai toey. The roasted pandan gave it that trademark smell as you unwrapped it, and then you had the soft, wet meat of the prawn itself, pulled away from the oversized head of the crustacean.

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Sweetheart crab – a crab farci – was brought to us on a bed of fried noodles. Crab is always good like this when someone else does the work.

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Hor mok pla salmon, while not traditional (I have yet to observe an annual salmon run up the Mekong or Chao Phrya – although the idea does have its attractions). This mousse of fish, crab, and prawns (or whatever is at hand) was soft and pliable inside, the little dab of coconut cream giving it a little push to the moist side. I lusted after this dish, too, I must admit.

And, finally, I had one of the vegetarian dishes. Ellen had enjoyed these last time, so we ordered up the lamb massaman – a rich curry with lumps of what appeared to be lamb. This was vegetable protein, but molded and coloured to look like a hunk of lamb. Buried in the thick yellow massaman sauce, it did pass as something a carnivore would look enjoy. I wish the photo for this had worked out, but my camera skills devolve by the day.

We were doing well. I was still awake and Clark was only slightly groggy. We had to get back to the Four Seasons so we made our farewells, and headed for the BTS.

Next: The WGF Begins

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September 22 – Siggi Hall

Iceland. I think of…..well….ice. And rocks. And volcanoes, geysers, Viking longboats, NATO anti-submarine warfare. That sort of stuff.

But what it actually is is the country the UN has pegged as “most developed”, with an excellent standard of living, a healthy economy (still heavily based upon food exports), and a strong sense of tradition and culture.

And any time I hear tradtion and culture, I start to think of food.

I’ll put aside the travel statistics for later, as we’ll be doing Siggi’s cooking class, too, so I’ll yack about that later.

We were dining in Shintaro, a nice setting for this, as I was to find a number of similarities with Japanese cuisine, not least the emphasis on fish.

Siggi took a couple of minutes to discuss the food, most of which had come with him from Iceland in some darn large luggage, but I’ll put those comments in place with the dishes that come up.

I’d been looking forward to trying his food since I’d begun doing the background research on him earlier in the month. He is very much the man for Icelandic cuisine, having led the Icelandic culinary team for 5 years in the 90’s, and is a key player in the New Nordic Cuisine promotions, this last seeing him appearing on dozens of tv programs over the years. I’d met him for a moment the day before at brunch, as he was still getting over the flight trauma (like me). He’s a very large man, with that slow rumbling manner of speech that I like in the Scandinavians, reminding me of a bear coming out of slumber. And he also shares that pleasant happy nature I find in a lot of the Scandinavians.

Pip from Sileni of New Zealand was up next. Sileni, happily, was back for this WGF. I’d really enjoyed their tasting when they were here a couple of years ago. They were very concerned about developing their wines for food, and then Pip brought their chef with them from the culinary school. It was a great session, and when I’d seen their names on the list earlier in August, I was quite happy. The Kiwis always approach everything they do with a certain joy – be it making wine, bungie jumping, or driving a bus, so it’s hard not to like them.

Pip did joke that the Four Seasons must have been looking at a map of the world, and tried to pick the two farthest spots to match up for a dinner. But there was a lot in the menu that she felt would work with their wines, and she was looking forward to seeing how things worked out.

Sileni is in a good position here, being the leading NZ wine in the Thai market. Okay, that’s small compared to the role the Aussies play here, but they’re happy with the relation ship they’ve built up, which isn’t bad given that the winery is only on its 10th vintage.

But enough of that, let’s consider the food.

Plate of Icelandic Starters

Herring with Horseradish Sauce

Cured Salmon

Langoustine Tails

Sileni Estate Selection Hawke’s Bay, The Circle Semillon 2004

We’d started with the wine in the lobby, but I’d been too busy shmoozing to take a glass. Luckily it carried through the first dish, and I was able to linger over a glass while waiting for the first course.

For a semillon it was darker than expected, and with an earthy nose. It hit the front of the palate, and then lingered around the edges, with a lot of citrus. It was clean and fresh, and made for a good opener, although it needed to be warmed up a bit so we could get more of the flavours out of it.

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Herring! I like herring. And this was done in two ways atop a slab of that thickly dark black bread of the Nordic countries. The one half had a spicey horseradish sauce, while the other piece was a sweeter flavour, with almost a hint of plum in the background.

Beside it, in the middle, was a wonderful bit of gravlox. This had been done with fennel, dill, mustard seed, and then a good hit of vodka, giving it quite a different flavour. I’d asked Siggi about this, and he’d used vodka as a more neutral backing for the herbs, but if you wanted to increase this, then you could use aquavit instead, as it has many of the same flavours. It’s just a question of how intense you want it to be.

And third was the crispy langoustine tail. As Rona has said “frying is good”, and I’m not about to argue with her.

Arctic Charr with Langoustine Sauce and Julienne of Green Leeks

Sileni Cellar Selection, Marlborough, Sauvignon Blanc 2007

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Siggi had introduced this fish as “if salmon is the King, then char is the pretty little princess”. It’s a much less intense fish, without the oil and strength of salmon, with a texture that pulls away in moist parcels of meat. The sauce, a cream with a strong langoustine flavour, was really, really good. This was a very nice dish, and I was looking forward to finding out how the sauce was made in the class.

The wine, a sauvignon blanc from their vineyards in the South Island, was, again, just too cold. It also wasn’t as citrusy as expected, atypical of the New Zealand sauvignon blancs. We asked Pip about this, and she said this was on purpose. They’d wanted to avoid the aggressiveness tart gooseberry flavour of many of the others from the Marlborough, as they mean their wines to be companions to the foods, rather than wines made to stand only as wines.

Baked Cod with Almond Crust

Sileni Estate Selection, North Ilsand, The Lodge Chardonnay 2006

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Another fish, this one the mighty cod, cornerstone of Iceland’s economy. Siggi had encrusted it in a luminous alien coating of green, which did give a very nice crisp to the outside, while also imparting the flavour of the herbs and nuts.

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Filet of Lamb and Lamb Sausage with Xéres Sauce and Sage

Sileni Satyr, Marlborough, Pinot Noir 2006

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Iceland is very proud of its lamb. Siggi explained that the animals are all free range from the point of weaning, and that you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer lamb in all the world. Now, bear in mind he’s saying this with a New Zealander present (“We know a thing or two about sheep”).

It is a very good piece of lamb. Not a lot of excess fat (which I would’ve enjoyed) but very tender, and without any gaminess to it. The sauce, with a good quantity of sweet sherry in it, was likewise excellent, and the potatos, loaded with cream, finished off a perfect mouthful. He’d tempura’d a leaf of sage, and had some pretty little vegetables there as garnish.

The sherry in the sauce was a nice touch. Iceland was paid for the bacalao they delivered to Iberia with port in the old days, and so there’s been a good selection over the centuries for cooking and sipping.

The pinot noir was very interesting, not at all what Clark was expecting, as he’d had a number of New Zealand pinot noirs before, and was looking for that “funky” nose, what one of the others at our table referred to as “barnyard”. This one was very much about cherries, and very soft tannins. On it’s own it didn’t do much for us, but once we took it with the lamb it proved to be an excellent match, and the strengths of the wine came very much to the forefront once our other tastebuds were activated.

But I didn’t mention the sausage. As Siggi circulated at the bar and tables, a cry came up from behind us of “The sausage!”; obviously a (raucaus) vote of approval. This was packed with herbs and flavour, and, cut, was beautiful when soaked with the sauce.

With the meat finished, we took the opportunity to call back the earlier whites. These had had enough time out of the fridge now for the flavours to come out from hibernation, and the nose and the palate both improved a lot, making an even more agreeable splash in the mouth.

Blueberry Pie with Vanilla Skyr Ice cream

Sileni Estate Selection, Hawke’s Bay, Late Harvest Semillon 2004

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Skyr, pronounced “ski-er”, is a fun ingredient for an ice cream. It’s like a mascarpone, or a thick, tart yogurt, and is a solid part of the Icelandic diet. And, if there’s a national berry, it’s the blueberry. Dress it up with strawberry and blackberry sauces, a bit of chocolate, and you’ve got a good finish.

They’d made the ice cream with minimal sugar, which made the dessert a better match for the Semillon, or the “sticky” as Pip called it. Very similar to a sauterne, this was a pretty thing, and one we were happy to call back to the table several times (I’m not shy).

But, I’m proud to say we weren’t last out of the restaurant. Mind you, part of that most of us were seriously flagging, and some serious sleep sounded like an excellent idea.

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September 23 – A Touch of Class

I woke up. Again the red numbers of death were confronting me from my bedside, but this time it wasn’t so bad. It was only about 8. Serena and Yoonhi would be arriving soon, so I headed for the shower.

As expected, just as I was about to wash, they arrived. It’s a guarantee.

Once the family was settled, and Yoonhi had set out with Serena for the pool, Clark and I went down for the first of the cooking classes.

Celina Tio

Celina grew up in a house where her grandfather, Julian, did the cooking. When he wasn’t cooking, the other men in the house were. By eight she’d developed a resolve to be the first woman in the family to cook in the kitchen. She stuck to it.

The result is a charming young lady with a solid background who’s taken a series of the top awards; 2005 Chef of the Year (Chef Magazine) and 2007 Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation (among others).

I’d be happy enough if I could get Serena to be resolved enough to get out of bed for breakfast right now.

The dishes we’d be doing today were, as Celina said, indicative of American cooking, which means you can do just about anything. We would start with the Sonoma mushroom stack, then we’d do a braised pork belly, and finish with her version of a Baklava. A bit of California, some solid US pot roast, and a touch of the Med.

Celina had been at The American in Kansas City for the last several years, but had left it a couple of months ago. She’s spent the time with her two and half year old. But she was itching to return to the kitchen, and was preparing to open her own place now, which will be called Julian.

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They changed the layout of the demo, moving everything 90 degrees counterclockwise, and installing an impressive Gaggenau cooking station. Where before there’d been a small oven and a table top gas burner for the chefs, now they had a grill, gas range, magnetic induction unit, two ovens, and a huge standing fridge/freezer.

All of which made it harder to figure out. But it looks really good. I’m an easy sell on hardware.

Sonoma Mushroom Stack

serves 4 to 6 (depending on the number of eggs)

First up was a revelation regarding ricotto. I’ve been spending too much money buying it. Part of Celina’s style is to make her ingredients herself, rather than sourcing them. The ricotta was dead easy.

1 gallon milk (raw would be best, if you can get it)

¼ cup vinegar

We brought the milk up to 92 degrees C (we’ll be waffling between centigrade and Fahrenheit here), and then, when the milk came up, poured in the vinegar to get it to curdle, which happens right away.

Then she took off the curds, let them settle for a couple of minutes, and then worked them up like scrambled eggs to break the size down evenly.

1 sheet of phyllo pastry

fresh ground pepper and kosher salt to taste

2 tbsp butter

First, clarify the butter, and have it ready with a brush. Then spread out your phyllo in a full sheet. Cover this with a damp cloth so it doesn’t dry out. Then spread out another, and cover, and then take a third sheet and brush with the clarified butter. Top this with the second sheet, brush it, too, with butter, and then season lightly. Then take that first sheet that was staying moist, brush it with butter, and add it to the stack. Now, using either a knife or a wheel, cut the phyllo stacks into 3 inch squares. Bake these at 375 degrees centigrade for 7 to 9 minutes. You’ll want to either bake them between two non-stick baking sheets, or, if you don’t have heavy these, just find something reasonably heavy and flat to put on top (that won’t stick) so that you can keep the sheets flat.

