Sydney International Food Festival (a small slice)

Chefs from the Showcase Gala Dinner posing while plating. Photo by Dominic Loneragen of the(sydney)magazine.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of attending quite a number of food festivals in different parts of the world. Most recently, I was in Sydney, Australia, to check out the first-ever Sydney International Food Festival, both as a panel-speaker and also as an invited observer. I was particularly excited to head down under for this particular festival because its director, the amazing Joanna Savill, is an old and very special friend. Joanna is one of the most respected foodies on the planet, let alone Australia. Among her many accomplishments, Joanna is co-editor of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and co-creator of the landmark TV Series, The Food Lover’s Guide to Australia. My darling wife S and I first met Joanna back in 2001 (of course, we were already fans) and have been friends ever since then.

Joanna has taken what used to be known as the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Month and has turned it into a stellar international food festival worth planning your Australia trip around. The Festival is still a month-long, with different programmes and components happening throughout the month of October. Whether a person is more into gritty streetside dining or is a fan of fine dining, the Festival has been truly able to deliver an experience for each and every kind of foodie out there. Joanna’s also smartly sexed up several events, introducing star power to bring in the crowds. For example, the Festival’s opening event was a day of Barbecue Madness. But Joanna didn’t just bring in anyone to lead the barbecue. Oh no… she enlisted the help of Fergus Henderson of St John in London to work with 12 well-known Sydney chefs, turning a simple bbq into a powerhouse gastronomic event!

I had flown down to take part in the World Chef Showcase. This 2 day series of talks and demonstrations featured some really amazing culinary talent. The theme for this year’s Showcase was The Best of Asia, which I thought was fantastic. We don’t even properly celebrate our own region at most of our own festivals. I thought it was inspiring and exciting for the Sydney Festival to be championing the best of Asian cuisine, chefs, food writers, and restaurateurs. The participant list was simply amazing. Superstars like David Thompson, Peter Gordon, Pichet Ong, Jereme Leung, Kylie Kwong, Alvin Leung, Fuchsia Dunlop, Cheong Liew, Rainer Becker, Neil Perry, Chui Lee Luk, Andre Chiang, Yu Bo, Yoshihiro Murata, Mamoru Tatemori, and Tetsuya Wakuda (among others) all took their turns on stage during the weekend of 10-11 October. Each day, there were three consecutive tracks of talks and demos. On the first, Track 1 focused on Thailand and Vietnam; track 2 on China; while track 3 was the “world” track which featured chefs like Sergi Arola and Alexandre Bourdas. The second day, track 1 was Asia; track 2 was titled “Creative”; and track 3 focused on Japan.
(Keep reading)

Mundaring Truffle Festival

Chef Alain Fabreques dishes chopped truffle over his signature truffled eggs

Last weekend, my darling wife S and I skipped town to check out a festival that we’d only recently heard about, but which we knew we simply had to attend. The Mundaring Truffle Festival, held in a small suburb just 30 minutes drive from Perth, Western Australia, is a gustatory celebration of the Black Perigord Truffle. The Festival’s official literature describes it rather perfectly: “For one glorious, over-indulgent weekend during the height of the West Australian truffle season, the picturesque hills community of Mundaring transforms into a bustling Festival village filled with truffle-themed events, an open-air produce market, the annual Perth Hills Wine Show and much, much more.” The Festival, which took place 8-9 August, also happened to coincide perfectly with Singapore’s National Day (long weekend) holiday. Perfect timing for us.

The Mundaring Truffle Festival is in its third year and while marketed primarly domestically, it is begining to attract foreign visitors like S and me. This year, the Festival attracted over 25,000 people, which more than doubled last year’s attendance numbers. I can only imagine how massive and well-attended this Festival might become over the next 5-10 years. It has the potential, if it’s growth is planned and managed well, to become one of the most exciting and leading food festivals in the region. (Keep reading)

Four Seasons Bangkok WGF: Emily Luchetti (post written by S)

I have to admit that I bought Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Desserts primarily because I had to have her recipe for the enticing chocolate chip ice cream cake that’s featured on the book cover. While there are days when one may be inspired to take on Pierre Herme’s Plaisir Sucre, the demands of a busy household most often nip those sorts of fantasies in the bud. What I love about Emily Luchetti’s desserts is that she manages to somehow keep them wholesome, yet sophisticated (her pear-caramel swirl ice cream is another fabulous example). There is great finesse in her seemingly casual, home-style sweet creations.

For her cooking class at the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival, the pastry chef at Farallon restaurant in San Francisco shared her recipes for walnut cake with Moscato d’Asti sabayon, milk chocolate towers and coffee meringues with coconut ice cream. Versions of the first two recipes can be found in A Passion for Desserts. The last one is from her latest book, A Passion for Ice Cream. While all three desserts were delicious (the walnut cake was pleasingly light), the coffee meringues with coconut ice cream were my favourite. The flavours were intense, yet the dessert tasted incredibly light. I loved the nutty sweetness that the toasted shredded coconut gave to the finished product. The fact that the meringue requires some of the egg whites I never know what to do with after I make a batch of ice cream also makes this dessert a winner. Emily has kindly given us permission to reproduce her recipe below.

