Saturday, February 17, 2007

Spice Workout

Renn Thai
Suntec City
3 Temasek Blvd #B1-037
Singapore 038983
Tel : 6338-2066
Craving for Thai food on one of the weekdays after work, N and I had to run an errand in Suntec City so we thought why not check out Renn Thai as well since I have heard by the word of the mouth how affordable and value for money this place was. Well, considering its chic location, comfy decor and spacious allowance between each table, if the food is great, then it really makes the money worth.

Though I do not really know the background of this restaurant, people have been telling me how great the food is and its presentations. So I take the cue from there to check it out myself. I am a bigger fan of Thai cuisine than my wife N as I like the bold flavours, aromatic herbs and lots of interesting contrasts in textures of the different dishes. The cuisine itself is made up with a majority of influences from India, China and Malaysia. Part of its Chinese heritage is a strong presence of Teochew style of cooking which was the main dialect group of immigrants from China.

As we were keen for variety, we ordered Khao Tang Na Tang or commonly known as Crispy Pot Crust (rice bubbles) with a creamy spiced mined pork and shrimp dip and a glass noodle salad, Yum Woon Sen to start with.. This is one of my favourites finger foods with a dipping sauce similar to our local satay peanut sauce. The sauce was fragrant from the spices and rich coconut milk and the minced pork and shrimp gave it substance. Dunk a piece of crispy pot crust into the warm creamy dip; it’s a lovely combination of textures and flavours on the palate.
A new surprise to us was the complimentary combination platter for four different appetizers as we had hit a minimum amount from our ala carte orders. The combination platter consisted of Spring Rolls with Yam Stuffing, Thai Chicken Satay, Grilled Squid and a small serving of green mango salad, Yum Ma Muang. The combination platter arrived in a long sampan dish like those that u can find in Chatuchak or Suan Lum Markets in Bangkok. Divided into four segments, the four different appetizers sat in each sector with their beautiful garnishes and dipping sauces.

The spring rolls were piping hot and crispy with the fragrance of the yam slices coming through on first bite. It was a interesting change from the usual vegetable based Cantonese style ones. Complimented with some dried shrimp and mushrooms, it was an encore. The meat from the chicken satay was very well marinated and it reminded us of those in the market stalls in Bangkok where u can buy off the charcoal grill and snack along as you shopped. The dipping sauce was a Thai Sweet Chili sauce garnished with chopped roasted peanuts, red onions, chili and coriander leaves. Have everything in your mouth; you will get flavours of char grilled meat, spices, peanuts and fresh herbs with a sweet sour spicy back ground coming from the dipping sauce itself. The grilled squid was also great with its right doneness and simple soy dressing that enhance the natural taste of it with a tinge of smokiness. Breaking the momentum of the cooked items, the raw green mango salad served as a refreshing element in between the bites of the other items.

The Yum Woon Sen is one of my favourite salads and is one of those few Thai salads that are served warm. Freshly blanched glass noodles are given a quick blanch before being paired with sliced onions, birds eye chilies, cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts, two kinds of seafood, fresh herbs and black fungus. All the ingredients were then toss in a fish sauce and lime juice dressing before being beautifully served in a whole lettuce leaf with two carved carrot flowers. The warm salad was beautifully brought alive with the tangy dressing and robust spiciness from the chilies and aromatic herbs. It also helped to cleanse our palates from the earlier combination of appetizers.

N loves Phad Thai. Ever since she fell in love with it since our first trip to Chiangmai, she got so hooked on it that it must be ordered each time we hit Thai cuisine. Kitchen modernization sometimes damages the authenticity of ethnic dishes. Many a time we have come across Phad Thai cooked on western hot plates for convenient and display reasons. This is especially so in food courts and is a crime to the heritage of this dish. It is like cooking our char kway teow on a hot plate and expecting to have the wok flavour in marriage with the sauces and noodles. Luckily the first whiff we got when N’s plate of Phad Thai arrived was the wok “hei” or aroma. That first sniff has already up the score by fifty points! Besides crucial ingredients like beancurd, dried shrimp, preserved radish (chye por) and garlic chives (gu chye), the noodle were well fried being still moist yet aromatic. Frying rice noodles is very much about skill and experience and cannot rely on precise measurements. Do you ever see the char kway teow uncle/auntie measure their water to cook with the noodles? It’s more about catching the right amount with experience, creating a synergy of frying the noodles with high heat, the sauces and condiments that go with it. With the entire plate finished up, I must say that N does like the noodles here.
Our vegetable dish was the Spicy Eggplants with Minced Chicken and Sweet Basil Leaves. This is one of my favourite dishes with rice because simply I love the taste of fresh sweet basil leaves and its affinity with chilies and soy. The key to success for this dish is to give the eggplants a quick blanch in hot oil before sautéing them with the minced meat over high heat so that they do not absorbed too much oil and become greasy. The fermented soy beans was also well balanced with palm sugar and the vibrant spices and herbs especially Thai basil and kaffir lime leaves added punch to the dish. I could just have this dish alone with rice!!