1.5 lb of assorted mushrooms (she had some really pretty clamshells with her)

1 shallot

1 clove of garlic

2 teaspoons red vinegar

2 ounces vegetable stock

1 teaspoon chives

fresh ground pepper and kosher salt to taste

1 tablespoon of butter

Meanwhile, the mushrooms were sautéing on the flat top, a touch of olive oil to start things. After 30 seconds she added some minced garlic and shallots.

Seasoning, she always does it in three stages. At the start, before the it heats up, in the middle, and at the end.

After another minute or so, add some red wine vinegar and vegetable stock to the ‘shrooms and then let it reduce a shade. Then hit it with that tablespoon of butter you had back in the recipe, and swirl it in. When it’s all functional, add the chives, and touch up the seasoning (the third stage) to taste.

With the mushrooms ready, they’re put aside. This is a dish that can be prepped in advance.

Next, we turn our attention to the eggs. These are cooked one by one.

4 to 6 farm fresh eggs, whole

fresh ground pepper and kosher salt to taste

1 cup panko bread crumbs (the Japanese kind)

2 tablespoons of butter (you can never have enough butter)

Put a little oil in, and then sprinkle in half the bread crumbs. Work out a divot in the middle for the yolk to nestle in, and then crack and slide in the egg. Season for the first time.

Sprinkle more bread crumbs on top.

When its cooked on the bottom, carefully flip it and cook it crispy and brown on the other side too (and season). Be careful that you keep the yolk soft. One of Celina’s favourite quotes was “the egg is the only food that comes with its own sauce”.

With the egg complete, a lovely golden brown colour, you now come to the best part. You trim off the edges to square the shape, and then you get to eat the edges (and check the seasoning).

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Now you can plate it. Egg on the bottom, and then top this with some ricotta. Put the phyllo square on top of the cheese, and then stack up the mushrooms, repeating the phyllo/mushroom layers as ambitiously as you choose. When it’s ready, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and pop it in the oven to warm up a touch (if needs be).

I little sprinkle of oil and herbs around the plate, and you’re there.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly

3 lb pork belly

2 quarts brine

6 purple carrots blanched

6 yellow carrots blanched

6 orange carrots blanched

24 tri coloured pearl onions

24 marble potatoes, blanched and split

¼ cup pinot noir

1 cup veal stock

fresh ground black pepper and kosher salt to taste

1 teaspoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon of cold butter

Note: the water

The recipe above is the one in the book, but you’ll find that we added and took with what was available at hand. For the carrots, we used just some nice purple ones, pretty little vegetables that’ll dress up well. Those in the recipe provide a nice range of colours, but you could just as easily use any good old-fashioned orange carrot.

The day before….

Start off with a brine. Celina’s fond of brines. She boils up water with a bit of sugar and enough salt. This breaks down the crystals. Then she adds in peppercorns and herbs and lets it cool.

With the brine cold, she skins the belly and lets it have about two hours in the salt bath.

The pork belly, out of the brine, is seasoned and then seared. Move it from the pan to a parchment covered tray, and let it go for four hours at 250 F. After the time is up, put the meat on another parchmented tray,put some parchment on top, then weigh the meat down to keep it flat as it cools overnight.

I’m going to have to buy more parchment.

The day of serving, slice the pork into 6 ounce servings, and then fry it fat side down to render some of the fat out and get it crispy. It’s a heart warming sight to see a lump of pork like that sizzling away on the flat top. Then you can put it in the oven for 40 minutes at 250 F again to heat through.

Take the vegetables and sauté them over medium high in olive oil, going for a golden brown finish. Celina added in celery here, as well as some fresh thyme (but not the parsley yet). When you get golden, deglaze with the wine and reduce by half. Then add the veal stock, and add the cold butter. Chop the parsley, and add it to the sauce last.

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The plating is straightforward. The sauce goes in, the meat takes centre place (and a little more seasoning), and then the onions and potato go in the sauce, and those pretty, thin carrots garnish the top.

Frozen ‘Baklava’

Honey Semifreddo with Warm Pistachio Cake and Crispy Phyllo

We start with Celina’s version of Baklava.

2 sheets of phyllo pastry

2 oz melted butter

1 oz sugar

First, the sheet of phyllo is draped down like a shroud, then brushed with butter and sprinkled with sugar. Then drape another shroud and brush with butter and sprinkle with sugar again. The recipe just calls for two sheets, but you could make this thicker if you chose.

The sugar can be any type, depending if you want a slight granularity, or just the sweetness (castor). Brown of various flavours will work, too. It’s just a matter of taste.

Knife or wheel, take your pick, you cut the prepped Baklava into rectangles (or whatever shape you’re after) and pop it in the oven until golden.

Keeping with the trend, the phyllo is also baked weighted down to keep it flat.

Next up was the semifreddo:

1 cup heavy cream

1 egg

2 tsp gelatin (or 2 sheets – she prefers sheets, like most chefs I’ve talked to)

1.5 tbsp water

2.5 oz honey

This can form the basis of a lot of desserts, taking just about any topping you can imagine. Semi-frozen, it doesn’t need the churning of ice cream. You can just mix it up, flavour it, and then freeze it in shape, giving you a perfectly easy way to eat cream.

The gelatin sheets were bloomed back while we were working on the phyllo, and then heated gently in a double broiler to bind the gelatin to the honey, then allow to cool.

The cream was whipped to medium peaks with the eggs, and then the honey/gelatin was mixed in as well, with a little reserved for painting the plate.

The whip in the mixer was a little short, so Celina ended up doing it by hand, which was a much faster process. This is then poured out into the molds, and banged off to the freezer.

The third part was the pistachio cake.

9.5 oz browned butter

3 oz pistachio flour

6 oz all purpose flour

8 oz powdered sugar

9 oz of egg whites

This is basically a financier. Whip the egg whites up to a froth, and then add the flours and sugars and whip until evenly combined. At that point, slowly dd the browned butter while continuing to whip.

At this point, let the batter rest overnight. Okay, we can’t do that with the time at hand, but then again, we’re not really going to eat this one, we’re going to eat the ones made earlier, so it’s okay. The batter is piped into molds and spatula’d clean, and then baked.

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For the plating, put down the bit of reserved honey, then use the sheet of ‘Baklava’ to separate the cake from the semifreddo. Top with a sprinkle of pistachio to match the cake’s underpinning, and chow down.

With the dishes we did three wines from Vincor. The first two were from their Jordanne subsidiary. This is a joint venture of Vincor and Boissset France, working from vineyards in the Niagara region (the Canadian side, that is).

The first was Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay from 2006. This had a bit of butterscotch to it, and more tropical fruit tones than what we’d had the night before. With the mushroom stack and the thickness of the egg yolk squirting out, this was a good match.

Then the pinot noir. This was also part of Jordanne’s Village Reserve, a 2005. This smelled like a pinot noir, and was also a fair pairing for the pork, which pulled apart under the fork.

Not bad wines, in either case, and safe with the plates they were supporting.

Vincor had been out here a few years back. Then it was the Inniskillin Icewine they’d been promoting, and that’s still their primary product here. With the Baklava they served the 2006 Oak Aged Vidal Icewine, a nice touch of nectar to slide along with the honey and cream of the dessert.

I would love to do an Inniskillin with some foie gras at some point. I’ll have to look for that. They’ll be putting it into the market here in December. I remember when they were promoting it back here before, and when asked about the best place to get a bottle, it was Singapore Duty Free, given that the Thai tax system pretty much kills most wine sales here.

It’s good to see Vincor back here. They were out last for WGF 4 or 5, I’d have to go back to my notes (which aren’t here in Bangkok with me). One of the Canadian success stories, they were bought out by Constellation of the US. But then, Constellation is part of Seagram’s, which goes back north of the border. It was Constellation as well that bought up Mondavi on that fateful night a few years back when we sat down to a vertical tasting of the Mondavis here at the Four Seasons a few WGFs ago.

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I poked around behind the Gaggenau front, admiring the under-the-counter fume hood, and the MI unit. They had a neat accessory that I should pick up, a metal ring, like the crown of the Monkey King, that rests on the MI unit. This both maintains the contact so that the system doesn’t shut down when you raise away (at least, that’s a feature on my Eurodib) and it allows you to use your round bottom woks.

This was the first lunch class, and, along with the food and wine, we were all catching up on the latest places to eat in town. Isao, on Sukhumvit soi 31 sounded good, a small Japanese venue; and everyone was saying good things about Ember, a Northern extension of the Singapore venture. And there was also a really good crab winter noodle place in the food court in the Emporium……

I need more time for eating.

Next: more time eating

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Peter, you making me want to lick the screen. Man the pork belly is calling to me. :wub:

I hadn't thought of offal not being offered in Thai restaurants until you brought it up. Hmmmm I wonder if it is because they think the customers wouldn't be interested, or something else?

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Peter, you making me want to lick the screen. Man the pork belly is calling to me. :wub:

I hadn't thought of offal not being offered in Thai restaurants until you brought it up. Hmmmm I wonder if it is because they think the customers wouldn't be interested, or something else?

I think there's an issue with a lot of the "new cultures" not wanting to offend their host countries. Yes, some of us lose out, but we avoid having them feel bad about us feeling bad.

That's an odd way of putting it, I know, but it's all about how you feel about how people feel.

I've been out here too long, I know.

Tonight's dinner, the Gala, was fun. I have a tumbler full of Yamazaki whiskey that I extorted out of the staff, and now I'm wondering if there's some beer Chang to be had.

But, we'll get back to that in due time.

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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I've fallen so far behind in my writing that I think I owe everyone a synopsis.

I can take the full pleasure of obsessing and posting and obsessing about posting later on, as the weeks unfold.

Following up on Celina's class, we did the foie gras dinner (which I'm working on the write-up now). Michael is a good standard for quality (and quality requires standards). He does have the benefit of knowing this place very well, and so he can drop into the groove with little effort. But he's also incredibly well-disciplined (as opposed to me) and so can always deliver an excellent meal, to the point that he'll do interesting things that another guest chef might not dare. I'll leave the details to the full writing, but that's the general impression.

The class with Siggi the next day (the 24th) was pleasant. I've spent a little time talking and eating with Siggi, and he's one of those people you just naturally like. The preparations were clean and straightforward (I have to try making that sausage at home), and the instruction didn't overwhelm the notebook. The Silenis came over far better in this setting, giving us more time to reflect on the differences between them and standard Kiwis, and my nephew is now an avid fan of theirs.

After Siggi we did Glen Ballis that evening. I'd talked with Malcolm, the F&B here, about this, and what they did makes sense after I've thought about it. The whole idea was to be eclectic. An Australian chef cooking in Moscow doing Asian food in a Japanese restaurant with good Bordeaux wines. That's eclectic. This is one case where I wish he'd been earlier in the program with his cooking class, as his food is (perhaps) the most complicated.

The next day it was class with Jeffrey Jakes. Clean, straightforward, and he has the practice and style of a good teacher, keeping a continual stream of information coming to you as he tries to figure out the hi-tech kitchen we have this year. I think he did the best job of defining American food, drawing upon the iconic hamburger: "In America, we adjust the flavours to suit our tastes". I'll come back to that idea later on in this thread.

That evening was dinner in Biscotti with Celina. I like Biscotti, I like Celina. This was a good meal, and, while some of the meals did better in the more clinical setting of the classroom, this one was superb in the wine dinner. Plus, the Jordanne wines of Niagara came over very well (and I snuck in a few extra glasses of the sparkling Icewine).