Because I am rather obsessed with making ice cream, when we sat down for a chat with Emily, our conversation naturally veered towards the subject of frozen desserts.

S: What are your three top tips for making great ice cream?
EL: Tip number one: when you’re making your custard base, do it over medium-low heat. Stir it with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula and pay attention as you do this. If it curdles, just strain it.

Tip number two: I like to infuse my milk and cream when I heat them up. For example, by adding slices of fresh ginger to the milk and cream the ginger flavour in the ice cream takes on greater depth while retaining its freshness. Sometimes I add toasted chopped nuts. Let the ingredients steep in the liquid for about 10 minutes.

Tip number three: Be aware that your ice cream base will taste different when it’s hot and when it’s cold. The flavours are more acute when it’s cold.

S: Philadelphia or French? Which style of ice cream to you prefer?
EL: I usually prefer French-style ice creams. But there are exceptions to the rule. When I make ice wine ice cream, I just use cream, milk, sugar and ice wine. Adding eggs would dilute the flavour of the liquor, losing its purity of taste.

S: Do you have any advice for home chefs who are nervous about making their own desserts?
EL: Retain your commonsense. If you don’t have the 9 inch square cake pan your recipe calls for, replace it with a 9 inch round pan rather than a 7 inch square pan! [The smaller pan would result in a taller cake and would require a different length of time in the oven.] Follow the recipe the first time you attempt a dessert before tweaking it. And if your cake turns out less than perfect, scoop it into bowls, top it with whipped cream and call it pudding. Go with tried and tested recipes first. Get ready early, and don’t get intimidated by the recipe. Look to it for guidance.

S: Who do you think is doing hot stuff in the world of pastry?
EL: Sue McCown, Dana Bickford and Pichet Ong.

Coffee meringues with coconut ice cream
(From A Passion for Ice Cream by Emily Luchetti)

Serves 8

Coffee meringues
2 large egg whites
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon instant espresso or coffee granules

Coconut ice cream
¾ cup coconut nut cream, such as Coco Lopez (can be substituted with equal amount of unsweetened coconut milk)
1 1/3 cups unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted (see below)

To make the meringues: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. On 2 pieces of parchment paper, trace thirty-two 2-inch circles, 1 inch apart. Place the parchment paper, marked side down, on baking sheets. (Placing them pencil side down will prevent marks on the meringues. You will be able to see the outline of the circles when they are inverted.)

With an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Add 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar, increase to medium-high speed with a stand mixer (high speed with a hand-held mixer), and whip until soft speaks form. Add 3 tablespoons of the granulated sugar and continue to whip until stiff, satiny peaks form. Sift together the remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, the confectioners’ sugar, and instant espresso or coffee. Fold the dry ingredients into the egg whites

Place a ¼-inch plain pastry tip in a pastry bag and fill the pastry bag with the meringue. Starting from the inside of each circle, pipe the meringue in a solid spiral, filling the circle. Pipe the remaining circles in the same manner. (If you don’t want to use a pastry bag, you can carefully spread the meringue into circles with a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Use a scant tablespoon for each.)

Bake the meringues until dry, about 5 hours, though you can leave them in the oven overnight. To test if they are done, remove the pan from the oven and let sit on the counter for 30 seconds. Try to remove a meringue from the baking sheet. If it peels off the parchment paper easily, the meringues are done. Let cool for 15 minutes and then put in an airtight container until you are ready to assemble the sandwiches.

To make the ice cream: Whisk the coconut cream (if using) in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in the coconut milk, cream, sugar, and salt. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Put the shredded and toasted coconut in a bowl and put the bowl in the freezer. Churn the ice cream base in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Fold the ice cream into the toasted coconut. Freeze until scoopable, about 4 hours, depending on your freezer.

To assemble the sandwiches: Turn half of the meringues bottom side up. Place a scoop of ice cream on top. Place a second meringue, bottom side against the ice cream, on top and gently press together to adhere the sandwiches together. (Meringues formed with a spoon or offset spatula are more delicate than piped meringues.) Freeze for at least 1 hour before eating. Serve 2 sandwiches per person. If desired, serve with cocoa sauce.

In advance: The meringues can be made up to 3 days in advance as long as the weather is not too humid. I often store meringues in a turned-off oven. Otherwise, they should be stored in an airtight container. The ice cream can be made 2 days in advance. The sandwiches can be assembled 2 days in advance. Store well wrapped in plastic wrap.

Toasting coconut: Place the shredded coconut in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 5 minutes, then stir the coconut and continue to bake for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until evenly golden brown. Watch the coconut carefully as it burns quickly, especially around the edges.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Four Seasons Bangkok WGF: William Ledeuil and his Thermomix

Of all the great chefs that flew into Bangkok for the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival and cooked their hearts out over the past week, the one that impressed me the most was Chef William Ledeuil. This always affable, enthusiastic and humble chef runs one of Paris’ hottest restaurants, Ze Kitchen Galerie. The International Herald Tribune has called Ledeuil’s establishment a “delight”. The New York Times has said, “the cooking shows unbridled creativity and a sense of fun.” Ledeuil first made his name at Les Bouquinistes, a Guy Savoy bistro. There, he prepared fresh, modern French food. Today, at Ze Kitchen Galerie, he cooks what he calls simply “contemporary cuisine”. Not contemporary French mind you. Just contemporary. Others might also call his food, for lack of a better term, fusion.