Curry is also a significant dish in every Thai meal because of its partial Indian heritage. There are many different types of curries but none simmered slowly like Indian or Malaysian curries. Rather, it’s a quick fry of the freshly made paste of dry and fresh spices in oil before coconut milk and water are added. The meat or seafood that are to be cooked together with some vegetables are cut into small pieces so that it does not require a long stewing process. Our red curry came with a vibrant colour and smelt really rich and delicious. N loved this dish especially the gravy for its aromatic spices and creamy texture. It made every plain rice grain came alive with its flavour contributing enhancement. The lovely boneless pieces of chicken meat absorbed the characters of the curry that it was cooked in and the vegetables complimented the slightly sweet curry sauce very well. The portion was rather decent and we couldn’t even finish the food due to the complimentary items earlier.

As we were quite stuffed by then, we skipped desserts for the night.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Skewered Sensations

Kazu Sumi Yaki
No 5 Keok Road
#04-05 Cuppage Plaza
Tel:6734 2492

My wife N has just done it again!! She had won an Honourable Mention Performance Award (Artist and Song Category) at the prestigious 10th UNISONG International Song Writing Competition, USA and the occasion was to celebrate for her. The restaurant was chosen by our family friend Karen, whom also very generously planned this as a treat for N. Both my wife N and Karen have a fetish for all things Japanese especially when it comes to food. They can practically eat Jap everyday so I believe this restaurant must have been one of their favourite haunts. N has been here before while I believe Karen must be a regular. Located in our little Japan town (aka Cuppage Center), this restaurant on the fourth flour was packed to the brim when I stepped in. I was late and food had been ordered. The restaurant was supposed to be a cozy yakitori joint but when packed with customers that are almost rubbing shoulders with one another, it was just noisy, crazy and “Mama Mia!!” as people start to get happy with sake and beers. The menu was really wide for both beverages and food and I was wondering how they could really put out so much things from a tiny kitchen. Nevertheless, the food quality was not compromised as I tasted each dish one after another. Though it is a Yakitori joint, I would prefer to call it a Japanese Tapas Bar. Food comes mainly in small portions to be shared and this allows you to order a wide selection from the extensive menu.

As you sit down, individual small saucers of miso dipping sauce are place before you together with a bunch of Beijing Cabbage leaves. The idea is while wait for your food to be served, you are supposed to break the leaves and dip into the sauce and nibble for fun. The food here in Kazu is all about one thing, freshness. No complex or heavy marinades for the items to be grilled. Just fresh seasonal ingredients at their prime, lightly seasoned and off they go on the grill. The miso dipping sauce is made from dark miso mix with sweet mirin wine. Dipping the freshly sliced or grilled chunks of meat, seafood and vegetables into the miso sauce was really nice as the miso enhanced their natural taste.

My starter was Otoro sashimi or freshly sliced tuna belly on ice. This prized cut of the pacific blue fin tuna is valued for its well marbled belly that gives a melt in the mouth texture. At its peak during this time of the year, the luscious pieces dipped in the miso sauce was pure ecstasy as the dainty morsels slide down our throats with ease.

Then the grilled items started to arrive. We had Kurobuta Pork Belly rolled with Asparagus, with Mushrooms and simply chunks of it on its own. There was also Beef Short ribs (a little tough for us that night), more Pork Skewers with Apples, Stuffed with Shiso Leaves, Cheese Sausages, a whole Rock Fish which was also in season, Foie Gras, and Wagyu Beef. All the items were very well grilled except the Wagyu which was overcooked but they gladly replace it with another one with a doneness that was requested.

