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Friday, September 29, 2006

Rediscovering Indian food

I'm a huge fan of Northern Indian food. Going to university in New York City meant that I lived partially on a staple diet of Chinese and Indian takeaway meals. My flatmate and I were pretty sick. At least my wife considers what we did pretty vile. Every few days we'd call our favourite neighborhood Punjabi palace and call in a couple orders of sag paneer, chicken tikka masala, butter chicken, keema, navrattan korma and dhal. Whatever we didn't eat immediately would get tossed in the freezer. Whenever we got a little peckish, we'd carve out some frozen Indian food, toss it onto a plate with some rice (pulled out of the fridge of course) and nuke it in the microwave. Instant meals for the next few days. When we ran out or when the food started looking a little too frostbitten, we'd simply pick up the phone and order some more.

It wasn't until I moved back to Asia that I discovered just how elegant and refined Northern Indian food could be. The food I tried was nothing compared to the schlop that I had ordered in week after week in university. It was beautiful. It was delicious. It had complex flavours and it was made with the freshest ingredients.

multani shorba

One of the very best exponents of innovative and artfully-crafted Northern Indian food is Chef Milind Sovani. Chef Sovani owns and runs an exquisite restaurant in Singapore called Song of India. Previous to opening Song of India, he was the head chef of Rang Mahal, an equally amazing and very well-known restaurant located in the Pan Pacific hotel. I like Chef Milind because he's a man on what he himself describes as "an important mission". And that mission is, as he puts it, "to showcase Modern Indian cuisine to the world."

gilawat kebab and saunfwale scallops

Sovani is trying to do for Indian food what chefs like Ducasse and Robuchon did for French food in the early 1990s. With total respect and understanding of his culture's cuisine and cuisine heritage, he tries to create new, lighter, more elegant and more beautiful dishes. His food is still authentically Indian. But it's a new Indian.

I also admire the fact that Sovani, through his menu, is also trying to introduce diners to foods from regions whose dishes are not usually seen on Indian restaurant menus. Take for example the cuisine of the Lucknow region. While Punjabi dishes are common on menus around the world, Lucknow food is hard to find outside of India. One of Sovani's signature dishes is Gilawat Kebab (pan-seared soft lamb kebabs). These kebabs are super-tender, gorgeous and tiny minced lamb patties. Sovani explained to me, on a recent visit, that about 60% of his menu at Song of India are indicative of what he calls Modern Indian cuisine. Another 20% are regional dishes that he believes you won't find in other restaurants. The last 20% are classics that he admits he has to have on his menu or else customers would complain. He'd love to remove them, but too many customers still expect an Indian restaurant to offer things like chicken tikka masala.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Chef Sovani to plan a menu for a very special meal. Thanks to one of my very generous sponsors, I'll be hosting an exquisite 8-course Modern Indian dinner prepared by Sovani in an equally exciting space. The Miele Active Kitchen is one of the best kept secrets in Singapore. Built by Miele, makers of stunning German home appliances (I love, love, love their steam oven), it is a private dining room that seats 12 comfortably and boasts a beautiful open kitchen. Here, Chef Sovani and his team will be whipping up this meal right in front of me and my dining companions using all of Miele's super-cool kitchen equipment.

In addition, Chef Milind and I have also come up with a special 6-course menu that will be available at Song of India. Many of these dishes will also be served at our 8-course extravaganza. The menu is as follow: Jhinga Smamarkand (tiger prawn in caraway enhanced marinade) with mustard chilli-infused chickken tikka (tender tandoori chicken kebab in grainy mustard); multani shorba (Lucknavi chicken and lentil soup); gilawat kebab and saunfwale scallops (scallops with a fennel and coriander crust); cumin lemon sorbet; lobster moily (lemon-chilli lobster with a Keralan moily sauce) with lime leaf upma, madras onion & edamame stir-fry; and malai kulfi (Indian ice cream with saffron) with fresh fruits and minted honey. This menu, though, will only be available to OCBC cardmembers, starting from 1 October 2006. The price of the menu will be S$114+++ without wine and $144+++ with wines paired with the meal.

malai kulfi

I've had the pleasure of trying these dishes, of course, and all are yummy. The lobster was especially fantastic. And I'm always a sucker for a good, well-made kulfi. If you haven't been to Song of India you should try it at least once. It's a unique and delicious experience.