Ledeuil, who has a wealth of classical training, is in love with Asian produce, especially the herbs and spices of Southeast Asia. His cuisine draws upon these inspirational ingredients to produce a range of fantastically exciting dishes. At the World Gourmet Festival, I had the pleasure of attending Chef Ledeuil’s cooking class, one of his 5-course dinners and also of having an encore of what I consider the best dish of the week during the WGF’s gala dinner, a seabass ravioli with capsicum lemongrass condiment and shellfish broth (pictured at the top of this post). When this dish was presented at the 8-course gala, it caused quite a sensation. You could smell the lemongrass in the air as the waiters and waitresses carried the plates into the room. A super-light but amazingly flavourful foam covered the ravioli, which was steamed to perfection. The fish inside was deliciously tender and the capsicum lemongrass sauce under it added the perfect hint of complexity.

Chef Ledeuil’s five course dinner menu was as follows: layer of daikon and shrimp flavoured with Thai basil and tarama lemongrass; beet root and confit of ginger gaspacho with cucumbers filled with crabmeat, avocado puree and salmon roe; the seabass ravioli; grilled lobster and Bouchot mussels with lemongrass and crustacean jus; and mango cappuccino with coconut ice cream and banana papaya emulsion. During Ledeuil’s cooking class, I was thrilled to watch him make the seabass ravioli that I had fallen in love with just a few days earlier. Unfortunately, because Chef Ledeuil had originally planned to make the dish with different sauces, the recipe he handed out was different from what he showed us. If you want to check out Chef’s Ledeuil’s recipes for yourself, he released a cookbook called Les Couleurs du Gout (The Colours of Taste) two years ago. Chef very generously passed me a copy. It’s stunning and I urge you to buy a copy. The only problem (for me at least) is that the book is in French which means I’ll be spending many a night brushing up on my very, very rusty Francais.

In addition to wowing me with his cooking, Chef Ledeuil also wowed me with something I had read about but had never gotten to actually see up close, a Thermomix. Ever since I had heard about these amazing machines that single-handedly weigh, chop, blend, knead, whip, and cook (yes cook!), I’ve wanted to check one out and see it in action. Chef Ledeuil swears by them. He told me he can’t imagine cooking without one. I was thrilled when he invited me into the kitchen to watch as he prepared some of his sauces with the one he carried all the way to Bangkok from Paris.

The Thermomix is very cool. It allows you to precisely measure ingredients and blend them at 11 different speeds (1-10 plus a turbo setting). Most amazingly, you can heat your ingredients at 7 different temperature settings, ranging from 37 degrees Celsius on up to 100 degrees Celsius. The consistency of the sauces that Chef Ledeuil made were brilliantly smooth and nicely heated through. Having finally seen a Thermomix in action, all I can say is, “Oh my God, I want one!” Of course, I’d like to cook like Chef Ledeuil as well.

4, rue des Grands Augustins
Paris 6
Tel: 01 44 32 00 32

Technorati tags: , , ,

Four Seasons Bangkok WGF: Fatema Hal

lamb tagine with olives, eggplant and lemon confit

One of the chefs attending this year’s Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival whose food I was most excited to try was Fatema Hal. Ms Hal is considered by many to be one of the most important proponents of Moroccan cuisine on our planet. Over the past 21 years, at her restaurant in Paris, La Mansouria, she’s been introducing countless foodies to the joys of this once over-looked but now trendy cuisine. More importantly, Ms Hal has, during the same period, dedicated much energy and research to recording the most authentic and often rare recipes from her homeland. She’s both advocate and historian, ambassador and anthropologist.

During the World Gourmet Festival, diners who attended Fatema’s two 5-course dinners raved about her exotic and delicious food. S and I were lucky enough to catch one of her equally popular cooking classes, during which she showed us how to make spicy shrimp briwatte; a lamb tagine with olives, eggplant and lemon confit; and gazelle horns with sesame seeds. It was interesting to hear from Fatema that while tagines are served in their traditional bowls, hardly anyone uses these tall, attractive tools for cooking anymore. Almost everyone, she told us, cooks tagines in dutch ovens or cocottes.

I’ve decided to post Ms Hal’s briwatte recipe. A briwatte is something similar to a fried spring roll. It’s traditionally shaped like a long cigar, but for our class, Ms Hal shaped them in triangles, like samosas. They’re easy to make and Ms Hal’s filling was actually quite tasty. The combination of herbs and spices was very nice and pleasantly evocative. I could easily imagine snacking on these on a lazy afternoon in Marrakech.