For the staples there were Garlic Fried Rice and Oyster Rice going around the table. The oyster rice was really nice with its subtle soy flavours on the background and the oyster aromas coming through with a nice meaty big piece of oyster. Another staple here is the grilled Japanese Sweet Potatoes whereby a wait of 20 minutes or longer is required. Serve simply with a chunk of slightly salted butter; it was hot, delicious and comforting.

Desserts were quite drama rama with fancy presentations. We had Mango filled Crepes with Grand Marnier Sauce and Whipped Cream, Gratinated Mochi with Red Bean Stuffing in Custard Sauce, Green Tea Ice Cream and Black Sesame Ice Cream with Adzuki Beans. Both the mango crepes and mochi came with beautiful pieces of spun sugar nets over them. The mochi was a little heavy for me and I preferred the mango crepes with its liqueur flavoured sauce. However I found both desserts too heavy for my personal liking and I was quite happy just sticking to the black sesame ice cream with red beans. I must have overstuffed myself earlier.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fifteen Merits

Le Louis XV
Hotel de Paris
Place Du Casino
MC 98000 Monaco

Touted as one of the finest French Provencal cuisine restaurant in the world, Le Louis XV resides in Hotel Du Paris like the crown of all restaurants in Monte Carlo Monaco. Ironically during the five and half years as Chef onboard the Lady Moura which constantly docks in the marina every late spring through summer to fall, I never really had the chance or time to experience this grand dame of all restaurants in Monaco till this trip with my wife N to the south of France. The majestic restaurant seems like the first place you want to pop into for a great meal after making a killing at the Grand Casino on the opposite side of the road. It takes months ahead to get a reservation for this restaurant which was turned from an inspiration by world renowned chef, Alain Ducasse into reality. We were lucky as with the help of Chef Christophe Megel, CEO at Sunrice, The Culinary Academy, whom help us secured a booking right on the first opening day of the restaurant for the new year. Chef Megel has worked in their kitchen during the formative years of his career.

Sitting in one of the hottest spots of the French Riveria by the Cote D Azur, Le Louis XV and its stable of three Michelin Stars belongs to Groupe Alain Ducasse together with their family of restaurants like Spoon and Plaza Athenee Restaurant in Paris serving the culinary visions of the legendary Chef. It features the cuisine of the Riveria and showcases the best of its regional produce from the mountains in Alps Maritime to the ocean catches of the Mediterranean. With Chef Alain Ducasse as group commander in chief, the kitchen of Le Louis XV is helmed by his very able lieutenant, Head Chef Franck Cerruti whom I was introduced to as I visited their kitchen. Chef Franck is a native from Nice, the French Riveria’s biggest city who is a strong advocate and supporter of regional produce, utilizing ingredients like Nicoise Olives, finest first pressed extra virgin olive oils, poultry and mountain game meats, fresh seafood from the Mediterranean, seasonal ingredients at its prime for his menus. With guidance from Chef Ducasse, Chef Franck delivered the ultimate dinning experience for me, N and the other 48 guests for the night with his kitchen brigade of 20 other chefs and cooks in the ambience of an all glitzy classical French restaurant. It was like dinning at the Royal Palace.

Dinning in this grand old dame was an eye opening experience for me and N. Not only we were overwhelmed by the delicious prix fixed menu and extra specials complimentary from Chef Franck, we were also completely seduced by its impeccable first class service amounting to a point that both of us felt we were being treated like royalties and pampered in everyway possible. This applied to all guests and not just at our table. Here are the fifteen merits that made us felt so special on January winter evening:

The Room
We were greeted by Monsieur Michel Lung at the entrance and ushered into the main dinning hall. As we walk in, we were in total awe of its grandeur which reminded me of the residences belonging to my wealthy Arabic ex boss whom had a penchant for such Napoleon themed decors. The dinning room was done up with sparkling crystal chandeliers, vintage artifacts and portraits making us felt like stepping back into a part of history. Unlike most restaurants where kitchens were connected to the dinning hall, this dinning room was independently located away from the kitchen across the hallway. A huge centre piece that looks like a gigantic piece of sugar work was positioned in the center of the dinning room for both decoration and operation reasons. Our table was beautifully laid out and had a great view of the entire dinning hall allowing us to witness all the happenings of the restaurant as we sit though the night. Service was with gold plated cutlery and crockery was gold plated fine bone china signifying a no expense spared form of luxury and pampering of their customers. We were in for indulgence!