Song of India
33 Scotts Road, Singapore 228226
Tel: +65 68360055

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Free seats for Justin Quek's dinner! Contest ends Friday!

Quick reminder for all Singapore-based readers with OCBC credit cards! If you haven't entered this contest to win a pair of seats at a table I'm hosting on 12 October, during Justin Quek's upcoming promotion, at Snappers restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, you have just 2 days left. The contest ends this coming Friday, 29 September. Three couples will win a pair of tickets to this 8-course extravanga cooked by arguably Singapore's best French chef. The menu includes Smoked Cobia Parfait with ‘Avruga’ Caviar; Seared Romaine Lettuce and King Oyster Mushroom with Autumn Dressing; Duo cooking of Maine Lobster with Ceps Mushrooms; Tagliatelle with Salted Natural Pork and Fresh Autumn Truffles; Demi-Tasse of Herbal Duck Consommé and Foie Gras Dumpling; Grilled Smoked Cote de Beouf with Autumn Vegetables, Bordeaux Sauce, or Pan-Roasted Ocean Fish Fillet with Lobster Essence; Avant Dessert; Duo of Chefs’ Dessert; and freshly brewed coffee, decaffeinated coffee, a selection of teas, and petit fours.

In addition, each winning couple gets an autographed copy of Justin's new cookbook, which launches 13 October 2006. The book will retail for S$69 and the dinner is usually S$150+++ a person, so getting a couple free seats and the book seems a pretty good deal to me. What are you waiting for?

HOW TO ENTER: Email me a 100-200 word description of your own chubby hubby or sexy spouse. You can tell me anything you want about them; it can be why you love him or her; it can be a funny story; it can be about how much he or she loves to eat. The wittiest, most sincere and most well-written 3 entries will win. Email me at Email me by 29 September 2006. I will announce the winners on 2 October 2006. Please be sure to include your full name, IC number (or passport number) and contact phone number. You must be an OCBC cardmember to enter.

Food is art

photo taken in 2001 at Tasting Australia

I spent a little over two years recently working for a government agency. Most specifically, I was working within the arm of the government responsible for looking after the arts. While there, one of the things I campaigned for quite aggressively (internally of course) was recognition of the culinary arts as a proper artform. And not simply as a trade. As you can imagine, very few of my colleagues sympathized with my cause. Mostly, I think, because few understood what I was going on about.

A buddy of mine, who is one of Singapore's most talented contemporary artists, just emailed me a bit of news that has made my day (maybe even my month). Documenta is arguably the most important regular contemporary art exhibition in Europe. It takes place once every five years in the German town of Kassel. Each edition is helmed by a different artistic director, who builds his or her own curatorial team. Documenta 12, scheduled to take place 16 June 2007 - 23 September 2007, is being led by Roger Buergel.

A few months ago, Buergel announced some of the artists that he will be bringing to Kassel for this most significant and important of art exhibitions. One of those, surprisingly, was celebrity chef Ferran Adria, of El Bulli! Buergel acknowledged Adria as "the most famous chef in the world" but wouldn't reveal the details of how Adria will be participating in the art show.

When my friend emailed me this astounding news, I quickly googled both "Documenta" and "Ferran Adria" and was surprised by how little coverage has been given to what I believe is a rather important event for the culinary world. In fact, all the reports that I found came from fine arts media. Am I just blind or has the world's mainstream food press possibly missed out on one of the most exciting stories of recent times? For perhaps the first time, a chef has been elevated to the status that he deserves. He's being considered a true artist and being exhibited alongside other creative geniuses from other disciplines.

Perhaps after Documenta 12, more and more non-foodies will start to recognize the culinary arts for what it is, a serious artform. One that requires just as much creativity, training and innovation as other artforms like film-making, painting, or architecture.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Super-Sunday truffle pizzas

What do you do when a friend gives you a couple boxes of uni (sea urchin) and a jar filled with not one but two and a half summer truffles? Well, after whooping for joy for a good half an hour, you call some equally greedy friends and invite them over for a super-decadent Sunday lunch. It also turned out to be one of the longest lunches S and I have ever hosted. We started a little after 1pm and only served dessert (which was very kindly provided by the gorgeous, skillful and (annoyingly) skinny J of Kuidaore) a little after 5pm.