Briwatte aux Crevettes Pimentées (Spicy Shrimp Briwatte)
Makes approximately 24

2 tablespoons oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
250 grams shrimps, peeled
1 coriander root washed and chopped
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cumin
freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste
1 tomato, peeled and finely diced
1 green chilli (optional)
12 sheets briks (this can be substituted with spring roll skins)
1 egg yolk, lightly whisked

Heat the oil over high heat. Add the garlic, coriander, salt, cumin and lemon juice. Lower the heat and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon for approximately 3 minutes.

Add the diced tomato and cook for another 7 minutes before adding the peeled shrimps and green chilli. Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes before removing the pan from the heat. Let the mixture cool.

Halve the brik sheets (or spring roll skins). According to Ms Hal, a spoonful of filling should be placed in the middle of a half sheet. Roll the sheet to form a cigar, folding the two ends in at the same time. (I’m guessing that it should look like a spring roll.) Seal the parcel with some egg yolk. Repeat with the remaining sheets.

Deep-fry the briwatte in oil for 5 minutes or until they are light golden brown.

Technorati tags: , ,

Four Seasons Bangkok WGF: Vincent Bourdin’s macarons

One of my wife’s favourite people in Singapore is Chef Vincent Bourdin. Vincent is Valrhona chocolate’s regional pastry chef. Which means that he knows more about chocolate and desserts than most people and definitely much more than I could ever hope to. Vincent’s background in pastry is pretty impressive. He’s worked at La Tante Claire with Pierre Kaufmann in London and with Pierre Herme when he was still at Fauchon in Paris. In Asia, Vincent zips around the region, advocating the use of only the best quality chocolate when making desserts as well as demonstrating some pretty impressive pastry skills.

Here at the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival, Vincent has been serving a pretty impressive and sumptuous afternoon tea in the hotel’s Lobby Lounge. He also wowed the very dressed-up audience of this year’s gala dinner (which featured at 8 course meal prepared by 8 different celebrated chefs) with a petits fours platter unlike any I’d ever seen before. It featured a bar of chocolate on which were delicately balanced 4 skewers. Each skewer was topped with a different, small but beautiful dessert. Once you eat these, you then take your bar of chocolate, box it up (the box was provided/plated on the side) and take it home with you. The idea was to give you something to remember the evening by. Another highlight of Vincent’s participation here at the Festival was a cooking class during which he demonstrated three very interesting desserts. Of these, the one that excited me the most was his preparation for raspberry and white chocolate macarons. While other fellow bloggers have been able to pull off some pretty impressive macarons, I’ve always been slightly afraid to make them. But after watching Vincent prepare his and explain the process quite clearly, I’m now very encouraged to try. It was much easier than I ever imagined. I’ve posted the recipe below so you can also give it a shot.

Raspberry and White Chocolate Macarons
Makes 50-60 macarons

Raspberry Ganache
100 grams whipping cream (35 percent fat)
200 grams white chocolate (preferably Valrhona), chopped
90 grams raspberry pulp

150 grams finely ground almonds (almond flour)
150 grams icing sugar
200 grams egg whites
165 grams caster sugar
50 grams water

Prepare the ganache ahead of time. Bring the cream to a boil and pour it over the white chocolate in several stages as you whisk the mixture to emulsify it. Start with your whisk placed in the middle of the bowl and quickly incorporate the cream into the chocolate. Once the ganache reaches room temperature, add the raspberry pulp.

Refrigerate for several hours or overnight so that the ganache can be piped easily.

To prepare the macarons, combine the ground almonds and icing sugar then sift the mixture. Add 50 grams egg white and stir to form a paste. Set aside.

Lightly whisk the remaining 150 grams egg white with 15 grams caster sugar in a KitchenAid.

Combine the remaining 150 grams of caster sugar with the water in a saucepan and cook the mixture until it reaches 110 degrees Celsius (if you prefer your macarons to have pronounced domes, heat to 115-118 degrees Celsius). At this point, you may add any food colouring and flavouring you may wish to incorporate into the macaron batter. Remove the mixture from heat once it reaches the desired temperature and pour it onto the egg whites as they are being whisked.

Continue whisking until the meringue is cool to the touch (it should look shiny; Chef Bourdin believes that using this technique yields a better, more consistent finished product). Gently fold some meringue (about 1/3) into the almond-sugar paste before folding in the rest of the meringue.

Pipe the batter onto a silicon mat (hold the piping bag at a right-angle perpendicular to the mat when you do this; you’re also more likely to get perfectly round macarons if you pipe them onto a silicon mat rather than baking paper) and leave them to rest for 45 minutes so that they develop skins (they should not stick to your finger when you press on them; this may take longer in a humid climate).

Bake at 140 degrees Celsius for 12 minutes and cool.

To assemble, sandwich some raspberry ganache between two macarons. The finished macarons can be stored, chilled for several days. (Chef says that they taste best the day after they’re made.)

Technorati tags: , , , ,

Four Seasons Bangkok WGF: Michael Mina

butter-poached kobe tenderloin with sauteed spinach, horseradish mash and pearl onions

Easily one of the biggest attractions at this year’s Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival is Michael Mina. Named Bon Appetit Chef of the Year as well as Restaurateur of the Year by the International Food and Beverage Forum in 2005, Mina has become one of America’s most celebrated chefs. Today, he oversees 6 restaurants, 3 in Las Vegas, 1 in San Francisco, 1 in San Jose, and the last in Dana Point. Plans to open a seventh restaurant this year, in Las Vegas, are already underway.