Mornings were getting to be a chore by this point, but at least we had the day to ourselves on Friday. I'll give you a break form the WGF when I get to this, and post some Thai food again.

The Gala was, well, a gala. Jewelry, a different crowd of people, and lots of pretty dresses. Myself, I was sweating to death in a tux, but how often do I get to wear one. As a meal it worked out well, without the button popping excess of some prior years. And I found a tumbler of Yamazaki whiskey in the room this morning when I came back at 6 a.m. after a march through town with some of the chefs.

And so we find ourselves existing in the now (something I try not to do too often). Clark and I did Glen's class, by far the most challenging, and Serena and Yoonhi did tea in the lobby with a crowd of my friends. I'm debating the relative strengths of nap vs swim, and my daughter is doing the otaku thing with her new games from MBK.

If I do a swim, maybe I'll fit in my tuxedo again?

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The rains have started.

After a week of gun-metal skies, interrupted by the odd bit of brilliant blue, the heavens have opened.

We did the brunch today. I'd intended to miss it, but we suddenly realized that Clark had no idea of what brunch really should be. So, it was a matter of obligation.

After the four hour marathon everyone was content and it became apparent that my family needed to go for a massage.

And so, I enjoy the rain.

The best line today - Clark, while I'm explaining the strategy of eating the buffet "Great! Just what I need; an eating coach".

Maybe there's a career for me in that?

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September 27 - Afternoon Tea

Since Peter's not much of a dessert guy, he asked me to do the pictures for Michael Laiskonis's Afternoon Tea, for which I joined Yoonhi, Serena and three others in the lobby of the Four Seasons. (This will be out of order, but Oh Well! :biggrin: )

(BTW, all of my photos are up at our Flickr account. Apologies for the crappy pictures...my husband has our good camera with him in Australia, and I have to make do with our old one. Yeah, that's my excuse.)

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The menu, as sent to me by Peter a few weeks ago, was as follows:

Savory

Smoked Salmon “Croque Monsieur” (Warm/Live)

Spicy Chilled Tomato Water Consommé

Scallop Ceviche

Mushroom Tart, Parmagiano Reggiano

Prosciutto/Iberico Wrapped Melon/Fig, Balsamico

Cauliflower Panna Cotta, Oyster Gelée, Caviar

Torchon of Foie Gras, Dashi Gelée, Hijiki

Seared Beef Roulade

Roasted Shrimp, Mango, Cilantro

Entremet

Caramel (Almond Sponge, Caramel Marmelade, Almond Nougatine, Caramel Glaçage)

Passion Fruit (Citrus Sponge, Ginger Vanilla Cream, Passion Fruit Gelée, White Spray)

Rose (Pistachio Biscuit, Raspberry Gelée, Fresh Raspberry)

Chocolate (Chocolate Sponge, Feuilletine, Dark Chocolate Glaçage)

Milk Chocolate (Chocolate Sponge, Cinnamon Caramel Cream, Dark Chocolate Spray)

Coconut (Chestnut Biscuit, Lemon Cream, Meringue)

Individual Desserts

Chocolate Caramel Peanut Tart

Vanilla Olive Oil Parfait, Avocado, Grapefruit

Strawberry Consommé, Tapioca Pearl, Basil Seed, Basil Gelée

Gianduja Parfait, Banana, Hazelnut, Honey

Yuzu Cream, Green Tea Biscuit, “Faux” Meringue

“Egg”: Milk Chocolate Pot de Crème, Caramel, Maple, Maldon Sea Salt

Soft Chocolate Ganache, Sweet Corn

Cinnamon Beignets, Apple “Shot”

Tea Cake

Olive Oil Financier

Lemon Cake

Carrot Cake

Banana-Walnut Cake

Chocolate Bonbons

Milk Chocolate-Star Anise

Dark Chocolate Sesame Praline Cream

White Chocolate-Banana Rum

Salted Caramel Palet d’Or

There were also ice creams, as well, which I didn't see on the original menu: a green tea (served with anko and palm sugar syrup), a coconut (served with caramelized pineapple and banana, I believe), and a vanilla, if I remember correctly.

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The layout was very nice, with multiple smaller stands decorated with vegetation floating in big glass cylinders. Very elegant!

We scored a table close to the buffet, right next to the display for the "Egg" dessert:

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These were individual blown-out eggshells, filled with a chocolate cream. The chef would finish filling them with a caramel mousse, drizzle on a bit of maple syrup, then finally add a few sprinkles of Maldon sea salt. Delicious!

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The savories (clockwise from top): Prosciutto-wrapped Figs, Salmon Croque-Monsieur, Roasted Shrimp, and Cauliflower Panna Cotta.

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All four were excellent. Yoonhi commented on the shrimp in particular-- the rich mango coulis was extremely mild (we thought it was egg yolk at first) and perfectly complemented the succulent shrimp. My personal favorite was the croque-monsieur: thinly-sliced smoked salmon, a mild cheese, and-- the perfect topper-- very finely chopped preserved lemon!

The rest of savories: Scallop Ceviche (off in the top left corner), then (clockwise from top) the Tomato Water Consomme, Torchon of Foie Gras, and Mushroom Tart.

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Again, all very good. Of these four, the tomato water consomme was my least favorite-- tasty, and good for cutting the richness of the foie gras, but nothing that special. The scallop ceviche was served in scallop shells atop a pile of salt mixed with star anise and pink peppercorns.

On to the sweet stuff!

Cinnamon "Beignets" and Apple Shot:

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Strawberry Consomme, Tapioca Pearl, Basil Seed, Basil Gelee:

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It's amazing how well strawberries and basil go together. The addition of the gelatinous sweet basil seed here (a local favorite) was a nice touch.

Vanilla Olive Oil Parfait, Avocado, Grapefruit:

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This was my favorite of all the desserts on offer: the three flavors tasted great individually, but all went together so well that the entire thing just made me smile. :smile:

Assorted small bite-size things:

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On my plate (the above picture) are a lemon cookie, a macaroon, an olive oil financier, a dark chocolate bonbon, an apple/lychee jelly, and some redcurrants just for fun. All were very pleasant to nibble on-- but the bonbon, which was filled with a black sesame praline cream, was quite possibly the best truffle I have ever tasted. The use of sesame complimented the chocolate perfectly. I could have eaten a couple dozen of these...

And, of course, you can't have a tea without scones and clotted cream!

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(With some Chocolate + Sweet Corn Ganache, rhubarb preserves, and lemon curd on the side.)

The scones on offer were of two types, candied cherry + ginger or chocolate. They were dense, moist, buttery and perfect.

I do confess that with everything else on offer, I never got to the large-scale items, such as the "Chocolate" and "Rose" confections. But I certainly didn't go hungry!

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Man, oh man!

Until now, I've been thinking, "WGF...I'd like to go," but after seeing that afternoon tea, I'm thinking, "Oh my god! WHY didn't I skip work and go to the WGF?!?!??!?!?!?!"

I'm not huge on sweets (contrary to popular belief), but I do love a good Afternoon Tea, and I've always wanted to try Michael Laiskonis' egg dessert.

This was the perfect afternoon tea...and I missed it! :sad:

I'm soooo jealous!

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I know, I know, I've been flaking off.

But I've just been having too much fun.

However, I'll try and post Michael Ginor's dinner soon, and then, once I leave Bangkok, I can settle into the vivisection of the trip.

For now, it was a wonderful meal last night with M and Ellen at Cy'an. The Leeuwen Estate folks brought some extra treats with them, and we ended up overindulging.

Today was Ember, a venture out of Singapore that did an excellent tasting menu, with enough foie gras to tide me over for my remaining days here.

Which leaves me here in the early evening trying to coax Yoonhi into heading out again for either Tokyo Joe's or Saxophone.

I think I'll have to content myself with some namezake and whatever's on UBC tv.

more soon

P.S. - I love this town

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September 23 – Life is for the Liver

We found ourselves back in Madison.

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I like finding myself back in Madison.

The access is easy enough that I can pop in the kitchen and see what’s happening ahead of time, and there are still enough of the staff about that recognize me that they don’t call the security (not that that’s likely to happen here).

Michael Ginor’s dinner is always one of the highlights. This must be….what, the fourth or fifth year of the Foie Gras dinner? Even before that Michael was always a prominent part of the Luxury Dinner, and there was always his class on the care and handling of your foie gras.

Excuse me, as Roger Corman just said, I’m in my anecdotage.

Torchon of Hudson Valley Foie Gras and Pineapple

Duck Prosciutto and Vanilla Star Anise Gastric

Louis Jadot, Pouilly Fuisse, 2003

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We started with the pate de foie gras resting in the middle of a pineapple ring. The natural tartness of the pineapple nestling in comfortably against the shoulder of the medallion of foie gras torchon in the middle. A good, sensible combination of flavours –the tart and the fat (which could be a Pogues album) with an appealing tropical feel. I should try this when I get home.

The Pouilly Fuisse filled the mouth well, very full bodied, although there was an odd hint to the nose at the start. But that may have just been me, as it went away quickly and I was content to flush my palate happily with this after the first glass. It worked very well with the pineapple’s tartness. A good, refreshingly dry white from the Maconnais.

Louis Jadot has been around in Burgundy since 1826 (with the Clos des Ursules, a Beaune Premiere Cru) and have been a winery since 1859 (when John Brown raided Harpers Ferry and Southern Vietnam became a French colony), and I was looking forward to their Burgundies.

Kobe Beef Tartar and Carpaccio with Shaved Truffle Scented Foie Gras

Crispy Quail Egg and Chive Shallot Emulsion

Louis Jadot, Pouilly Fuisse, 2003

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The beef tartare was, for me, the high point, but Yoonhi will hold for the next dish. The foie gras was shaved over the spooned wagyu. The truffles had been nicely worked into the meat. When this first came out, it was with a boiled quail egg, which erupted its fluid in proper drama. As far as food porn goes, this is way up there.

The Pouilly Fuisse was, again, a pleasant way to clear my mouth between bites, but I was really craving something red. Luckily, the Saint Joseph came out ahead of the next dish, and so I could satisfy my tendency for red.

Guigal’s Saint Joseph, from the Northern Rhone, has the bite of the Syrah grape, with a little bit of white grape (roussanne or marsanne) to top it off. Given Guigal’s reputation, it’s not surprising I enjoyed this.

Butter Poached Lobster and Seared Foie Gras,

Fennel, Mustard Syrup and Citrus Fruit

Guigal, Saint Joseph, 2003

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Yoonhi preferred the butter poached lobster to the tartate. I like this too, I do admit, but the richness of the lobster lacked the direct carnality of the wagyu tartare we’d just had.

Of course, while the kobe gives you that rough trade hardcore sort of feel, the soft flesh of that lobster, paired with the oozing fat of the foie makes you think of airbrush heaven. Add on that smear of puree, the fennel for a hint of licorice, and some peeled orange, and you’re in heaven.

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I had them pour me another glass of the St. Joseph so that I could better contrast it to the powerful Gigondas from further south. (It’s always good to have a rational when you’re drinking heavily).

Roast Squab and Parrsnip Mousseline,

Foie Gras Sabayon, Squab Essence and Hibiscus Air

Guigal, Gigondas, 2003

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The table was perfectly happy with the squab. It was well cooked through. In this I think Michael has the benefit of knowing his audence well, as Asia doesn’t take well to a bloody pigeon, at least not since Bird Flu caused its panic. I used to know the Thai for that….

For myself, I would have taken this on the sanguinary side. I like to see some response from the meat when I cut in, and this would be just on the other side for me. But, I’m a minority in the crowd here tonight. Plus, I have my tartare, and the Gigondas and Guigal both work well with this.