The kitchen
As we were early, Michel invited us to meet up with Chef Franck as his team for a view of the kitchens. After exchanging introductions, we had a quick glance of the kitchens and in that precious five minutes, I saw a spanking clean facility with a team of chefs and their commis cooks in crisp white starched uniforms, all suited up and ready to do battle for the night’s full house. Some were putting finishing touches to amuse bouches while others were prepping up with final touches to their respective battle stations before the slam comes in.

Men in Black:
After the kitchen tour, we sat down to have a preview of the menu that would form the guide to our gastronomic journey for the night ahead. With our limited French language, we took the prix fixed menu as recommend before by Chef Christophe and left it to the good hands of Chef Franck and team. The Maitre D’d patiently translated to us the tasting menus, highlighting the source of signature ingredients in sync with Chef’s Franck cooking philosophy. Interestingly, the menus were divided into two books with one each for ladies and gentlemen, both with same dishes. The difference was the ladies menu had no indication of prices for the dishes and tasting menus. So should it be that when the bill comes by later, the ladies should discreetly excuse themselves to the powder room leaving the gentlemen to take on the settlement?
The waiters in their posh uniforms served us each a complimentary glass of Champagne as a welcome with crisp lavosh wafers. As we looked around the dinning room, we realized that besides the hostess at the door, the rest of the dinning room was staffed by guys, and not just guys, gentlemen who are well coiffed, groomed and as N puts it, with boyish charms to mature suaveness. How interesting is that to see such standards of practice here when labour shortage is the number one dearth of the F&B industry.

The Bread Trolley
The first trolley for the night arrived with a dozen selections of mini bread rolls sitting in their individual baskets. After we chose our rolls, another waiter came up with another trolley offering us butter. “May I offer you two kinds of butter sir, Madame?” he asked. With our nod of approval, he first placed an entire table block of commercial salted butter resting on a piece of Italian marble in front of us.

Then he took another marble slab and placed with a large scoop of pale yellow butter scraped down from a huge cone shape pat sitting on the trolley. “This is our homemade artisan butter Sir, please try.” said the waiter. So there we were, in front of us two big scrapings of butter enough to grease our toasts for the next six months. N was in awe and this was just the beginning of the surprises and thrills for the night ahead. Naturally the artisan butter came out better with the warm rolls, delivering a very wonderful buttery fragrance that complimented well with the rustic flavors of our rolls. It had a very smooth texture on our palate and made each morsels of bread slide down our throats so easily without a greasy aftertaste.

Amuse Bouche:
After the buttery episode, the menu began with an amuse bouche featuring a crudités of raw vegetables with dip. This was an extraordinary set of crudités with finesse that had eight varieties of very finely sliced vegetables sitting in a whisky glass served with a freshly made Tapanede dip using Nicoise olives. The eight vegetables slices from carrots to fennel, celery, radishes, cucumbers and others not only had their own individual flavours, their characteristic sweetness, bitterness and pungency complimented well with the tangy tapenade dip, playing a different set of sensations on our tongues with each bite.

Quick bites
In between the crunchies, the first surprise came in the form of a little basket of deep fried raviolis that had been stuffed with goat cheese and spinach. These little buttons of sheer delight had a thin layer of pasta dough filled with a mild goat cheese and fresh spinach. Beyond a lovely taste combination, they also had a fun factor of popping in these dainty buttons of pasta between sips of Champagne.