When this year’s WGF schedule was announced, it was no surprise that Mina’s 5-course dinners were the first to sell out. S and I were therefore unable to score seats for these. We were able to sit in on one of Mina’s cooking classes, during which he demonstrated three rather simple yet delicious dishes. And yesterday, we had the fortune of chatting with the Egyptian-born celebrity chef.

Below is part of that interview.

CH: You once described your cuisine as “complex simplicity”. What does that actually mean?

MM: Actually, complex simplicity really only accurately describes the food in one of my restaurants, the one in San Francisco. The concept there was to serve multiple preparations based around the same product.

seared scallops on potato cakes with a caviar-lemon butter sauce

MM: Take diver scallops for example. When you order this dish (at Michael Mina), you get 6 small portions of scallop, each treated differently. One would be served seared and over a potato cake; this would be plated with a caviar sauce. I’d then make a scallop ceviche paired with a lemon vinaigrette and some more caviar. A third would be served with a yellow corn and truffle pudding. And so on and so on. Each of these preparations taken alone is actually pretty simple. But served together, the dish becomes uniquely complex.

CH: What other ways or terms would you use to describe your cooking?

MM: My food is highly conceptual. It definitely fits within the category of “Modern American” cuisine. Which is a way of saying that I’m making very product-driven food that draws on and plays with regional American classics. I like injecting a sense of fun into my food. Take my lobster pot pie for example. It uses a great regional product as well as classic preparations from around the country.

MM: I’d also say that my food is known for having bold flavours. I really like flavourful food. So do most Americans, which is why I think Asian food is so popular in the United States. So much of the food from Asia has strong flavours. But they also have an amazing sense of balance. A sour or spicy food will be served along with something sweet or cool. I love that! And it’s something I try to achieve in my cooking.

CH: How do you come up with a new dish or recipe?

MM: I’m a very ingredient-driven chef. I start with the product. I’m also really fortunate because today in America there’s a great wealth of amazing organic and farmed products. I might find something from a specific farmer, like wild boar for example. And that will inspire me to come up with a dish for one of my restaurants. Because each of my restaurants has a slightly distinct concept, I can create dishes for specific ones.

banana tarte tatin with ice cream

CH: What’s driving this wave of farming? Is it the chefs that are demanding better produce to work with or were the farmers leading the push?

MM: I think it’s been a combination of both better awareness and demand from chefs and customers. As people have become more health-conscious, they’ve become increasingly concerned where their food comes from.

MM: I went to Tokyo for the first time recently. It was great seeing how obsessive, in a good way, Japanese are about their produce. I live in Northern California, and while we’re not at that level yet, we’re also becoming obsessive about our food. It’s actually a result of having so many vineyards in the area. Growing the very best grapes is important to winemakers and that philosophy has filtered to others. Also, many vineyards have fantastic gardens of their own where they produce great vegetables.

CH: So what products are exciting you the most?

MM: I’m really into micro-vegetables right now. I love how producers have been able to itensify flavours. They have great visual appeal too. It’s funny because so many people think that American food is boring, that it’s just meat and potatoes. But now in the States, I can get 11 different varieties of potatoes.

Technorati tags: , ,

Four Seasons Bangkok WGF: Marco Talamini

Marco Talamini is the chef de cuisine at La Torre di Spilimbergo in northeastern Italy and is considered by some to be one of Italy’s best chefs. Earlier today, as part of the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival, S and I had the pleasure of attending a cooking class and lunch featuring this innovative and talented chef. Presenting to a packed room at the Four Seasons, Talamini walked us through 3 of his dishes.

His first course was a seabass tartar on warm zucchini cream with tomato caviar. The dish was both simple to make and quite nice. It was delicate as well as refreshing. The dish also exemplified Talamini’s philosophy to cooking. He advocates using only the freshest possible ingredients and then exercising restraint with how much flavoring you add to your dish. You don’t want to mask the natural tastes of your fresh produce, he told us.

His second course was described as small tuna bites wrapped in bacon, served with a confit of cherry tomatoes and black olives. The dish was good. The bacon added necessary fat to the tuna; it also added a nice savoriness to it. The best part of the dish though was the confit of chery tomatoes. To make these, Talamini slices, deseeds and presses tomatoes. He then marinates them with salt, sugar, lemon juice, thyme and olive oil. He pops these in the oven for 3-4 hours at 60 degrees Celsius. Then he transfers them to another pan, wiping them dry and pops them back in the oven until they are nice and dry.

For dessert, Talamini demonstrated how to make a melon frappe with an asino cheese foam which is topped with a strawberry. This is another easy dish to make. All you need is a siphon in order to make the espuma properly.

My favourite dish of the trio was by far the seabass tartar. I’ve posted the recipe below so that all of you can try making it for yourselves.