We started our meal with bellinis and plates of cappelini with a yummy, spicy sea urchin sauce. S whipped up the sauce following a recipe from Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen, using a wonderful homemade chili bean paste that J had given us. The sauce was actually made by J's grandmother. It's delicious and we've been telling J for yonks that she and her gran should start bottling it and selling it. I'm confident she could retire on this sauce. I know that I'd never want to go without a bottle in my fridge. The pasta was excellent -- and I'm not usually a fan of sea urchin dishes. Now, here's where I admit a bit of stupidity and foolishness on my part. Despite having my camera next to me, I was so eager to eat the pasta when it was served that I totally forgot to snap a few photos of it.

I didn't forget to shoot the pizzas though. In total, 6 of us ate 5 pizzas. (S had prepared 6 portions of pizza dough so boy were the dogs happy when I made them a pizza as part of their dinner.) S followed the Napoletana pizza dough recipe from Peter Reinhart's American Pie. It's a good, easy to follow recipe that yields a beautifully thin and tasty crust. We decided that instead of a red (tomato-based) sauce, we would make the pizza with a porcini cream sauce. It was essentially a bechamel made with cream as well as the water that was used to rehydrate a batch of porcini mushrooms. We prepared two toppings. The first was a mix of button and porcini mushrooms with some sauteed garlic. The second was some bacon mixed with sauteed nameko mushrooms, over which we cracked some eggs. Over each pizza, we shaved a bounty of summer truffle. The pizzas made with both toppings were delicious. But we quickly realized that the best combination was lots of sauce, just a small portion of the mushrooms and lots and lots of truffle. When we made the pizzas this way, my brother (who was one of our guests) was reduced to making loud, pleasurable grunting noises.

Even if you don't have access to a treasure trove of truffles, making (and eating) pizza can be a pleasure. All you need is Reinhart's recipe, a good pizza stone and a hot oven. I've asked S to transcribe Reinhart's recipe for all of you. She's made several comments and notes as well, in hopes of making this even easier. Enjoy!

Napoletana Pizza Dough
(as transcribed and appended by S)
Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s American Pie. I highly recommend buying this book. He offers plenty of additional tips (such as Ten Tips for Making Pizza Dough, a must-read) in other parts of the book which I haven’t inserted into this recipe.

Makes six 6-ounce dough balls

22½ ounces unbleached all-purpose flour (I used Gold Medal)
1¾ teaspoons table salt or 3¼ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast (or 1¼ teaspoons active dry yeast)
1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons chilled or ice water (roughly 40ºF)

Chill the flour for 1 hour or overnight (in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Reinhart says that this improves the dough, as does using chilled water).

If using active dry yeast, dissolve it in a few tablespoons of the water that you will be using for the dough.

Place all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook (Reinhart provides instructions for doing this by hand as well, but I’ve found it easiest to do it in my KitchenAid). Mix on low speed for about 4 minutes, or until all the flour gathers to form a coarse ball. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then mix again on medium-low speed for an additional 2 minutes, or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl and sticks just a little to the bottom. If the dough is too soft and sticky to hold its shape, mix in more flour by the tablespoonful; if it is to stiff or dry, mix in more water by the tablespoonful (of the times I’ve followed this recipe, I’ve never had to do either). When the dough is ready, you should be able to pinch off a small piece of it and stretch it out (turning it as you go) to form a paper-thin, translucent membrane. Reinhart calls this the windowpane test. I usually have to mix the dough for a lot longer than 2 minutes for my dough to pass this test. But it’s well worth being patient and keeping at it until your dough achieves this consistency.

Transfer the dough to a floured countertop, dust the top of the dough with flour and then working from the 4 corners, fold the dough into a ball. Place the ball in a bowl that has been brushed with olive oil, turn the ball to coat it with oil, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough sit a room temperature for 30 minutes, then place it in the refrigerator overnight. (If you are making the pizzas on the same day, let the dough sit at room temperature for 1½ hours, punch it down, reshape it into a ball, return the ball to the bowl, and then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.)

Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator 2 hours before you plan to make the pizzas. The dough will have expanded somewhat and the gluten will be very relaxed. Using this delayed-fermentation technique, according to Reinhart in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, results in “a naturally sweet, thin, golden crust that crisps on the bottom and the edges but retains enough moisture to taste creamy in the mouth”. Using a plastic bowl scraper dipped in water, or wet hands, gently transfer the dough to a floured counter, trying to degas the dough as little as possible. Using a pastry blade that has been dipped in water, divide it into 6 equal pieces. Gently round each piece into a ball and brush or rub each ball with olive oil. Line a sheet pan with baking parchment or non-stick silicone baking liner and brush with olive oil. Place each dough ball on the pan and loosely cover the pan with either plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Allow the balls to sit at room temperature for 2 hours before making the pizzas.