The Essence
The brew for the night was Pigeon Consommé with Ravioli and shaved Alba White Truffles. The soup came with the rich clear broth on the side with the ravioli sitting on top of the fine brunoise of diced mirepoix vegetables (carrots, onion, celery and leeks). The flavourful broth was poured over the ravioli and Michel came over with a piece of white truffle as big as a Russet potato. With a truffle shaver in one hand, he gave us a generous shaving of paper thin truffles releasing their distinctive delicate aromas into the hot clear broth, perfuming it to a new level of elegance. On the palate, the soup was a cleanser to the lingering taste of the earlier courses. The meaty essence reflected the slow tedious process of doing such a delicate soup that has to be cooked with care and patience through gentle simmering for hours in order to extract the maximum flavour from the meat and vegetables. Though they were being overshadowed by the shower of white truffle shavings, the stuffed ravioli and slow roasted boned chicken wing were still delicious accompaniments by their own merits to the lovely soup.

The Cod
While expecting the seafood course to come by soon, the busboy brought out a chef’s special for us instead. It was a lightly cured cod (Cabillaud) confit in olive oil served on stewed tomatoes and Nicoise olives. While the tomatoes were great, we were curious about the soft gelatinous fatty like pieces of tissues the tasted so wonderfully great. Upon explanation, we discover that it was pieces of cod belly that gave us the melt in the mouth sensation. A small side salad of innovatively cut Romaine lettuce spears provided a contrast to the gelatinous mellow stew with the fragrance of braised olives.
As we ate along, we realized by now that the service in the dinning room moves in one anti clockwise direction only. The center pieces serve like a roundabout and the bus boys enters the dinning room and walks in an anti clockwise direction only stopping by at your table if the food ordered is yours. Even after it has been served, the busboys walk out in the same direct to exit the room even if it means to walk a bigger round. Keeping the flow in one direction prevents the situation of a sudden u-turn that risks into crashing into colleagues behind you.
Au Jardins
Vegetables can be boring to many as an individual. Assemble them together as a composition; it becomes a symphonic culinary orchestra with its combined flavours. Harvesting from organic farms in partnership with Chef Alain Ducasse, Chef Franck presented to us a Composition of Vegetables with Black Truffles that illustrates a vegetarian dish can be deliciously created with knowledge on the right combination of textures and balance of taste. Sweet baby fennel and carrots were paired with whole mini courgettes and radishes, fine haricot verts provided crunch textures and the black truffles added a touch of elegance to the whole dish.

Fruits De Mer
Literally meaning seafood from the Mediterranean Sea, this dish reflected one of the most classic seafood dishes in the Provence region, Bouillabaisse. A whole stuffed baby squid was paired with a delicious chunk of pan roasted Loup De Mer (Mediterranean Sea Bass) served on a rich bouillabaisse stock. The sea bass was perfectly cooked with its lovely moist flesh enlivened by the saffron scented seafood stock. The stuffed squid was nicely done with a tasty stuffing that also paired very well to the sauce.

The Bird
The Roasted Pigeon Breast with Late Autumn Pears and Grapes came beautifully executed with the right doneness to the bird and the sweet fruits pairing up the game meat with natural chemistry. Pigeons tend to get overcooked easily but when it is cooked to the right degree of doneness, it can be a very flavourful tender meat when matched with an equally great sauce. The creamy polenta balanced out the gamey flavours of the duck liver (Foie Gras du Canard) sauce with a touch of warmth and comfort.

The Cheese Trolley
Being country with more than 300 varieties of cheese, French cheese was the main selections on a double deck cheese trolley. With more than 15 varieties to choose from, the range from soft creamy varieties to mature hard cheese made it a difficult choice for us. There were goat cheeses produces in the Alps Mountains, Aged Comte, Mature Gouda with its sharpness, Pecorino made with ewes milk, Roquefort, Stilton and Gorgonzola blue cheese as well as the usual Camembert and Brie. A small amount of Cherry Confiture accompanied the stronger tasting cheeses. This was a nice balance to counter the sharp flavours and saltiness dimensions which were smoothen by the sweetness of the confiture. What really impressed us was all the cheese came in whole pieces or big wedges, only to be cut when ordered. It was a stunning display of artisan workmanship by the regional cheese makers. By this time, the bread trolley was making its rounds again.