Seabass Tartar on Warm Zucchini Cream with Tomato Caviar
Serves 10

4 liters fish stock
2kg zucchini, chopped (chef uses baby zucchini with flowers attached)
1 cup olive oil
700g fillet of seabass
200g tomatoes (preferably cherry)

Emulsion for tartar
50g extra virgin olive oil
50g lemon juice
50g natural soy sauce
20g salt and pepper

Zucchini Cream
Bring the fish stock to a boil and add the chopped zucchini. Once the zucchini are tender (but not mushy), take them out of the liquid. Place them in a container and blend them (use a handblender) with a cup of olive oil until the mixture is foamy. Keep warm.

Seabass Tartar
Cut the fillets into fine cubes. Keep in the fridge.

Emulsion for Tartar
Whisk together the lemon juice, soy sauce, olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper (to taste). Mix this into the seabass cubes.

Tomato Caviar
Quarter the tomatoes and deseed them. Slice them into tiny cubes (fine brunoise) and add a bit of salt, to taste.

To Assemble
Arrange a small portion of the tartar in a round metal ring placed on a plate. Top with a small spoonful of tomato caviar. Remove the ring. Pour the warm zucchini foam around the tartar. If you want to, you can garnish with some thyme or spring onion.

Technorati tags: , ,

Four Seasons Bangkok WGF: Peter Gordon

Peter Gordon isn’t afraid to call his food fusion. He’s also one of my own personal food heroes. I first heard of Gordon in the mid-nineties. A couple years later, I got a chance to eat at the Sugar Club in London. And I was hooked. More recently, I’ve dined at Providores, Gordon’s current restaurant in London, and at Public, a cool space in New York that Gordon was a consultant for. Gordon’s food is, as he admits and for lack of a better word, fusion. He takes ingredients from around the world (especially Southeast Asia and more recently the Middle East) and combines them innovatively and elegantly. And while some traditionalists occasionally balk at Gordon’s combinations, I have always found them exciting.

I should admit also that one of Gordon’s dishes has special meaning to S and me. Because I had raved about his food to her when we first started dating, the first thing that S ever cooked for me some 6 years ago was Gordon’s signature steak with pesto on it. It’s a dish we both love and have served countless time to friends (along with his scallops with creme fraiche and sweet chilli sauce). When S and I got married, our wedding dinner was composed of dishes that were significant to us. Gordon’s beef-pesto was the main course.

For his dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival, Gordon prepared a fun 5-course menu that incorporated many Thai ingredients. The menu was as follows: golden aubergines and den miso aubergines wth coconut labne, pea shoots, crispy buckwheat, edamame and pomegranate avocado oil dressing; scallop sashimi with watermelon, yuzu, coriander, “nam phrik num” dressing and pickled watermelon rind; crab crusted cod and two crispy sesame frog legs on wing beans, with coconut tapioca and smoked tamarind broth; slow roasted New Zealand venison fillet on sweet potato mash, wok-fried Thai greens with sake roasted cherry tomatoes; and mango and jackfruit compote, wild strawberry sorbet, hazlenut praline, and vanilla cream with poppy wafer, rambutan and longan. Everything was good. S especially liked the watermelon and scallop dish while my favourite parts were the frog legs (super-tender and very tasty) and the combination of the sweet potato mash and the savory venison. Attending this dinner was a real treat.

An even bigger treat was being able to sit down and chat with Gordon for quite an extended period of time on Monday morning. Below is part of the interview that S and I conducted with Gordon.

CH: Your food, especially in your Sugar Club years, draws heavily on Southeast Asian ingredients. How did you learn about the foods of this region?

PG: I went backpacking around Southeast Asia some 20 years ago. I stayed here for a year, staying in each place as long as I could — basically until my visa ran out. It was a fantastic experience because previously, my (culinary) training was quite classical European. I hated the fact that we never learnt how to make anything Asian. So on that trip, I tried to experience and learn as much as I could. I would trade knowledge. Like in Bali, where in exchange for teaching someone how to make hamburgers, I’d get to learn how to soak a pig’s head in blood to prepare a really traditional dish.

CH: How has your food evolved over the past 15-20 years?

PG: I still use a lot of Southeast Asian ingredients, but I also use a lot more Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours now. My favourite city in the world is Istanbul. I consult with two fabulous restaurants there (Changa and Muzedechanga). Originally, the owners wanted me to replicate my Sugar Club menus. I wanted to bring in a lot more local, i.e. Turkish, ingredients into the food. But they really wanted me to make what they had eaten in my restaurant in London. That was in 1999. Over the years, though, I’ve been able to convince them to allow me to bring in more of a local influence, making the cuisine there much more Turkish.

CH: How do you create a dish when you are using so many ingredients from different parts of the world?

PG: Actually, I try as much as possible to ignore cultural boundaries and backgrounds. When I find an ingredient I haven’t tasted before, I treat it not as a Thai or Turkish or Vietnamese ingredient but as just a product that I might use in my food. After tasting it, I try and ask simple questions, like “What can I do with this?”, “How can I cook or treat it?”, “What will it go well with?”. This way, I’m free to create new combinations and create dishes that are driven by taste and flavor. At the end of the day, I create dishes that I like to eat.