To make the pizzas, I inserted our baking stone and preheated our oven to its maximum temperature for at least 1 hour.

Reinhart offers multiple methods and loads of tips on shaping pizzas. But I prefer to stretch the dough gently on a sheet of Gladbake, trying to make it as thin as possible (no pressing down on the dough at all, just a careful lift and stretch motion). Layer on the toppings and bake for 7 to 9 minutes (this varies depending on what you’ve topped it with as well). It should be ready when the cheese has melted and is starting to brown, and the exposed crust is golden brown.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

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.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

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

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

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.

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Friday, September 15, 2006

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.)

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

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.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

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.

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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.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

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.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

A few Sunday snippets

tucking into a pasta at Basil Alcove

Fine food in a not so fine place

I heard about Basil Alcove just a few weeks ago. A fantastically talented art director I've been working with on a project mentioned it to me, telling me that it was a great place for good, cheap pastas. I have to agree. This super-tiny little cafe, located on the outside of Fortune Centre on Middle Road, serves good simple and very reasonably priced fare. Amusingly, when I asked Xander, the 23 year old owner and chef, what the concept of Basil Alcove was, he told me, "fine food in a not so fine place". Xander offers a daily set lunch priced usually around S$6-S$7 and has an a la carte menu in the evenings. The lunch here, if you work or live in the neighborhood, is definitely worth the trip. You get a homemade soup, your chouce of daily specials and a drink. The a la carte menu is pretty good too.
Basil Alcove, 190 Middle Road, #01-07, Fortune Centre, Tel: 63361318

Serve me a sundae
Style-mavens and fashionistas in Singapore have been spending their Saturdays of late checking out the many cool boutiques that have sprung up on Haji Lane, parallel and in between Arab Street and Bali Lane. Foodies now also have a reason to head down to this newly-chic street. Pluck, a very cute self-styled "style emporium", has just opened an ice cream parlour. After doing some serious shopping at Salad and White Room, this seems to me the perfect place to rest for a while. Retail therapy and super-cool sundaes? Count me in!
Pluck, 31/33 Haji Lane, Tel: 6396 4048

Mad for this mooncake
I've never been much of a mooncake fan. That said, I do appreciate a really well-made one. The best I've tasted so far this year comes from Chef Yong Bing Ngen of the Majestic restaurant, in the New Majestic Hotel. I had the pleasure of tasting his traditional mooncake, with lotus seed paste and salted duck egg's yolk. What really impressed me was how thin and delicate the pastry crust was, how smooth the lotus seed paste was, and how fresh the egg yolk tasted. It was quite delicious and surprisingly (for me at least) addictive. Design buffs will also like that they come packaged in lovely bright green and purple boxes.
Majestic Restaurant, New Majestic Hotel, 31-37 Bukit Pasoh Road, Tel: 6511 4718

Delicious kueh delivered
S and I also had the pleasure recently of tasting some delicious traditional Malay cakes ("kueh") from a small micro-bakery called Zaiton's. Zaiton's sells pineapple rolled tarts, makmub, sugi and kek kukus (a fruit cake). The pineapple tarts were especially good. S was delighted at the butteriness of the pastry, declaring that these were the best she's had in years. To order or for more info, please email I'm told that in addition to these lovely cakes, they also offer packet lunches and dinners. The best thing is that they deliver right to your doorstep.

Seven nights in Bangkok
From tomorrow onwards, S and I will be posting from Bangkok, where we will be attending the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok's World Gourmet Festival. Visit often to catch our coverage of the events and interviews with some of the world's best chefs.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Return of the king

Just a few days ago, I wrote about Chef Justin Quek and his new cookbook, simply titled "Justin Quek: Passion & Inspiration" (pictured here). I'm very excited because I've just received some truly exciting news. Just prior to launching his book on our shores, Chef Quek, easily Singapore's most famous and finest (Western) chef, has agreed to cook a few meals at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore. And to do it properly, he's bringing an entire team with him. That's right. Justin will be closing his award-winning restaurant, La Petite Cuisine, in Taipei for a week, giving some of his staff a much-needed vacation but bringing a much larger contingent down for this very special home-coming promotion.