Chocolate and Strawberries
We had chosen two different items for two different reasons. The signature Le Louis XV is a must if u were to make a pilgrimage to this restaurant unless for some reason you are allergic to chocolate. The other item is to experience a taste of Wild Strawberries or Fraises Du Bois with Mascarpone Sorbet. Wild strawberries are different from the commercial ones that we find easily everywhere. Beyond France, you hardly ever get it anywhere else due to its highly perishable nature. So therefore this is a must try when you are in the country. Wild strawberries are much smaller than the commercial ones. They have more flavour intensity and are very much sweeter by nature. French Chefs love them for their powerful flavour contributing properties. Poaching them in their own juice, the berries were like sugar bombs exploding in our mouths as we popped them in, unleashing a burst of strawberry flavours against our palates. The smooth creamy mascarpone sorbet was sheer delight with its lightness and neutrality. It provided a platform for the wild strawberries to exhibit a strong significant presence in the dessert. N was completely bowed over by this phenomenal experience with strawberries.

The other dessert Le Louis XV is the house signature item on the menu. It tasted like a cool piece of Guanaja chocolate flavoured mousse atop on crispy praline. Covered with dark chocolate fudge and elegantly decorated with a piece of gold leaf tainted chocolate fan, this dessert was every inch smooth sleek and posh reflecting the image of the restaurant itself. On the palate, the rich bittersweet Guanaja Chocolate was pure heaven and mind blowing in taste alternated between the crispiness of the praline below. Between me and N, it was gone in 30 seconds.

The Bush Trolley
“Would you like to have coffee or tea with your dessert sir?” asked our waiter. “Tea. Please.” We replied. “And would you like regular tea or infusion?” We asked for infusion and with that, they started to set up another trolley by the table as a stage for demonstrating the art of brewing infusion tea. When all the gold plated teapots and utensils were ready, to our biggest amusement, another trolley of different fresh herbs came by for our selection. Not packaged herbs, but entire bushes of rosemary, lavender, lemon verbena, sage, thyme and other Provence varieties sitting in individual pots alive and growing. We were so amused by the sight of the waiter cutting the herbs from the bush and after a quick rinse, straight into the pot of hot water. We never had tea so freshly brewed before. You could literally say it was done from the earth to the pot and to the table. This was really an experience!

The Confectionery Trolley
As we recovered from the amusement earlier, enjoying our tea and petit fours, the candy man arrived with his trolley and by now, N has burst out laughing again. We have never been so pampered in a meal before and now before us was a waiter with house made marshmallows, nougats, fudges and sweets, all done by their Pastry Chef Olivier Berger. The only thing missing was some French accordion music on the background. Cutting the long strips of marshmallows for us, we also tasted a little each of the other confectionary and they even gave us extra to enjoy then when “on the road”. By now we were really stuffed and it was past midnight when the meal finally came to an end. By now, most of the guests at other tables have left and the service staffs were a little more relaxed to make some small conversation with us.

The final merit to this whole eye opening dinning experience of haute cuisine with first class professional waiting service was when we got ready to leave. As we got our coats, we said goodbyes to Michel and his wonderful team of staffs that had taken care so well of us for the evening. The hostess came up to N with a little back of hazelnut Magdaleines as a lovely souvenir making that the final merit for a restaurant that has so deservingly achieved its three Michelin Stars.

Friday, February 09, 2007

My Playground

Cote D Azur

While the whole world looks to Monaco and its glitz for its annual Formula One event, Red Cross Charity Ball, Fireworks festival, Casinos and its harbour full of Superyachts belonging to the rich and famous, I arrived there one early spring morning in April 1998 to work as a crew cook onboard one of those Superyachts. It was my first job outside Singapore and I was physically exhausted from having assisted our National Team in Food Hotel Asia’s Salon Culinare in the last four days till the night I was to leave. Mentally I had battle scars from the loss of job as a result of the Asian Financial Crisis just months ago. Monaco offered me the window to resurrect my career and an opportunity to see the real world of cooking with different angles.

This tiny principality has always been considered as a second home in the progression of my chef’s career, having spent five and half years based on two prominent yachts Lady Moura and Izanami that are docked there in every spring and summer.

Those were the most formative years of my cooking profession as I developed from a “frog-in-the-well” mentality of Singaporean style Western Cuisines to the real world of Western gastronomic insights, learning from local French chefs and playing with ingredients produced from all over France. I revised all of my knowledge of French cuisine picked up in SHATEC and through exposure working under French and Swiss Expatriate Chefs in Singapore. I cooked French onion soup like I have never done it before with ingredients grown on French soil and Emmental Cheese topped croutons. I prepared Croque Monsieur in French spirit instead of treating it as another Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwich. I cooked Coq Au Vin using Bresse Chickens and Rhone Valley Reds and not steroid injected ones from some commercial farms in Johor, Malaysia.