Rarish Tuna Fillet Mignon with Truffle Foie Gras Flan,

Bacon-Lentil Stew and Pinot Noir Shallot Butter

Louis Jadot, Morgon, Chateau des Lumieres, 2002

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Seared tuna (and just barely seared) was a daring finish for the meal. Serving the tuna on a bed of lentils worked very well, and combined both textures, oils, and flavours, and the foie gras flan set it off completely, with that blubbery feeling that says you and your waistline are never going to see each other again (we actually parted company some time ago).

The Chateau des Lumieres is an excellent wine, the 2002 being very well balanced…which means I could drink it all day. With the tuna it works surprisingly well, bringing all the disparate flavours I’d mentioned above together.

I needed to do more comparisons.

Raspberry with Alpaco Chocolate,

Linen Seed Nougatine and Kalamansi Sherbet

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As dessert came out, Michael dropped by to see how things had gone, I made the mistake of playing cute and saying “everything’s fine, but I’m still making my mind up about the tartare”.

I’m an idiot.

The dessert was a nice thing, but you know how I am with desserts. Still, when I’m here I always enjoy them, knowing the quality of the staff they have at work (and with Michael Laiskonis visiting). The sherbert is a good pairing. As with Siggi’s dessert, it’s nice to have a not-so-sweet bit of cold – in this case a sherbert – to bring out the sweetness in the other ingredients.

Petits Fours

Now, look at this trio of petits fours below. What could be prettier?

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Michael had called my bluff, and went for overload with the meat.

Drizzled well and laid out on another of those squares of molecule thin meat, the tartare was even more stunning as a triplet.

Trust me, after finishing up this much meat, I was stunned.

Okay, maybe the three beautiful reds I was working over had a hand in the stunning.

So, how did I like the meal? Need you ask? But, when people ask me which meal I liked the best during this week, I tell them I’m leaving Michael out of the answers. He (and David Britton, from the Springwater Bistro in Saratoga) have the (adopted) home court advantage here, as his years working with the Four Seasons make his meals seem effortless…..mind you, I do say “seem”. Conveying the appearance of ease is often more difficult to achieve (than it seems).

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My only concern?.....The lobby was empty. I really missed the convivial gatherings here in the aftermath of our meals, when we would compare the tastings of the day and sharpen our appetites for what was to come.

I guess I don’t really need to hone my appetite much more.

My wits could be sharper, though.

Note: some of these photos will look pretty good. That's because they're Clark's, not mine. I'll link in his where they're needed.

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OMG, I was already kicking myself for having missed Michael Ginor's dinner, and now I am kicking myself double-time. Next year...

The beef tartare was, for me, the high point, but Yoonhi will hold for the next dish.  The foie gras was shaved over the spooned wagyu.  The truffles had been nicely worked into the meat.  When this first came out, it was with a boiled quail egg, which erupted its fluid in proper drama.  As far as food porn goes, this is way up there.

As Jayne from Firefly said, "I'll be in my bunk."

:raz:

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September 24 – Cooking with Siggi

We first met Siggi at the initial dinner of the WGF, and he made a good impression. Not just for his food, which struck me as very clean, almost reminiscent of some of my Japan meals, but also by his manner, which disarms you, and so lays you open to his wit (which is very sharp indeed).

But we’ll talk a bit more about Siggi in the following days. For now, let’s concentrate on the food that he and his assistant – Bjorn Bjornsson – would be putting together.

Oh, and the wine, from Sileni Estates. Pip Austin, as I’d mentioned, had been out here before, and, while I like very much what they do, Clark was on the fence.

He needed to be pushed off.

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Our first re-creation would be the Arctic Char with Langoustine Sauce

1 kg Arctic Char

3 kg fresh blue mussels and langoustine (scampi)

½ liter white wine

2 shallots (chopped)

enough butter

8 cloves garlic

½ liter heavy cream

½ green leek

frisee lettuce for garnish

Char.

I used to think it was the only way to cook (don’t tell my mom I said that).

This is a pretty fish. Smaller than a salmon, but with a good red hue to the meat (although not so much as a Spring). The flesh, when we’d fed upon it two nights earlier, was finer, and not as fat laden as a salmon. When you went at it with a fork, it came away in soft, moist hunks. I wouldn’t say it was better than a salmon, just that it was different, and very good (I’m from Vancouver. We’re not allowed to say anything is better than a salmon).

To begin, some butter. “I use a lot of butter”

The char has been filleted away from the bone, with the skin on. The skin side is seared in the pan with the butter, and then, as it cooks, a bit more butter (a dollop) is added.

As the fish sears on the skin-side, it’s seasoned with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, the langoustine were disembodied, leaving only the shells and heads. Don’t worry, the meat from these will go to a good home. The phi kraseu (look that one up!) remnants are set aside.

For mussels, Siggi prefers the Blue, form the Atlantic. I won’t take offence at this, as he knows far better what he’s doing than I ever will.

He then puts his attention back to the fish, and flips it over to sear the flesh. As soon as its lifted and then brought back to the butter the aroma of good fish fills the hall, bringing our mouths to water.

After the final flash sear, the fish is removed, and then seasoned again with fleur de sel, the big grains of salt being easier to handle and distribute.

The fish is then finished in the oven for 2 to 3 minutes at 175 C (and this could be slower). Keep an eye on the fish that there’s no white spotting, as the fats break free.

Let’s turn our attention back to the sauce.

The shellfish (but not the langoustine meat) are cooked with carrots, white wine, and fresh herbs…wait! I didn’t see those in the ingreadients! Siggi used a bit of fresh thyme here.

On the side, the green from some leeks is chopped and cooked in water and butter.

The stock is reduced in half, strained, and then cream is added. Then it’s reduced in half again, and more herbs are added (pick and choose what’s available, says he). The cream sauce is whisked as it thickens, and then, as it nears the end, some chopped chives and a few slivers of Thai chili are added.

Pip Austin (from Sileni) stepped in at this point, and talked a little about the wine. When we’d done the dinner, they’d found that the sauvignon blanc lost itself in the cream sauce, so for this they’d now switched over to their Lodge Chardonnay, 2006. This is more of a Burgundian chardonnay than what you’d expect out of NZ, and they felt that the crisp acidity of this would do better at cutting through the sauce.

For the plating, the leeks (which had been warmed up in the pan) were put on the bottom, and then the “pretty little princess”, the fish, placed tenderly atop. The sauce (”A cross between a soup and soap”) was then poured about the edges of the bowl, that fat glistening at you, with just speckles of colour from the herbs and chilies winking up.

And then the frisee was drifted alongside, and there you were.

Next Fillet of Lamb and Lamb Sausage with Xeres Sauce and Sage

Let us consider the lamb.

No, don’t feel sheepish. Ewe’ll love this.

The Icelandic Sheep, or Kind (child?) is not as gamey as the lamb we’re used to (at least that I’m used to). It has less fat, a lot leaner, and, in Siggi’s words, is the wagyu of lamb. In proper Viking tradition (the sheep came with the Vikings) the lambs are free range, allowed to roam pretty much as they please once they’re weaned.

This meat won’t be the easiest thing to find. For one Iceland only produces some 900 kg of this per year (“in contrast to 900 kg/hour from one NZ producer”, says Pip). For another, lamb is one of those items which comes under import restrictions from a number of countries (including Canada).

Iceland has been a food producer for centuries, the largest part of their economy coming from their position on the cod grounds, and their relationship with salted cod (Icelandic Gold, or bacalao to the rest of us) goes back a long, long time….to when it took 2 months to travel to Iceland.

Now, Siggi, on the one hand, is the champion of traditional Icelandic cooking. But, on the other hand he’s a very good chef, and, as with the Thai chilies that he used earlier, he’ll work with what’s good.

In this case, while he does firmly attest that Icelandic butter is the best in the world, he also likes to work with olive oil, as he has a good friend in Italy that produces some very good oil.

First, a touch of seasoning, and then a mix of butter and oil is used in the pan, and the lamb is seared. As it’s flashed, it’s also further seasoned. This is cooked lightly, and then removed to the oven, where it cooks at 175 C for another 7 minutes. Then it’s removed, allowed to set, and then returned to the oven until slowly cooked. The day before they’d done it at 210 C, but that proved too fast, in Siggi’s view (I thought it was very good), and so he’d back the heat down a bit.

Next, the famous lamb sausage.

They made this here in the hotel. This was Siggi’s first time doing this sausage, and he had that look that said he’d had fun doing it.

300 gm meat from the leg of the lamb (minced)

a pinch 5 spice powder

2 shallots

1 star anise (powdered)

2 cloves garlic

1 red chili

1 egg

1 dash heavy cream

taste salt and black pepper

1 intestine/sausage casing

Most of the excess fat is removed from the meat (leaving a little for taste) and then the mince is mixed with the other ingredients. Then it’s stuffed into the casing, and the individual sausages are twisted off (sort of like me).

Siggi did mention that it’s important to poach these. If you just fry them raw, they’ll explode.

And this would work very well with veal or venison (which gives me ideas for home).

For the main dish, the sausage was fried in the olive oil and butter we used to sear the lamb.

Potatoes

These are simply tossed off in the recipe book as creamy dauphinoise potatoes but that hardly does them justice. It’s like Yoonhi looking at this recipe and saying “sounds like scalloped potatoes”.

Siggi first parboiled the potatoes, then cut them thin, and layered them with cream in between. Then they were put in a pan and cooked in the oven the day before. Before plating the dish they were returned to the oven to cook through.

Parsnips and carrots

Dill is the Nordic herb, just as parsley is the French, and basil the Italian. So the butter is melted, and then the dill is added with the delicate little carrots and chopped parsnips. This is glazed, and then set aside.

The Sauce

lamb fond

glass of sweet sherry

chopped fresh sage (to taste)

butter (lots)

white wine (to taste)

salt and pepper

The lamb fond (demi glace) from the bones, is reduced with onion and thyme. Once reduced, the white wine and sherry is added.

At the very end, the butter is whipped in.

Not quite the very end, as the sage is added after the butter. This is a tricky thing, as too much can ruin your sauce.

At the end, you’re looking for a thin chiffonee.

The sherry is a nice touch, as for decades the Spanish would pay for their bacalao with casks of sherry. This presented an interesting problem, as, for stern ages, Iceland was under the fanatical grip of temperance. But, more on that later.

To plate, the lamb is sliced and the slice placed . The potatoes are taken as a flat slab of starch and creamy goodness, and given a proud place crowning the lamb. Then the sausage takes position, and the vegetables are put in their place.

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“The sauce is very important, so be generous.” Good advice.

And a piece of tempura crisp sage is added for a bit of contrast.

This is a dish Siggi really likes, as the cream in the potatoes goes together with the sauce, with the beauty of the lamb, the crispness of the sage, and with the sweetness of the sherry. His view is to look for the completeness of a plate, and this fits that need.

Blueberry Pie with Vanilla Skyr Ice Cream

The idea here is to a less-sweet ice cream to bring out the sweetness in the pie.

Frangipan (dough)

fresh blueberries

Vanilla

Skyr

Sugar syrup

Cream/milk

And it helps if you have a Paco Jet to bring it all together. That ended up on the ingredients list.

And I can't say "vanilla" and "skyr" together without thinking of Tom Cruise for some reason.

The frangipan is a typical sugar dough – eggs, sugar, flour, almond flour, butter. We see it in a lot of tarts, and its very popular in Iceland. This is rolled out, and then a steel circle cuts out a circle to serve as the base.