Quek will be hosted at Snappers restaurant, located on the 1st floor of the hotel, near the pool, from 11-13 October. He'll be serving lunch all three days, offering 2 different menus, a regular menu and another that Justin calls his "menu prestige". The difference between the two is the quality of ingredients being used. While both menus look fantastic, the latter uses much more expensive and exquisite products. Justin will only be offering dinner on the 11th and 12th (because on the 13th, he will be cooking at a gala dinner in aid of the Children's Cancer Foundation). The dinner he's planning to prepare sounds fantastic. It's an 8-course extravanga: Smoked Cobia Parfait with ‘Avruga’ Caviar; Seared Romaine Lettuce and King Oyster Mushroom with Autumn Dressing; Duo cooking of Maine Lobster with Ceps Mushrooms; Tagliatelle with Salted Natural Pork and Fresh Autumn Truffles; Demi-Tasse of Herbal Duck Consommé and Foie Gras Dumpling; Grilled Smoked Cote de Beouf with Autumn Vegetables, Bordeaux Sauce, or Pan-Roasted Ocean Fish Fillet with Lobster Essence; Avant Dessert; Duo of Chefs’ Dessert; and freshly brewed coffee, decaffeinated coffee, a selection of teas, and petit fours. In addition to the above menu, there is also one (and just one) "chef's table" available each evening.

Given that Snappers is a pretty small restaurant and that Justin's only offering 3 lunches and 2 dinners, I'd book as soon as possible. There's no telling when he'll cook again in Singapore, especially after he opens Le Platane, his new super-chic fine-dining restaurant in Shanghai's Xintiandi area, this coming December.

To book a table or for more information, call the Ritz's restaurant reservation people at 64345288 (I've listed the prices at the very end of this post).

SPECIAL OFFER / CONTEST: I've decided that it would be super cool to host a dinner party during Justin's promotion and invite some of my readers to join me. In other words, I'm booking a table at Snappers on 12 October and giving away 6 seats! Okay, so here's the kicker. You have to be an OCBC credit cardmember to take part. Here's how you take part. Email me a 100-200 word description of your own chubby hubby or sexy spouse. You can tell me anything you want about them; it can be why you love him or her; it can be a funny story; it can be about how much he or she loves to eat. The wittiest, most sincere and most well-written 3 entries will win 2 seats each to Justin's dinner! In addition, each winner will get an autographed copy of Justin's new cookbook. Email me at You can email me from today till 29 September 2006. I will announce the winners on 2 October 2006. Please be sure to include your full name, IC number (or passport number) and contact phone number.

Justin Quek promotion at Snappers, Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore

4-course lunch menu
$ 55+++ per person without wine
$ 105+++ per person with wine

4-course lunch menu prestige
$ 95+++ per person without wine
$ 185+++ per person with wine

Lunch 11-13 October 2006

8-course dinner menu
$ 150+++ per person without wine
$ 290+++ per person with wine

8-course menu Chef’s Table
(minimum 6 guests)
$ 250+++ per person without wine
$ 450+++ per person with wine

Dinner 11-12 October 2006

Winner of Nokia N73 Contest #1

photo by Valerie Yuen

Congratulations Ms Valerie Yuen!

Ms Yuen's photograph, titled "Roadtrip Agony", has won her a brand new, super-duper cool Nokia N73 handphone. Her photo, pictured above, was captioned, "Hungry & Horrified faces before Lay's Potato Chips explode in the car! Everyone was terrified there'd be no more chips left after the explosion!"

Don't forget, I still have one more Nokia N73 to give away. For contest details, please click here.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dreaming of the weekend

It inevitably happens. By the time Wednesday rolls around, I tend to stop thinking about the mountain of work piling up on my desk and in my inbox and start daydreaming about the upcoming weekend. Maybe that's why some people call Wednesday hump-day. It marks the middle of the work week. Get over the hump and the weekend is just that much closer.

Nothing beats a lazy weekend morning spent with a good book, great company, some delicious homemade food and a nice cup of tea or coffee. A few months back, I wrote about Damien Pignolet's serious orange cake. Since then, S and I have been testing a few other orange cake recipes. In particular, we've been trying out some excellent flourless ones.

One of the best and easiest recipes we've found is Claudia Roden's "middle eastern orange cake". It's an incredibly delicious and moist cake. While Ms Roden's original recipe recommends baking the cake in a springform pan, we prefer separating the batter into muffin molds. It's much easier to grab a muffin than it is to cut and plate slices. Be sure to try and get oranges with thin skins. Thicker skins, when blended into the cake mix, tend to make the resulting cake a tad bitter.