I learned to discern the difference of taste in good quality seafood from the pristine waters of the Mediterranean compared to our sunny tropical waters, appreciating their flavours in the most natural way possible and sometimes utilizing my knowledge of South East Asian Cuisines to bring out new dimensions in them and wow the guests we served onboard the yachts. Most important, I acquired knowledge on utilizing produce from four different seasons and understanding when they are at their best of taste and flavours. I was forced to mature in a culinary environment where nobody speaks my language and I had colleagues who took their opportunity to work in Europe as just only a job. How sad!

Every trip to the Carrefour Supermarket in Monaco was a chance for me to learn all about French, Italian and surrounding Provencal produce that I had read from the books. Suddenly I was transferred from the sights of kalian, chye sim, spices like galangal and lemon grass to that of courgettes and vine riped tomatoes, cheese, hams and sausages. I was staring at bottles of wine and fruit vinegars, jars of mustards and mayonnaise and oyster sauce was an exotic ingredient. Day in day out, I experimented with many new ingredients often drawing knowledge references from the books that I had read. I was so often riding a scooter to and fro between the port and Carrefour through the streets of Monaco with bags of groceries that even the policeman at the port junction recognizes me due to my Asian heritage and chef’s uniform.

By the time I was appointed as the Executive Sous Chef on Lady Moura, the shopping trips were to Metro in north of Nice instead of Carrefour. Metro which is a French version of wholesale hypermarkets with all culinary related products made me understand the routine of a good French chef that is often describe in their biographies. Like the French Chefs, we go to Metro at 4am in the morning to see what are the best ingredients available for our guest menus in the days ahead. We shopped not with trolleys but drove three trucks there to load up. I had to feed besides the sixteen VIP guests, another 80 multi national crew working round the clock five meals in an every 24 hours cycle. Every time we leave the port and cut through town in the wee early hours of the morning, I saw the French bakers and pastry chefs working in their kitchens to churn out fresh breads and pastries by 6am in the morning where their first customers would walk in for a coffee and a quick bite before their daily routine begins. It was hard work, but it made me see the light of what it takes to be a good chef in having the passion to cook, coordinate and organized the kitchens onboard one of the worlds largest privately owned yachts.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Gastronomic Emporium

Les Halles
102 Cours Lafayette
Part Dieu 69003
Lyon, France

A trip to Lyon and its gastronomic restaurants will not be completed without checking out where u can find some of the best ingredients used by the Chefs in their respective restaurants. Lyon's cuisine owes its virtuosity first of all to the quality of local produce. The farms of the Bresse and Charolais regions, the wild game of the Dombes, the fish from the Savoy lakes, the fruits and vegetables of the Rhone valley and the Forez region are all within easy reach and supply the essential ingredients for Lyon's famed cuisine. While there are many farmers markets around the city on different days that offers artisan produce from cheese to hams, preserves and confitures, the epicenter of all things epicurean lies can be found at Les Halles, Lyon’s premium foods market that is endorsed by their very own culinary icon, Chef Paul Bocuse. Situated along Cours Lafayette, Les Halles is a culinary Mecca for all chefs who plan to visit the city of Lyon. It houses many fine products from freshly slaughtered Bresse Chickens to aged beef, foie gras, wild game, confitures and marmalade, fresh seafood, caviar and truffles, fancy pastries and chocolates, Boulangerie and charcuterie items, cheeses and wines.

The experience is very much like going to a premium food hall, seeing all the beautiful displays and getting hammered with creative ideas that can fuel an adrenaline rush for any passionate chef to just pick up the items and cook it off right away. Every individual shop in Les Halles has their own character and signature produce, displayed in their own unique way. Some shops also offer a simple lunch menu based on their products and this could be seafood, charcuterie or pastry items. U can have gourmet coffees or infusion teas with traditional pastries or enjoy a sweet macaroon, down a dozen freshly shucked oysters in season with champagne, or just simply grab a baguette stuffed with artisan cheeses and cured hams, premium mustards and vine ripe tomatoes.