I also encourage my junior chefs to do the same thing. In my restaurants, at least 50% of the dishes are actually proposed by these young chefs. They’re refined, tweaked and filtered by me of course, but I’m happy that the ideas come from my team. I’ll also throw out challenges sometime, to try and inspire new dishes. For example, I might tell some of my chefs, “Think about duck, Japan and India.” The resulting dishes might all be quite different from each other, even different from what I would do. But this is how we constantly evolve.

CH: You’ve made television appearances on both Nigel Slater’s and Jamie Oliver’s shows. Has this made you a bit of a celebrity in the UK?

PG: Well, it’s bit funny. Because I’ve been on TV, people who come eat at Providores are often surprised to actually see me at work. I mean, they’ll come in, order their brekkie and then notice that I’m the one poaching their eggs. They’re stunned that I’m there. Where else would I be? But I can understand their surprise. So many “celebrity chefs” rarely actually cook these days.

CH: Has the celebrity chef phenomenon affected the aspirations of today’s young chefs?

PG: Very much so. I work with and meet a lot of young chefs. I run a competition through which a talented young chef in New Zealand gets to spend 5 weeks cooking in a top British restaurant and vice-versa. And when I’m back in New Zealand, I like to meet as many young chefs as possible. When I was training, we looked up to the classic masters. Today, 60% of young chefs want to be Jamie Oliver. And the other 40% want to be Gordon Ramsay.

Having chefs become celebrities is a good and bad thing. It’s great because it’s helping to attract a lot more people to our industry. It’s bad because so many don’t realize either how amazingly talented Jamie is or how hard Ramsay worked to get where he is today. A lot of young kids think they can short-cut their way to the top. They think they can move from bottom of the ladder to executive chef in 3 years.

CH: I read recently that you’ve invested in a vineyard (Waitaki Braids). Can you tell me more about this?

PG: Two friends and I have bought into this great vineyard in North Otago. It’s funny because when I first started out (professionally), I had wanted to be a winemaker. We have a terrific winemaker working with us. Michelle (Richardson) is probably the best winemaker in New Zealand. And she’s a fun person, which some winemakers tend not to be. I love that she’s also deeply passionate about her wines as well. In fact, I often feel that Michelle talks about wine the same way that I talk about food and cheese. Which means that talking to her sometimes is a bit like talking to myself. But the wines are fantastic. Michelle, as I said, is brilliant. We’ve just released our first vintage, a Pinot Noir and Jancis Robinson loves it.

Peter Gordon owns and runs The Providores and Tapa Room in London and Dine by Peter Gordon in Auckland, New Zealand.

Technorati tags: , ,

Four Seasons Bangkok WGF: Yoshii

It’s been a fantastic trip to Bangkok so far. Monday morning, my sexy spouse S and I woke up in a gorgeous room at the Four Seasons Hotel, had a great breakfast at Biscotti and then spent the rest of the morning chilling out with one of my food heroes, Chef Peter Gordon. After that and still a little high from meeting Gordon for the first time, S and I attended a phenomenal cooking class and lunch featuring Sydney-based chef Yoshii Ryuichi. That evening, we attended another cooking class and dinner, this time featuring Michael Mina. But we’ll get to Michael in a future post. Right now, I want to talk about Yoshii.

Yoshii’s restaurant, simply called Yoshii, is considered by many to be the very best Japanese restaurant in Sydney (and perhaps Australia). The Nagasaki-native serves up what he calls contemporary Japanese cuisine. It’s not just sushi, sashimi and tempura. It’s inventive, innovative and exciting dishes that combine ingredients from Australia, Europe and Asia in new and bold ways.

For his class at this year’s World Gourmet Festival, Yoshii prepared 3 dishes. The first was a Scallop Carpaccio with Chives and Pasely oil.

It was a clean and simple dish. And one that looked pretty easy to make. It was composed of half slices of quickly seared raw scallops and thin slices of pickled turnip. Over this, Yoshii drizzled an “umeboshi dressing”. This was then topped with caviar and some mixed herbs — specifically baby shiso, baby chard and chervil.

Our dessert was another simple dish. It was also a really surprising one. I would never have thought to combine oranges and red bean. But it worked.

The best dish of the lunch by far and away was Yoshii’s yuzu miso lamb chops (pictured at the top of this post). These were amazing! S and I are planning on making these for as many friends as we can. The yuzumiso paste had a deliciously sweet, savory and fresh flavor. The lamb was juicy and tender and the accompanying braised daikon was the perfect foil for the meat. This dish really floored both of us. And it made us really, really want to book a table at Yoshii the next time we make it to Sydney. I’ve posted the recipe below so you can all try it for yourselves.