Then you make an almond cream of the almonds, eggs, sugar, and cream ( a little) and then put the almond cream in a bowl and cook together. This takes a hand mix, as if you’re too strong the dough will break.

“Be gentle” says this bear of a man.

Once the dough is ready, put it to a piping bag. He rolls the piping bag down, and then places his hand under the roll to help spoon in the almond cream.

Then you pipe the cream on top of the dough, filling in the ring halfway, and top this up with the fresh blueberries.

If there’s a national berry of Iceland, it’s the blueberry.

Now, pipe some more cream on this.

Pop the “pie” in the oven and bake at 170 C for 25 minutes.

They didn’t go into enough detail on the skyr ice cream, but it’s a standard ice cream, but made with very little sugar.

Skyr itself is very Icelandic. It’s similar to mascarpone, or a thick yoghurt, with a slight bitterness to it. Siggi likes it in desserts, as that bitterness draws out the sweetness in anything it complements. In this case, the blueberries and almond cream.

Skyr is one of Iceland’s iconic foods, at least for the Icelanders. In the old days, a typical worker would only be able to afford one good meal a day, which hardly kept these Vikings satisfied. But they were allowed to fill up on as much skyr as they could eat, so it became the mainstay of the average person’s diet.

When Siggi came around, I asked about substitutions for this. He felt that a Greek yoghurt might do the job.

We talked a bit more about the foods of Iceland, as it’s not a place I knew much about. Like I said a few days back…Iceland…ice + land.

I’d expected that they’d eat a lot of herring, and they do, being big producers of herring. But it doesn’t have the variety of what I’d seen in Denmark. The Icelanders catch the herring, do basic processing to preserve them, and then provide this to the various Scandinavian countries to further embellish. When the Icelanders do eat a lot of herring is before Christmas, when there’ll often be a big buffet.

While there are no fruits (okay, there’s one famous banana tree), they have a lot surprisingly large amount of vegetables, thanks to geothermal heating for the greenhouses. And also thanks to long summer days, which give you tomatoes that may be second to none.

Oh, and by the way, the olive oil comes from his friend, Lorenzo Fasola in Monte Vibiano Vecchio.

Siggi has fond ties to Italy, and had once been called to stand in as an Italian chef in the Gulf. “Siggi, my chef can’t come! You have to help. Just speak with an Italian accent, you’ll be fine.”

It’s good to have friends.

We talked as the food was worked around us. The char did match very well with the chardonnay. Or, rather, the sauce went better. The fish was lovely with both, but Pip was correct in that you needed something that could stand up to the sauce.

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Taking the food today, after the dinner was done, was something Clark preferred. I can go either way, but I like this combination of an analytical meal to offset the Dionysian revelry of a proper dinner. Here, under the bright lights and casual setting, you could pull more of the nuances out of the sauce and fish, and take a bit more time in thinking about what went into the making of the dish.

And to talk over the wines.

Pip was about, and we asked about the chardonnay – Sileni Estate Selection, North Island, The Lodge Chardonnay 2006 - and her comment about it being more “burgundy”. It’s completely fermented in oak, the barrels being stirred once in awhile, lending an oatmeal character to the ferment. This in turn does a better job of blending the fruit, and avoiding too much oak, as you move the wine “forward faster”.

Hawke’s Bay vineyards, being higher, get a lot cooler at night, and so you get a crisper feel to the wine.

Oh, and Pip did also compliment the lamb, too! And that takes a lot from a Kiwi.

“It could be New Zealand”.

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The Pinot – the Sileni Satyr, Marlborough, Pinot Noir 2006 - really is a good wine for lamb. Clark was becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Sileni with every bite and sip. And every bite and sip was good. The Pinot Noir set off well against the lamb, and I saw (and tasted) now what Siggi was saying about backing off the heat on the lamb. What I ate now was, perhaps, better than at the dinner; redder, more tender, and more giving.

Pour some more Pinot, say I.

And for dessert….

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Yeah, I think I’ll try making Skyr ice cream at home (or an approximate) to go with some of Yoonhi’s pies.

The “sticky” the Sileni Estate Selection, Hawke’s Bay, Late Harvest Semillon, 2004 was as good here as at dinner before, and, yes, I had some more. I may not be a “dessert guy” but I happily finished off the plate and glass.

Siggi and I talked a bit about Black DeathBrennivin - the Icelandic schnapps.

“An Icelandic soft drink”, he said, without batting an eye (or breaking a smile).

When the forces of decency finally rallied and had prohibition repealed, this was made available. But the authorities required that it be marketed in an ugly bottle, with a black label and warnings about your health.

Like marketing cigarettes with a skull and crossbones, this is guaranteed to make it popular.

This is definitely a case where I enjoyed the class even more than the dinner. In part, I do think they were right in switching the wines, but also in part I think it benefited a lot from talking through what was being done, and why it was being done.

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For the Sileni, this was important, as they had a better venue for explaining their purpose in making their wines, targeting them as a complement to the food, rather than wines meant to be on their own. Interesting, while their wines are more French in nature than other Kiwis, their attitude almost seems more Italian.

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But, it was now after 2:00 p.m., and we needed to get ready for dinner.

I was getting hungry again.

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Michael Laiskonis gives a small shout out to FlyingRat's report on the afternoon tea (scroll way to the bottom)!

Thanks for that one, Rona! It's a good site. Not only does it cover the cooking for the WGF, but it gives more insight into the time the chefs spend outside of the kitchen in Bangkok.

Plus, fedification.com looks like a fun blog site for Bangkok!

okay, I'll get back to writing......

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September 24, - Glen Ballis – Nedal’nij Vostok, Moscow

Eclectic. That was the word Malcom used. If you’re going to be eclectic, go all out. An Australian chef cooking Asian inspired food in a very upscale Moscow restaurant showcasing his talents in a Japanese restaurant in Bangkok with good French reds.

That’s eclectic.

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Disaster had struck earlier in the day, with jetlag catching up to Clark and laying him out for the evening. That left us at the last minute with an extra seat for dinner. We cast about frantically for a replacement, but it was, unfortunately, too late.

However, a meal like this shouldn’t go to waste. So, we put a pretty dress on the Girl and dragged her away from her manga for the evening.

After several days of mac and cheese and hamburgers, I didn’t feel it out of line to expose Serena to the better things in life (although the Four Seasons does a very good mac and cheese).

We’d started in the lobby with the La Fleur St. Georges 2006.

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A little buttery, this was a very nice opener. Nothing overpowering, just a pleasant, refreshing backdrop; eminently drinkable (or should that be imminently, given how fast I killed the first glass?)

Hubert de Bouard de Laforestwas in residence to present his wines. The 17th in the line, their holdings dating back to the 1700’s, he’s not only an owner, but also the winemaker, which is a relatively rare thing in Bordeaux. And he’s been running things for over 20 years now.

Also, if you’re a Bond fan, Angelus has an excellent reputation. In Casino Royale there’s a bottle of Chateau Angelus on the table in the railway dining scene. This according to Decanter.com.

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Russian Style Crab Pot-Stickers,

Shiso Sabayon

La Fleur St. Georges 2006

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Our fist dish went under the name of potsticker, giving it a Chinese credence, but that’s a dish with a pedigree across all of Asia. Momo in Tibet or Bhutan; pelmeni in Russia; mandu in Korea; gyoza in Japan; and potstickers on Main and Powell.

I should’ve asked Glen if this is the name they go under in Australia. Given the colonial commonality it’s likely they’ve carried the name about.

But, what’s in a name? As the bees are wont to say, “A rose by any other name is still arose, and mighty are the pollen”. We want to know what it tastes like.

The skin was thick, with more strength than I’m used to. The guts were crab meat, and quite nice. And the shiso sabayon, along with the sake sabayon (Glen talked about this outside of the menu) made for a rich sauce to mop the skin about in. Someone at the table felt there was some ume in the sauce, as well.

I wouldn’t have argued if someone had settled another dozen of these on the table, but then there was a lot more food to come.

Scorched Tuna Tataki

Braised Sticky Pork Salad

La Fleur de Bouard 2004

La Fleur de Bouard 2005

The second dish was fun. The tuna was a pleasant red, the sear not having reached too far. And there was a little bit of scorched lime on the side, looking like a green crème caramel.

But the sticky pork salad was the best part. This was like a som tam, crisp shreds of papaya giving you that freshness in the mouth to counter the sweetness of the sticky, twice cooked pork. And crisped French beans. And peanuts and chili and a bit of nampla. And then there’s the cotton candy effect of the floss. I took this for fluffy pork, but was later told it was chicken.

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I’ve generally just used the fluffy pork as a sprinkle (like a furukake) on my rice, or as a snack on its own, but this opened my eyes to its use in salads, sort of like how Geoff Lindsay introduced Persian cotton candy to his salad.

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Our next wines were the 2004 and 2005 La Fleur de Bouards. Dark plum in colour, much more imposing than the Chateau La Fleur I was still crooning over. These were both aggressive, with a lot more character in them. But for this dish, I wasn’t quite content with the match. Very nice wines, but they weren’t working with the food.

I voiced my opinion to the table. “This is like dining with too many beautiful women at the same time. The competition is distracting.”

My dinner company, all three females at once, gave me a suspicious glare.

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Serena had enjoyed the potstickers, and approved of the tuna, but didn’t share my delight in the pork salad.

Seared Scallops

Green Apple, Horeseradish and deetroot Salad with Lobster Oil

La Carillon de L’Angelus 2006

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I do miss scallops. It’s something we can’t get here.

These were of a good size, and, as Glen said, you don’t have to do much of anything with them. A little time on the grill, and then dress them with the sauce, microgreens, and lentils, and you’re off and away. The twigs you see in there are shreds of green apple, echoing the papaya in the previous dish.

Glen did talk of the working material in Moscow. Were he’s at, he has pretty much free reign on getting the ingredients he wants, and so he talks of scallops from the seas east of Vladivostok, facing off against Hokkaido; scallops so big and cheerful that all you have to do is show them the flame of the grill and they’re good to go.

Now, having been in Moscow a couple of years ago, and having seen what the prices were in the markets, I can only shudder.

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Our wine was Le Carillon de L’Angelus. This was a wonderful wine. The jostling of the last two was set aside, and what we had instead was a very full, well rounded drink, that went quite well with the freshness of the scallop.

Char Grilled A5 Kobe Beef,

White Asparagus and Tomato Citrus Salsa

Chareau Angelus Aint-Emilion Bordeaux

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And now for the main. Kobe beef. For wagyu, I would still give pride of place to Michael’s tartare of the night before, but for cooked Kobe, this was excellent. I’ve written elsewhere of my concerns about cooking wagyu, of how what should be a beautiful piece of meat comes out tasting like any other breed. But this took me back to that night on Sentosa at the fort when I first had a cut of wagyu (from Australia) and I marveled at the even distribution of fat through the meat, how it gave itself up in such a soft, juicy manner.

Yeah, this was a good steak.

Plus, I’ve liked asparagus ever since I started eating them fresh in the Okanagan during field seasons.

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The 2003 Chateau Angelus was, like the Carillon, a wonderful wine, and an excellent companion to the beef.

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And Serena approved of the meat.

Great. I’ve got a son who craves caviar and foie gras, and a daughter who wants Kobe.

Ginger Panna Cotta,

Ruby Grapefruit and Anise Parfait

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Personally, I think dessert chefs have way too much time on their hands.