The best time to make these is actually right away. That way, by the time the weekend does finally roll around, you'll have a nice batch already prepared and waiting for you.

Claudia Roden's Middle Eastern Orange Cake

2 large oranges, washed
6 eggs, beaten
250g ground almonds
250g sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder

Boil oranges in a little water in a covered saucepan for 2 hours. Allow to cool, then cut open, remove pips and chop roughly. Preheat oven to 190 degrees Celsius and butter and flour a springform tin. Blend oranges and remaining ingredients thoroughly in a food processor. Pour the batter into prepared tin. Bake for 1 hour. If the cake is still very wet, cook a little longer. Cool in tin before gently turning out.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Simplest crème brûlée

One of my all-time favourite desserts is crème brûlée. It's also a dish that I've found challenging to perfect. As many of you know, my wife S and I have an insane number of cookbooks, close to 400 at last count. We've tried a huge host of crème brûlée recipes written by some of the world's best chefs. Most fall into two categories, i.e. two cooking methods. The first, most common method is to prepare a custard on your stovetop that you pour into ramekins and then cool until set. The other way is to combine your ingredients, divide them into ramekins and then bake them in a water-bath. Both work, but I've always found that the crèmes made with the first method tend to be a tad heavy. And because I tend to be a bit of a klutz, I get a tad nervous working with preparations that require me to not only balance large trays of water but also put them in and pull them out of an oven.

Recently, however, I've discovered what may be the easiest way of preparing a perfect crème brûlée. Over the past year, my wife S has been helping Chef Justin Quek write his first cookbook, which is being released later this year.

the cover of Justin's first cookbook

Justin is an icon in Singapore. For almost a decade, he was the head chef of Singapore's top French restaurant, Les Amis. Trained in France and England, Justin is today considered one of the world's best chefs by both his customers and by many of his peers--including Tetsuya Wakuda, Michel Roux Jr, Ferran Adria, Neil Perry, Charlie Trotter and Pierre Hermé, all of whom contributed glowing endorsements to Justin's book. Currently, Justin is based in Taipei, where he runs a small, very well-reviewed restaurant called La Petite Cuisine. At the end of the year, he'll be embarking on his most ambitious project to date, a super high-end, fine-dining restaurant in Shanghai, near Xintiandi, called Le Platane.

Justin's crème brûlée recipe is notable because it follows neither of the two preparations described above. It's closer to the second method but doesn't call for a water-bath. His secret is that he bakes his crèmes on very low heat for an hour. The resulting custards are sinfully silky and delicious.

S and I have tested Justin's recipe a few times, with fantastic results. The recipe that apears in Justin's book includes wild blueberries. We tried this one first and when it worked perfectly, we started experimenting, using different fruits and then eventually infusions. My latest favourite version was made with cream and milk that had been infused with Gryphon Tea Company's delicious Straits Chai tea.

One thing that you may notice from the photographs above is that S and I have also been playing with unmolded crème brûlées. We've found that serving a crème brûlée that's been released from the confines of the usual ramekin surprises and delights our guests. Pulling this off is actually pretty easy. Follow the recipe (below) but instead of using ramekins, bake your crème brûlées in small, non-stick silicone molds. When the custard has cooled sufficiently, pop the molds in your freezer. At least 6 hours before you serve them, unmold them onto the plates you intend to serve them on. Put these into your refrigerator so that the custards defrost slowly. The custards should hold their shape, even when you blowtorch them.

Justin Quek's crème brûlée
Serves 10 to 12

8 egg yolks
600 millilitres fresh cream
100 millilitres milk
100 grams sugar
150 grams fine brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 100 degrees Celsius.

Combine the egg yolks, cream, milk and sugar in a mixing bowl. Whisk and pass through a fine sieve into a jug. Pour the egg mixture into small ramekins.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove, cool and refrigerate for a minimum of 3 hours.

Just before serving, sprinkle the top of each portion with a thin layer of brown sugar. Caramelise the sugar with a blowtorch and serve immediately.