Yuzu miso lamb chops
Serves 10

30 lamb chops (3 chops per serving; may be substituted with pork chops or duck breasts)
salt and pepper to taste
240 grams yuzumiso
5 grams breadcrumbs (panko); chef Yoshii uses brioche in his restaurant
10 grams almond flakes
100 milliliters shiitake soy sauce
10 rectangles of daikon braised in bonito stock
selection of seasonal vegetables

Daikon braised in bonito stock
10 rectangles of peeled daikon (roughly 10 by 5 centimeters)
1 liter bonito stock
8 grams salt
20 milliliters light soy sauce
16 milliliters mirin

250 grams white miso
40 grams sugar
50 milliliters mirin
3 egg yolks
100 grams Japanese mayonnaise
40 grams yuzu peel, chopped (can be substituted with orange and/or lemon peel)
5 grams yuzu pepper (yuzu kocho; can be substituted with a little finely chopped green chilies)

Shiitake soy sauce
100 milliliters Japanese soy sauce
25 milliliters mirin
10 grams wholegrain mustard
5 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in water until soft then sliced
100 milliliters beef or lamb stock

Prepare the daikon braised in bonito stock and seasonal vegetables ahead of time. You will need small bite-sized pieces of seasonal vegetables of your choice. Chef Yoshii suggests using asparagus tips, okra (lady’s fingers), peeled baby carrots, mushrooms, snow peas, shimeiji mushrooms, broccolini and edible flowers. The vegetables should be sliced into cross-sections (as in the case of okra) or trimmed (like asparagus tips and broccolini).

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Blanch the seasonal vegetables (not the edible flowers if you’re using them) in the boiling water for 1 to 3 minutes. Drain and refresh in ice water. Add the daikon rectangles into the boiling water at the same time as the other vegetables but do not remove them when the seasonal vegetables are done. Continue to boil the daikon for another 10 minutes or until they are tender.

Meanwhile, combine the bonito stock, salt, soy sauce and mirin in a saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the tender daikon rectangles. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside to cool.

To prepare the yuzumiso, mix the white miso (substitute with red miso if you’re using duck instead of lamb), egg yolks, sugar and mirin in a saucepan. Stir the mixture over low heat until it comes to a boil. Heat for 10 minutes (be careful, it burns easily, so stir continuously) and remove from the heat. Allow the mixture to cool before adding the mayonnaise, yuzu peel and yuzu pepper. Stir well and set aside.

Heat some olive oil in a frying pan. Season both sides of the lamb chops with salt and pepper. Sear each side of the lamb chops for about 1 minute or until they are golden brown. Remove the lamb chops from the pan and place them in an ovenproof tray.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Prepare the shiitake soy sauce in the frying pan you seared the lamb chops in. Combine all the sauce ingredients in the frying pan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until it reduces. Stop at the point when it tastes appealing to you.

Smear one side of each lamb chop with yuzumiso (use around 8 grams per lamb chop) and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Insert a few almond flakes into each portion of yuzumiso-breadcrumb topping. Slide the tray of lamb chops into the oven and cook for around 5 (medium) to 6 (medium well) minutes.

To serve, place 3 lamb chops on each plate. Next, place one daikon rectangle on each plate and top with seasonal vegetables. Drizzle the shiitake soy sauce around the lamb chops and serve immediately.

Technorati tags: , ,

17 great chefs and me

What do you get when you take 17 of the world’s best chefs and bring them together to cook for a week in one place? Well, if you were me and you got the chance to spend the week with them, eating their dishes and attending cooking classes taught by them, you’d get one damn happy blogger!

The Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok is hosting its 7th Annual World Gourmet Festival this coming 10-17 September. And yours truly has been appointed the Festival’s Official Blogger. That means S and I get to go to Bangkok and attend as many of the events as we can! Both of us will be posting daily during the Festival. I’m very excited. This year, the Festival is showcasing some really amazing chefs, including one of my personal food heroes, Peter Gordon. Regular readers might remember that S and I served a dish inspired by one of Gordon’s at our wedding dinner. While I’ve eaten at The Sugar Club and at Providores, I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him. I’m really looking forward to attending both his dinner and his cooking clas.

Other great chefs taking part include Yoshii Ryuichi from Yoshii in Sydney; Michael Mina from Las Vegas; Fatema Hal, from Morocco by way of Paris; William Ledeuil from Ze Kitchen Galerie, also in Paris; and Ruth Van Waerebeek-Gonzalez, head chef at Concha y Toro, one of Chile’s most renowned vineyards. Also taking part is one of S’s friends, Vincent Bourdain (Vincent, not Anthony!), Valrhona Chocolate’s regional pastry consultant. But the chef that has S most excited is Emily Luchetti, pastry chef extraordinaire. S adores both of Luchetti’s books, A Passion for Desserts and A Passion for Ice Cream. She’s very thrilled to be able to attend Luchetti’s class; we’ve also asked for an interview, so hopefully, S will be able to spend some time chatting with her.

Each of the guest chefs will be cooking 2 dinners (in one of the hotel’s restaurants) and teaching at least one class. If you’re anywhere near Bangkok, you should consider attending the Festival. But, book soon. Some events are already sold-out. For more info, please email Hopefully, I’ll see you there.

p.s. We’ve actually asked for interview-time with Peter Gordon, Michael Mina, Emily Luchetti and Fatema Hal. If any of you have questions that you want us to pose them, please leave them in a comment or email me. We’ll try to include the best questions in our interviews. Thanks.

Technorati tags: , ,