This was over the top. A panna cotta base, with grapefruit layered in, a parfait sitting on top like one of Madonna’s leftover bra cups, pistachios sprinkled about like used shell casings, and this candy trapping it all in with a starfruit looking like something that came out of low tide.

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I quite liked this.

Petits Fours

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I don’t pay enough attention in these blogs to the petite fours that come at the end of every meal. But they’re so pretty, and they taste so good. As you know, I’m not a big dessert guy, but I put that aside every time I come here, knowing that Stephane Calvet is back there in the kitchens somewhere scheming as to how he can put an extra 10 kg onto my frame.

Glen did stop by to chat over the food a bit (hence, I know it was a sake sabayon). He’s been about, our boy has. With the time here in Bangkok, as exec chef at Harrods, and now with Nedal’nij Vostok. He’s loving Moscow, but I get the impression he has a fairly good time wherever he finds himself (he is Australian, after all). We had some common friends, what with my friends who had been posted there, and I was keen to hear of how things had progressed in the city by the river.

But I must say, listening to his stories on what the chef’s life is like there, he is living a good life.

I’ll save more of the anecdotes for the cooking class coming up with him.

And so, before you knew it, it was time to leave. I had them top up two glasses of the St. Emilions for me to use in further taste tests, and then we decamped for the room.

But en route, there were interesting noises coming from Aqua……

Next: The Penne Drops

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September 24, 2008 – California Dreaming

I’d been good. Thursday was a busy day, and I’d put aside that siren call from Aqua and settled down with the family and a couple of large glasses of Bordeaux.

Mind you, there was that point where I passed Siggi in the hall, and he had a bottle of Black Death and a look of absolute mischief on his face…….

To begin, it was a day for writing, reading the papers, and getting in an early swim.

And then it was time for class.

Jeffrey Jake – The Carneros Inn, Napa Valley, California

(Yeah, I should add USA after that, but I think we all know where it is)

Jeff Jake is a pro. Pretty much fresh off the plane (he was still blinking), and he was holding his own here in the Four Seasons. His second, Shantelle Baker, was getting things ready while Jeff works at calming the crowd.

Okay, we’re hardly an angry mob. Actually, we’re pretty sedate.

Jeffrey Jake is a Californian, or rather, a Napa boy. He’s spent most of his career there, working through Domaine Chandon, The Lodge at Pebble Beach (as exec), Sonoma Mission Inn (chef de cuisine), and the Bath House (exec) before settling into the Carneros Inn. He’s one of those people who’s lucked out in finding that combination of doing the job he likes in the place he wants to be.

I can’t argue with that. Envy, yes…argue, no.

California cuisine is a term that’s been bandied about over the last decade or more. It’s getting to the point, though, that some cogent points can be made. In Jeff’s case, in the Napa, the wine is a primary ingredient in any meal. As we’d seen with the Sileni, it’s a case of getting both the dish and the wine to support the whole meal, so a lot of what happens in his kitchen is putting the right pieces together.

“Plus, you get to drink the wine while you’re working on the pairings.”

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Our wines for lunch are only two, but that’s alright. I do have things to accomplish in the afternoon, besides my ritual swim.

Kendall-Jackson, Vintner’s Reserve, Chardonnay, 2006

Kendall-Jackson, Sonoma-Napa Grand Reserve Merlot, 2005

With this meal, we could go with a sauvignon blanc, which, with it’s bright acidity, green apples, and grass, would work with all three of today. But, with the fennel we’ll be using in the fish, we can do a better job of bringing that out with a chardonnay, adjusting the taste of the dish to where he wants it.

And that leads into the question I started to ask. What is California cuisine?

By his definition, find the best ingredients, and put them together. ”Just like any other cuisine.” The differences are just in the approach, with the view to be the delivery of a lighter meal, with fewer reduced sauces and far less butter (darn).

Our first dish is a talking point on his methods, likes, and dislikes.

[b}French Bean, Butternut Squash, Rocket Salad, Thyme, Szechuan Peppercorn, and St. Helena Extra Virgin Lemon Olive Oil

Note: the recipes are all for 10 servings

Ingredients

1.5 oz French beans (1oz cooked)

2 cups Butternut squash

2 Tbsp Butter (Hooray!)*

2 cups Rocket (arugala)

2 Tbsp Thyme

1 Tsp Lemon zest*

1 Tsp Pine nuts (toasted)*

2 Tbsp Szechuan peppercorn (cracked)

¼ Cup + 3 Tbsp St. Helena olive oil

3 shallots (dried)

To taste fleur de sel

Shantelle had the water coming to a boil. Jeff’s very comfortable with these sorts of demonstrion meals, though, and has no problems keeping up a steady patter of information while we wait on the heat.

As you’d expect, a salad is to be fresh. In his kitchen he doesn’t want to see tomatoes in the fridge. They should be fresh that day on the counter, or he’s not going to accept them.

Another aspect of California cuisine is that you don’t get hung up on the “authenticity” of an ingredient. Food migrates. The “French” beans we’re using today came from Mexico to Europe, and then back again to the USA (who’re now the biggest producer of French beans).

The salted water had come to a boil, and Shantelle had an ice bath ready on the side. The beans, in a small bunch, took the big blanch…well, a little more than a blanch, about 4 minutes in there, the salt adjusting the flavour of the bean and setting the colour, and then the ice bath locking that colour in, bringing the cooking to a screeching halt. Give it enough time to cook, as “al dente doesn’t mean ‘raw’

Now let’s turn to the squash.

This recipe originally called for summer squash, but those days are behind us. So the ingredient to work with is butternut, which will respond a bit differently. This’ll be older, tougher, more bitter, and will need more cooking time to mellow out than the younger, sweeter summer squash. (Yes, I do see the analogy with myself, thank you very much).

The concept here is to work the squash up as an alternative to croutons. So, it’ll be knife time.

Top and bottom the squash to stabilize it, then peel it down with longitudinal cuts. Then half it, and then vertical cuts, dicing to the crouton size you want.

Then, with about two table spoons of butter (you can’t avoid it completely), you sauté the squash. Add in the thyme now to make it interesting, and the crushed Sichuan peppercorns.

The rocket (arugala) is an easy thing, simply rinsed and ready. This, with the beans and the sea salt brings in floral and mineral elements to the dish.

Add the squash to this, and we pick up some richness, while the thyme and the peppercorns go back to the floral elements.

Zest in the lemon, and the citrus is there.

Now, instead of a vinaigrette, we use the olive oil. This was prepped beforehand, steeping the oil on low heat with lemon zest. Drizzle in the oil.

The toasted pine nuts are added for texture, and for the toast flavour to play off the acidity in the wine.

Give it a gentle toss, and we’re there.

The question arose, why add the lemon? Why put in more acidity? Well, if you hit your mouth with lemon first, it’ll “time out” your taste buds on the sour end of the spectrum, and let you taste more of the fruit in the wine. This fits with what we’d seen with the “sticky” wine from Sileni before, with the extra sweetness letting other elements in Siggi’s dessert come through.

For the plating, first it’s a nest of the arugal, beans, and squash, and the lemon zest.

Then the nuts, and drizzle the oil on to the plate.

And a touch of salt to taste at the end.

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We talked about alternatives a bit. If you can’t find squash, you could make this work with sweet carrots. And he likes the St. Helena olive oil as it’s an early harvest, and bit more bitter, but you can work with the tastes in other

Jeff likes to add things at the end to sharpen the flavours. Looking at the original recipe, I’ve *’d the ingredients that weren’t there, that Jeff had touched up.

And this leads into his other comment on California cuisine, or perhaps American in general. “We can adjust our food to how we want to have it. “ Take the hamburger. It’s a bare bones dish of ground meat and bread. The joy of a hamburger lies in the relishes, in adjusting the flavour to your own individual needs, independent of those around you.

There it is, the rugged, individualistic hamburger, iconic as it rides alone into the sunset…….sorry, I’m getting carried away again.

Where were we?

Next Grape Leaf Wrapped Turbot, with Baby Fennel, Micro Beet Tops, Fennel jus.

10 pc 3 oz square cut Turbot

10 leaves large fresh grape leaves (blanchd)

1 bulb fennel and tops

10 pc small carrots*

4 Tbsp unsalted butter (hooray, again!)

2 to 3 cups fish stock (or you can use the water from the fennel)

20 pc baby fennel

1 Tbsp Saba

¼ cup beurre monte

To taste salt and pepper

This is typical of the “not heavy” approach. For the sauce, he’ll work with a vegetable puree, rather than a reduction of meat juices.

The turbot isn’t a common fish in the US, and is generally expensive. Jeff is using it here because “I can”, as the Four Seasons is paying. If you were in the States, you’re more likely to see halibut used in this.

And Jeff does like this fish. It glistens, it’s white, it smells like the ocean.

(Jeff’s compliment to the hotel is a common one with the chefs doing the classes. They’re very happy with the ingredients the 4S is putting at their disposal).

Cooking in a wrap is a common enough technique. Grape leaves bring back hints of vacations in the Mediterranean (or at least lunches on Broadway in Vancouver); the kranab of the Lao is a great way to do fish, as is wrapping in pandanus leaves for the smell and for the steaing of the meat. Take it a step from there, and you find yourself sous vide, but what we gain technically in the vacuum, do we lose in the feel of the leaf?

For leaf, Jeff’s brought his own. These are chardonnay leaves from the Napa, to fit with the wine on offer, the KJ vintner’s reserve. They’re a little sour in flavour off the vine, which you’ll lift away slightly in the blanch. And here, the blanch is a blanch, just a quick wash of less than a minute in the boiling water.

But we start with the sauce.

He likes fennel, the faint licorice hint to it making it one of his favourites. Myself, I’m not as thrilled with it, but that’s just me. It is a very good match with fish and chardonnay (and, as we said, was the deciding factor on the wine). One of the attractions of fennel is that it keeps well in the shelf, and retains its usefulness even when it dries out.

The carrots and the dried fennel are blanched first (again, well salted water). He’ll be using the leafy fronds of the fennel, as well. These’ll give more colour, and bring up the licorice.

The fennel will go hot into the blender. Just be careful as “it scares me to puree hot stuff”. Give it a good blast in there, adding either the fish stock or fennel water to get it to the right baby-food consistency. At the end, add in the green fronds, and then blast again. Have an ice bath ready, and strain the goop into it to shock and set the colour. A bit of salt to season.

Now, the notes indicate that you could add a bit of pastis (1 tablespoon) at this point, but we didn’t do this in the class.

As a note, this would make a good soup with a bit more stock to it.

Shantelle had ready a blender and a sauté pan. Some of the hot water from the fennel blanch was spooned out into the pan, and then there was a bit of seasoning tossed in.

Now we work with the baby fennel. The fronds are removed, the bulbs cut in half to cook faster (and avoid overcooking) and then they’re blanched. If you were prepping ahead, you’d follow the rule of “shock and fridge” using an ice bath to lock in the colour.

We’re seeing a common thread here. Big pot blanching, and ice bath setting. This goes (again) to the “lighter” cooking.

For the fish, Jeff would season several hours ahead. He prefers to give about 6 to 7 hours in advance for the initial salt and pepper to work their charm. I would’ve thought that this would dry the flesh out too much, but that’s not the case.

We butter the blanched (there we go again) leaves, and place the fish inside the palm of the leaf (as opposed to the leaf of a palm). Fold it over, and your parcel is ready for delivery.

An addition that would make sense here is a bit of tapinade in the wrap, the olive paste complementing the leaf and the fish.