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Friday, September 01, 2006

Oodles of Noodles

As you might imagine, anyone who calls himself a "chubby hubby" probably loves his carbs. I certainly do. I especially like pasta. Sometimes nothing else is as satisfying, as comforting, and as delicious as a well-made bowl of noodles. My brother's a pho fanatic. He's travelled all over the globe in search of the very best version. While I like this Vietnamese beef noodle soup dish a lot, I'm not as passionate about it as he is (nor as obsessive). I'm much more partial to a number of Chinese, Japanese and Italian noodle preparations. Call me traditional. Call me boring, but I'm a big believer that these three cuisines make (in general) the best pasta dishes.

One of my all-time favourite restaurants in Singapore is Tatsuya. I've known proprietor and master sushi chef Ronnie Chia for 16 years. And while he's most famous for fantastically fresh and perfectly prepared sushi, he also serves up some pretty mean cooked dishes, including a good smattering of uber-yummy ramen and udon dishes. My wife S especially likes popping into Tatsuya for one of his well-priced set lunches, which usually offer a combination of cooked and raw foods. We had the pleasure of recently tasting his latest creation, an Udon Salad Set (pictured above) which is both delicious and a great deal. For just S$28, you get some ultra premium sushi, some California maki, his new cold udon salad, and some homemade ice cream. The udon really surprised me. I'm not usually one for a bowl full of (mostly) veggies, but this dish was awesome. The udon noodles were springy and very yummy all on their own. The "salad" ingredients -- crab, tomato, avocado, hard-boiled egg, lettuce, cucumber -- flavored with a dipping sauce, spring onions, wasabi and mayo, combine very well. The dish is fresh, light and very tasty all at the same time.

Another favourite noodle dish of mine is Chef Yong Bing Ngen's lobster noodles (pictured above). Unlike other variants, which tend to be a tad heavy, the lobster noodles served at the Majestic Restaurant, in the New Majestic Hotel, are light yet still full of flavour. Of course, it helps that Chef Yong plates each portion with a full half of a lobster. Every time I've had it, I've swooned. The lobster meat is always soft and tender -- never overcooked. The sauce is a reduced chicken stock, which adds a delicious savoriness to the dish. To promote this fantastic dish, Chef Yong has created both a set lunch and set dinner. The lunch, priced at S$55 a person, includes a trio of appetisers, a double-boiled soup, the lobster noodles and your choice of dessert. The dinner, priced at $95, includes chilled Hokkaido scallops with yuzu soya vinaigrette, double-boiled sharks' fin soup with crab claw served in a whole young coconut, braised South African abalone, the lobster noodles and your choice of dessert.

While the Italians may have only leant about noodles from the Chinese, over the past 700 years, they've certainly perfected their pasta dishes. One of the best Italian chefs in town is Roberto Galetti. I've previously written about my total adoration for the Bigola Di Spinaci Al Brasato D'Anatra (homemade spinach noodles with a braised duck sauce) that Chef Roberto serves up every day at Garibaldi. It's so good that I often find myself daydreaming about digging into a bowl of it. If you haven't tried this dish, you really do need to head over to Garibaldi and pull up a chair.

270 Orchard Road Crown Prince Hotel Level 1, Tel: 6737 1160

Majestic Restaurant
31-37 Bukit Pasoh Road, Tel: 6511 4718

36 Purvis St, #01-02, Tel: 6837 1468

SPECIAL OFFER: Between 1 September 2006 - 30 November 2006, OCBC cardmembers can take advantage of some special, exclusive promotional prices. When paying with an OCBC credit card, Tatsuya's Udon Salad Set is marked down to a very reasonable S$23. OCBC cardmembers also receive a 10% discount on all a la carte food orders at Tatsuya. At the Majestic, the lobster noodles set lunch is marked down from S$55 to S$40. The lobster noodles set dinner is marked down from S$95 to S$80 a head. Last but not least, Chef Roberto is offering his incredible duck pasta, normally priced at S$26, at just S$19.80 during lunch service. Plus, all cardmembers get 10% off all a la carte orders at Garibaldi. Please inform the restaurant that you wish to enjoy your OCBC Dining Privileges when you order. And, of course, don't forget to tell the restaurants you read about these deals on Chubby Hubby.

Promotion is subject to Service Charge, prevailing Government Taxes and GST. General Terms & Conditions for all Dining Privileges apply. For more details, visit

(This post, you may have noticed, marks the first in a series that I'm doing with the backing of a new sponsor, OCBC Bank. It's a fantastic opportunity, especially because they have not pressured me into writing about any place that I wouldn't normally recommend anyway. In fact, they've allowed me and my wife to not only propose the places to feature but also help create the menus to promote. Happy eating!)