The fish then goes into the oven at 375 F (Jeff is having some issues with the back and forth of Fahrenheit and Centigrade), and let it pan roast in there for about 5 to 7 minutes for a small filet, or up to 10’ for a more substantial piece of turbot. This’ll come out much closer to a steam than a roast in terms of the texture.

(Jeff does give a nod to Gaggenau. He likes the even cooking of their ovens.)

While that’s in the works, there’s hard labour to be done.

First, the fennel puree is brought up in temperature, and final seasoning is done.

Then the baby fennel is sauted in a buerre monte (and again, seasoned).

The microgreens are tossed with the saba, and set on the side. (“What is saba?” asks our table. “Part of Northern Bornea”, say I). Saba is similar to balsamic, but is made from the cooked down must of Trebbiano grapes. Jeff says it’s getting a lot of use in California now.

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Now we can plate.

First, put the sauce down.

The fish comes out of the oven, and the packets are sliced in two in order to present the white, steaming flesh against the darkened, crisp roasted leaf.

Put the microgreens on the dish, and drop a bit more saba about. This works very well with fish.

Now what you smell is earthy. Sweet fennel, crisp grape leaf, the fishiness of the turbot, and the greens and fruit of the saba give a great background aroma to the room.

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This leads to dessert.

Napoleon of Sweet Whipped Goat Cheese, Crispy Roasted Oatmeal Wafers, with Pistachio Ice Cream and Spicy Plum Sauce

(note: I lied, this serving is for 8, not 10 like the others)

Ingredients

Crispy Oatmeal Wafers

4 Tbsp unsalted butter

½ cup confectioner’s sugar

2 Tspn lemon zest

6 Tbsp honey

2/3 cup all purpose flour

6 Tbsp rolled oats, toasted

To taste salt

Sweet Whipped Goat Cheese

4 oz soft/mild California Goat Cheese

4 Tbsp sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1 squeeze lemon

Spicy Plum Sauce

4 Tbsp sugar

½ cup orange juice

1 cup black plums, sliced in sixths

2 star anise

6 white peppercorns

1 cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

1 sprig of thyme

1 pinch salt

Pistachio Ice Cream

2 cup lightly toasted pistachio nuts

2 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar

4 cup + 2 Tbsp milk

2 cup + 2 Tbsp heavy cream

12 egg yolks

1 tspn salt

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

2 tbsp Frangelico liqueur

“Goat cheese? Dessert?”

But Jeff wants us to think of the tangy taste, and the texture. He’ll sweeten this up with sugar, to get us where we want to go. Again, adjust the flavours.

The Sonoma goat cheeses tend to be milder, due to the feed. But what’s on hand here is French, and more full frontal in effect, so it’ll be modified to meet our tastes.

He’s fond of using savouries in desserts, and likes this match. Plus, we can drink red wine with dessert.

For the sauce, cook the sugar in a heavy sauté pan to get a golden brown caramel colour. Then deglaze the caramel with the orange juice, and add the spices and the plums last. Let this boil and then simmer for 5 minutes. Strain it off, remove the spices, and reserve the plums.

Jeff was looking at the plums in the kitchen, and found they came from California, as well.

The thyme is important in this, as it’ll add a bit of floral tone, over the heavier spices.

The goat cheese goes into the blender with the sugar, and that squeeze of lemon juice. Everyone’s goat cheese is a little different, so you want to be tasting this as you go. The idea is to have it sweet, as the other elements of the dessert don’t have a lot of sugar….okay, pay no attention to that load of caramel in the sauce.

The heavy cream is whisked to soft peaks, then he lifts the bowl of sweet cheese out of the blender, and folds in the cream. Then this goes in the fridge in a tray and let it set up.

Now, for the cookies, we’d really like to make the batter a day ahead, as it needs to rest. But we’ll set reality aside, and go through the motions.

This is one of those desserts that’s designed to bring back childhood memories of meals at home. Me, I try to suppress those, but Jeff didn’t grow up in my house. (Sorry! My mom actually makes – still – excellent baked goods).

This’ll be a tuille batter incorporating toasted oats. It’ll be different, crunchier.

A little bit of zest goes into the butter, along with the confectioner’s sugar and the oats. Honey is drizzled in.

For honey, he finds the clover honey too strong, and prefers wildflower. Or, if you can get it, lavender. It’s really just a question of what sort of crop the bees were working over, as they carry the traces from the pollination duties back to the hive. The flour is tipped in, and everything is blended together with a hook. Once you have this batter, you’d let it rest, giving the long chain proteins – the glutens – time to do their “networking thing” (as Yoonhi says).

Jeff would normally use a template for the cookies, smearing the batter in. But here they lay the cookies out on a tray and layer them on parchment. Then, halfway through they pull them out, cut, and finish. Some toasted oats get sprinkled on top, and bake at 350 F for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Each serving should get 3 wafers, so do your counting in advance.

Jeff put the tray into the oven to finish that part of the demonstration.

The pistachio ice cream they didn’t do, but I asked Jeff about the ingredients. As he says, while you appreciate the wealth of material on hand at the Four Seasons, there’s still an element of shellshock as you come to grips with new ingredients. For instance, the pistachios here are from Italy, with a very intense green that’s a beauty to behold, but the Californian pistachios are, in his opinion, a much more intense flavour, and the best you can have.

He paused for a moment.

“There’s no one here from the Italian Trade Bureau, I hope?”

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Making the ice cream is pretty straightforward. Steep the vanilla bean in the milk and half the sugar for about 30 minutes, then remove the bean (and you can reuse this). Then put the pistachios in a blender with the warm milk and give them a minute on the merry go round. Meanwhile, ribbon the egg yolks with the other half of the sugar. (Did we say something earlier about “not a lot of sugar”?).

Add the pistachio milk into the egg yolks, and then put everything back on heat (160 F) with a constant stir. Remove from the heat, and add the heavy cream and season with Frangelico and salt. Then get to churning once it’s cooled.

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To plate, cut the goat cheese to fit the rectangular cookies so that you can layer the cookies and cheese. For here, it was just one layer, a sandwich, rather than the stack in the notes.

Put the reserved plums from the sauce on the plate, and top them with a scoop of the ice cream. Finish with the sauce painted about the plate, and toss some pistachios on (they are a great looking green).

At about this point, we noticed some smoke coming out of the oven. A little sheepish (along with jet-lagged) Jeff pulled the toasted demo cookies out.

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The salad was coming out at the same time, and the chardonnay was being poured. Like most good ideas, the simplicity of swapping in different ingredients for “croutons” works really well.

But it was the peppercorn that really made me smile. Someone had just come back to the Four Seasons from Yunnan, so the flavour we had here wan’t the pale shade of Sichuan we usually get, but the full mouth-numbing novocaine that I love. It’s become a very popular ingredient in the US since it was legalized a couple of years ago, but the intensity of flavour fades extremely quick if you don’t store it tightly (mine’s double zip locked in the fridge). Nicole Krasinski, from Rubicon in San Francisco, had done a sabayon with these last year, which had led me to try it in ice cream. I’m always looking for new uses now, and salads make perfect sense if you can cook them in a bit as was done here with the squash.

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Plus, it was fun seeing Clark’s reaction to this, as it’s not a sensation he’d had before.

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The fish looked pretty, but, as I said, I don’t share Jeff’s enthusiasm for fennel. Still, the texture was wonderful, and the technique will lend itself to other flavours more to my liking.

Jeff, still doing his duty, came around the tables, and Clark chatted with him a bit (Clark had lived in San Francisco for a stint). Jeff’s one of those guys you like, and, like I say, I admire people that can do their job through the trauma of jet lag. He’d kept an easy chit chat going throughout, and never let people get restless.

One of the things I like about the WGF is seeing how the chefs cope with the “shellshock” as Jeff called it. Anyone can do well on home turf, but there’s it’s good to see how well people adapt to the strange. Generally, that’s not a problem for these chefs, and Jeff did well. I’d be looking forward to his full dinner on Saturday.

Things were running late, and I actually bailed on dessert and the merlot, racing back up to the room to change for my 3 p.m. appointment. But I felt so bad about this that I got off on the 2nd floor and went back in, rather than heading for a cab.

They accommodated me with a serving of dessert and a splash of the merlot. The goat cheese was very good, and the balance of these dishes made it worth the ten minute delay to my getting out the door.

I felt bad about doing a dine and dash, but I had to be somewhere else, and that somewhere else wasn’t on the skytrain line.

That’s never good.

Next: It wasn’t actually that bad

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September 25, 2008 – Tinseltown and the Sixteen Men of Tain

Places to be, people to do.

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This was a good trip. Not only did I have the WGF, but the Bangkok International Film Festival was on.

Yeah. I like food. But I like films as well.

Films about food are a plus (strangely, the converse doesn’t hold. I avoid food with films.), but what I really like is the making of films from the production side. It’s an interesting business – the logistics, the coordination, and the money.

I’d finessed (okay, it was brute force, not finesse) an invitation to the producers’ workshop. Up at the front table was Iain Smith, of the Killing Fields, Children of Men, and a raft of other big budget, seriously good films. The Killing Fields, along with the Dead Kennedies' Holiday In Cambodia was probably the driving factor to my going to Cambodia in the first place.

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And sharing the mikes, one of my personal heroes, Roger Corman, who’s still making movies, and still making money. Roger can figure out a way to make a film, no matter what it takes, and will always come through the flames.

And he's still smiling!

And the third man, of course, is the talented Mr. Spurrier, whose company I've enjoyed for many years now. Paul has a long string of movie and tv credits, and has also produced a couple of his own films now, so he works well as a host for this. (Bug me and I'll provide shameless plugs for P, if we can ever get a North American distributor

(note - it does have food scenes).

Alright, none of this has much to do with the WGF, other than to set up my alibi for being late for my next WGF event. I need a seriously good (or seriously bad) reason to leave the Four Seasons. This was justified.

(I’ll find somewhere else to write about the stories and bits I got from this. There’s a great short to be had called “How I made Jean Claude Van Damme Cry”, but this isn’t the time).

Anyways, there I was, striding through the lobby of the Pullman, dark glasses shielding me from the public glare, purposefully approaching the doormen and having them call a cab for me. Damn I look good at this.

Fat, but good.

About half an hour later, further from the Four Seasons than when I started, I figured that I should’ve walked, and the hell with style.

I made it back to the 4S, sweat my way into the lobby, and went straight to the meeting room.

I was just in time to hear about how the Egyptians invented distillation 5000 years ago. When did they lose it, I wondered.

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I had them set out the tastings for me, and then gave them back my attention. “What happened since then?”, ask I.

After the Egyptians, the next major event in the world of spirits (if you’re a Scott) was in 1644 with the introduction of the barely taxes. This was not a good thing for the then relatively strong trade in grain whiskey. And, with a financial impact such as this, your choices are fairly limited.

You either look for alternative distribution methods (called “bootlegging” by some) or you change your grain. (And I’ll refer you as well to the discussions on Japanese beers and near beers that are going on in the Japan forum for an interesting parallel. I’d give you the link, but I’m between continents again).

Grain alcohol, the favourite of home hobbyists the world around, gives you a very clean, consistent spirit; lighter on the palate, and quick to mature. Your aim in this case is to produce a pure (or damn close to it) essence that should knock birds out of the air and run your car. The heart palpitations are another matter.

But there's something in the taste of malt, be it in beer or spirits, that draws a man's soul (and some women, too).

Malt whisky, on the other hand, is a double distillation, taking the work to only about 70%. You get more character, more aroma, but it’s trickier, with the question being of how much head (methanol, with floral tones) and tail (with the earthy bits) behind. Given that the heads and tails aren’t particularly good for your health, how you handle these (as with cognac) is where the money lies.

The process is quite linear. Take your malt and mill it to grist, then make your mash, ferment that, wash it, double distill it to a spirit, then mature it.

Work with your choice of waters for the marriage, and you’ll temper that 70% bad boy back to a well behaved 40% ABV.

And, as we all know, there’s a lot of money here. 89 distilleries in Scottland. Plus, you have merchants buying the malts and blending their own brands. Give it 3 years in the barrel, and those are legitimate whiskies – 100% barley.

So let’s consider the regions and their stereotypes of whisky:

There’re the Lowlands, with their lighter malts.

The Highlands, with their fruits (no comments from you Lowlanders, you!)

The Isleys and Campbelltown – with their peatiness and salt

Speyside (part of the Highlands, really) with their floral notes

But enough of that. We didn’t come here to discuss history, we came to drink some whisky!

Well, maybe some of the folks came here to discuss history. But it’s hard to tell.

Notably, my entourage had all given me a strange look when I’d originally told them that we needed to be at the whisky tasting at 5 p.m. before dinner.

Maybe “strange look” isn’t quite accurate. Clark said he needed a nap, and Yoonhi said I was nuts if I thought she was going to be downing single malts before going into another all night wine session.

“Sometimes you just have to sacrifice yourself for the good of humanity”, I said.

Now I remember. That’s when I got the strange look.

Back to the tasting.

First, a preface (before the other sort of face). They’ve changed the names on me again. Branding is everything, I know, but I still like consistency.

Our first whisky was The Original, otherwise known as the Glenmorangie 10 year old. Before 1960 this was aged in old European barrels, but since the 60’s they’ve switched over to bourbon barrels. Bourbon tends to sweeten the oak, and the Scotch comes out drier.

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As we lean into the glass, the first thing you get is the hit of alcohol burning your nose with the stronger flavours, the volatile citrus notes, and then rubbing in the earth and the spices. As with cognacs, we temper this with some cool water, making it easier to pick out the individual parts of the chorus; citrus, nuts, herbs, pears, tropical fruit (?), flowers. Not too cold, or we’ll lose the fruit.

Our lecturer walked us through his perceptions:

1.citrus

2.freshness, like mint or pear from the interchange with the barrel

3.exotic fruits (“Quiet, you Lowlanders”)

4.flower notes

5.sweet notes

6.chocolate, dates, dried figs

7.spices, ginger, cinnamon

8.nuts

I’m never certain about these descriptions, myself. I think that once they tell you they’re there, you convince yourself that they are. Me, I tatsted a nice enough Scotch – creamy, a bit of vanilla fullness, some spice, and a good mouthwashy feel. The 10 isn’t a bad dram, but I don’t lose sleep over not having any about.

What changes the taste of a whisky? Well, a lot is in the barrels, but the shape of the still does play a part, too. Glenmorangie started life long ago as a beer brewery (I’m being specific here in case you thought they might’ve been making sake). The first still they had was actually intended for gin, having a tall column to increase the travel time for the vapours and pull off the higher elements, the volatiles that carry the herbs in gin. This 16 foot tall chimney give the GlenM an “elegant and complex” character.

Perhaps more important, given that it tames the spirit to 40% ABV, is the water. Glenmorangie draws a harder, more mineral water from Tarlogie Springs, in contrast to the softer water of much of Scotland. As with discussions we’ve had on sake, beer, coffee, and just about everything, this character sets the tone of what you do.

Along with this is what is now referred to as “wood management”. GlenM is putting a lot of effort into managing the oak they use, with the Ozark Mountains now being their preference. They’ve been studying (seriously) the effect of wood on spirits since 1985, beginning with the effects of porous white oak from the US vs tighter European oaks. The exchange of air helps to age the whisky faster.

Now they’re air drying the oak for two years, before providing it to bourbon makers for two passes of aging, at which point they retrieve the casks.

Thus, at 10 years in 1995, the Glenmorangie achieved a balance of spices and oak on hone hand, to flowers and fruit in the other.

And this takes us to #2 on our pad The Lasanta, which is Gaellic for “Warmth & Passion”. This is spending an additional 2 years in a sherry cask, and is coming in at 46% ABV. Contrast, they say, to Macalan’s first try, where they only aged in sherry.

This “Lasanta” takes me back to the old branding. Then it was “finish”. The sherry finish, the port finish, etc. Now there are three, this being the rebirth of the sherry finish, this working with Spanish Oloroso’d casks.

Compared to the 10 yr old….sorry, The Original, this is a bit creamier, perhaps more delicate than the 10. Again, not a bad whisky, but is it a great whisky? I like the fact that it’s unfiltered, carrying more complexities in it, but I have trouble deciding if I like it or not. Perhaps the fact that I’m not ecstatic is a clue?

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Then there’s the Quinta Ruban. Ruby port casked, a younger port, which lends a pinkish hue to the drink. There’s more chocolate to this, and a bit more herbs (I’m convincing myself). Also a 46 % ABV. If you asked me, my comment would be that I found this more forward in the mouth than the other two. I’d lean more to this than the other two, I’d say.

Pour me another.

The 18. Ah, now this is a whisky. I’ve liked the 18 year old since I first set tongue upon it. Back in the mid-90s I could find it at the Duty Free in Bahrain when I was transiting to Indochina. I’d spent many a fine night watching traffic flow through Phnom Penh from a hotel window with a glass of this. And I’ve still a bottle or two cached in Vancouver that I’ll have to look up when I get back next.

The nose on this is very neutral 43% ABV. It’s spent 15 years in bourbon casks, and 3 years in sherry (more than the Lasanta’s 2).

It’s become a more difficult whisky to find, these last few years. The agent here in Thailand (and I’ll have to come back with their credits, as I’ve left the cards back home) advised that they had 30 cases of the 18 in Thailand now, and 3 or 5 of the 25 year old.

Interesting enough, I prefer the 18 to the older whiskey. With the 18, the original fresh lemon you taste blends changes to candied fruits, and then spice and wood.

I had my nose buried in the glass (big nose, small glass) when the question came up about the 16 Men of Tain. It has a romantic connotations and all, with the pride and expertise of generations being handed down, but the real answer is in that they’d run the stills on 24 day cycles, 6 days a week (never on a Sunday), and so they needed shifts.

Strangely, the room was now only half full. How odd. I called for more 18, and approached the agent and the speaker.

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You see, there’s a new Glenmorangie coming. The Signet isn’t really that new, as they’ve been doing single batches of it for a few years now, but it’s set to come into wider release later this year (perhaps when I’m through London again in November?). This works with heavily roasted “chocolate” malts, which’ll give it more of a porter-like background.

That actually raised a question we couldn’t answer on the spot. If Glenmorangie started as a brewery, what sort of beer were they making? That’s one for the lads (and lasses) at Dipsophilia, I should think.

Next: Celina

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  • 2 weeks later...

September 25 - Celina Tio

It was Thursday, and we were at our first meal in Biscotti this trip.

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It’d been too long.

I’m always torn. Do I like the staff in Madison better, or Biscotti? I know, I know, it’s all the same hotel, but there’s a different character to each. (And now I’ve probably alienated the staff in Shintaro and The Spice Market….but honestly, I eat more often in Madison and Biscotti).

This is probably on the TMI side.

Anyways, we were back for Celina’s dinner. We’d done the class, now it was time showtime.

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As I’d said in the class, earlier, Vincor was back. The highlighted wines were there Le Clos Jordanne, which is a joint venture with Boisset France. They announced this back in 2000, with the plan to be a concentration upon Burgundian chardonnay and pinot noirs. This was intended to make the most of the soil of the Niagara peninsula, and the Boissets, Vincor’s partners in this venture, have a good background in Burgundy (and a lot of other areas, to boot). Six years later they were bringing their wines to market, and getting to a cult status in the Toronto market.

Randy Dufour was there, representing Vincor. Being a fellow Vancouverite, we could not only engage in talk of the wine, but also join in the general snobbery we have regarding the West Coast.

Yeah, we’re incorrigible.

Along with the Jordannes they’d brought the Inniskilin for dessert.

Celina began with a

Scallop Crema with Summer Truffle

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Chardonnay 2005

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A pretty soup, a lily pad of truffles and oil against the thick cream. Good and rich (isn’t that superfluous?), and a proper set-up for the chardonnay to cut through. This wine is the start of their three tiers of chardonnay, and worked well both as a starter, and with the soup.

Forest Mushroom Stack

Crispy Farm Egg and House Made Herbed Ricotta Cheese

Le Clos Jordanne ‘Le Clos’ Vineyard Chardonnay 2005

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That ricotta/phyllo/mushroom combination goes down as one of Clark’s favourite dishes, and one I’ve got to try at home soon. The crisp of the phyllo with the warmth of mushrooms - and the ricotta, can’t forget the ricotta – again providing good company for the wine.

This one – Le Clos Jordanne – is a single vineyard chardonnay. Nothing at all wrong with this wine, and I was quite happy to order a refill.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly

with “Pot Roast” Vegetables

Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir 2005

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The pork we’d had at lunch and this pork seemed like two different beasts. I queried Celiina on it, but she said they were both of the same batch.

What I’d had earlier was good, pulling well, but a little dry. This was another matter. This pork was running in fat, meeting the definition of pork belly as “not quite meat, not quite fat”. I could eat this all day long.

And we’d had this pinot noir the other day. It came through well with the fats in the pork and with the vegetables.

Chef’s Favorite Cheeses

Aged Monterey Jack, Affinee Blue Cheese and Crave Brother’s Petite Frere

House Made Crackers and Brioche

Le Clos Jordanne ‘Le Clos’ Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005

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Cheeses. There’s nothing like congealed mammary fluid to round out a meal. Of these, I was so so on the Monterey Jack, but I did really like the blue - the Affinee, -and the Petite Frere, both from Wisconson.

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As with the chardonnay, this PN was the next step up in their tiering, being a single vineyard pinot. That odd smell of earth is there, and the overall effect is very pleasant. The hard part is trying to put that darned movie out of my head now when I have a pinot.

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Celina had come by around this time, and we did the photo op thing. I’d asked my question about the pork, and then I wondered what they’d had her out eating the other night, as the chef’s make good use of the time normal people would waste in sleeping, hitting up the street food and nightlife.

So, what did Celina eat”

“Crickets”.

I’ve gotta get out more.

Frozen “Baklava”

Honey Semifreddo with Warm Pistachio Cake and Crispy Phyllo

Inniskillin Oak Aged Vidal Icewine 2006

Inniskillin Sparkling Vidal Icewine 2006

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Good dessert wines, the sparkling icewine being a particular treat. This would be really fun with some foie gras, and I may have to try this out in December.

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The dessert we’d already covered in the cooking class. It was good then, it was good now.

Looking back on the wines, I was quite impressed. I guess a big part is the local bias we carry with us from our youth, when Canadian wines came in boxes, and were generally neither white nor red, but sort of “brown”. What I was drinking here was very appropriate for the food. I’ll probably look at trying to pick some up to put down (there’s a gravity-challenging phrase) when I get back to Canada.

I won’t complain about having their wines here, but I do wonder about the marketing. I suppose, when you’re as big as Constellation and the Seagrams, then you want your brands out there in the world. But Le Clos Jordannes is not a big volume producer, and South East Asia, with its emphasis on recognizable brand names is going to be a tough sell for North Americans, and Canadians in particular. Inniskillin has a certain niche, but that’s mainly from duty free shops in the region. Still, I wish Randy well, and I hope he comes back.

Next: Decisions, decisions

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