Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Official Scale for Chili Pepper Spiciness

Did you know there was an official scale to measure the spiciness or pungency of a chili pepper?  I was playing a game of QuizUp which asked about this, and I took a lucky guess.  It's called the Scoville Scale. (Thanks for teaching me something new, QuizUp!)

img src: Flower Store

Created by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville, the scale is based on the Scoville Organoleptic Test that measures capsinoids (heat components of a pepper) according to 5 trained testers.  Of course, given the subjectiveness of human tastebuds, the scale is not precise each time.

For scale, the Bhut jolokia pepper from Northeast India is over one million Scoville units, and is considered the spiciest chili pepper in the world.  The bell pepper (capsicum) on the other hand is at zero Scoville units, with no pungency at all.

Cool pop trivia info, right?

The Irony of Chocolate

The Ivory Coast cocoa farmers have no idea what their beans are used for.  A few farmers in the video below reveal, "My parents always told me that cocoa beans are used to make wine!"  In fact, chocolate itself is very rare and expensive in the Ivory Coast... many farmers have never seen chocolate in their life.  Here's a heart-warming video of them trying it for the first time.   (Read more on a previous Gastronommy article: How Chocolate is Produced)




If you also want to know exactly how chocolate is made, check out the write-up on Chocolate:
http://www.gastronommy.com/2013/05/how-high-quality-chocolate-is-actually.html



Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A word on Singapore's burgers [Esquire]

photography: Adam Tun-Aung


Grab the August issue of Esquire magazine for a quick column about burgers.  This article had a word limit, so I'll be sharing a full list of burger joints and a cool run down on the burger history here on Gastronommy.com next.  I ate a lot of f*cking burgers for 2 months for you guys.

The internet offers all sorts of legends on how the hamburger came to be – from minced horsemeat fillets eaten by Mongol riders in Genghis Khan’s army, to German immigrants bringing the Hamburg beefsteak to the Americas. One thing is undisputed however; the hamburger in its truest definition—ground beef patty in between a bun—is the quintessential American food product.



The humble hamburger has since been reinvented and refined since its designation as the cheap assembly-line all-American symbol. There’s still an appreciation for fast-food slop, but the New York gospel of what makes a perfect burger has spread even to Singapore’s shores.

The Bun: The taste and texture is crucial. Simple soft potato bread is ideal, toasted on the inside to help prevent absorbency—too absorbent and you’ll get a soggy mess. The bun should be even a bit on the blander side, so the beef flavors can stand out. Pillowy softness is also key. If the bun is too chewy or hard (think baguette-like breads) the meat squishes out the back end whenever you bite into it.

The Patty: I don’t care what kind of fancy trimmings you put on a burger, but nothing can hide the importance of the beef. It is said that the magic ratio of beef –to-fat mixture is 70 to 30 percent. Purists, like myself, believe a real burger is beef, and beef only. Add in fillers such as breadcrumbs and eggs, and the patty by definition, becomes a meatloaf. But there are so-called “shapeists” who are content to accept a burger as long as it’s the right shape—hence chicken burgers, lamb burgers, and even tofurkey burgers. Beyond this, there is no right or wrong when it comes to trimmings like cheese, veggies, and sauces. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Here's the list of mentions:

Shake Shack Reincarnated: Omakase Burger
Omakase’s owners have been inspired specifically by Shake Shack NYC and have recreated the burger to the best of their ability. Omakase also serves beef tallow fries (that is, French fries fried in the beef fat rendered from the burgers).

Gentleman’s Burger: B-Bar at Bacchanalia
The details that go into the creation of the Bacchanalia Burger are something to be appreciated. Chef Ivan Brehm uses three different cuts of beef to ensure both good texture and flavor; aged cheddar for acidity against the beef fat; and semi-dried tomatoes for umami; and a bun that is the right balance of softness and structural hold.

Too Cool For School: Potato Head Folk
Craving a McSpicy but need to maintain your trendy cool? The buttermilk fried chicken burger at Potato Head Folk is your savior. Unlike most chicken burgers, Potato Head Folk’s chicken is juicy, tender, and full of flavor. Order a side of Naughty Fries too, and thank me later.

Sacré Bleu!: The Market Grill
Americana purists may abhor the thought of French cheese in the burger (are French fries not enough?!), but the CW Bleu Cheese burger at Market Grill is simply one of the best in town. The patty is thick with juicy meat, smothered in burnt onion marmalade, salty bacon, and the glorious sweet-tangy stink of reblechon bleu cheese. The raisin walnut bun hug the innards just nicely, completing the burger trance that will leave you silent for 5-minutes as you willfully eat uninterrupted.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Cooking with Victoria Cheng: DIY L'Arpege Egg [video/recipe]


Filmed in Brand New Media's kitchen studio, I've worked on a short cooking series with Food For Life TV (also on Starhub ch 109, 4ME TV).  Here's the first episode!  This was shot very early in the morning - as in, way too early for a functional Victoria... can you tell by my calm demeanor? Ha.

This short series is for the amateur cook who wants to recreate some of the world's best known dishes in the comfort of their own home.  I've tailored the recipes so that even the most novice cook can give it a try, and still impress special guests.


Here's a link to the full page with recipe.
** Thanks Justin Leow for the egg topper. :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

How to Purchase and Prepare Seafood Properly

Written by Jasmine of www.fishandmeat.hk



Buying fresh seafood is difficult to do. There are many factors that go into choosing the best possible seafood for any meal. Unless you caught the fish or any kind of seafood yourself, you will have a hard time determining how fresh it is.


How to buy seafood?

There are different ways to spot fresh seafood. It is different for fish and shellfish. Here are tips that can help you spot fresh seafood.

Fish

For whole fish, check the clearness of its eyes and the shininess of its skin. Clear eyes and metallic skin characterise freshness. If the skin of the fish you see is dull and patchy and its eyes are clouded, it is no longer as fresh as a first catch, but it is still safe to cook and eat. Another characteristic you should consider is the color of the gills. Bright red gills signify that the fish is still fresh, while brick red gills characterize an older fish. Smell the fish to find out if it is still fresh. Fresh fish smell like cucumber or fresh water. A quality fish restaurant in Hong Kong uses fresh seafood to ensure that customers get their money’s worth.

Aside from whole fish, there are a few things you must look into when purchasing fresh shellfish. Ideally, it is better to buy shellfish in fish markets that have a quick turnover to ensure freshness. Dead shellfish cannot be opened once cooked, in such cases these shellfish must be thrown away quickly. Scallops are best bought when they have been vacuum-sealed and frozen. Avoid purchasing scallops that were stored in brine or packed wet. Shrimp is freshest when it is bought frozen and shelled. Shelled shrimp prevents it from rotting quickly. Once the shrimp loses its shell, it tends to rot faster.

These are the characteristics you look for when you purchase seafood. Italian restaurants in Hong Kong make sure that the seafood they serve is always fresh. You can follow their example and cook your own fresh seafood.

How to cook seafood properly?

Now that you know how to purchase fresh seafood, the next step to take is how to prepare seafood properly. Preparing seafood properly ensures that you keep all of its nutrients and avoid any fish borne diseases. Here are some tips that can help you prepare fresh seafood:

1. Thaw frozen seafood gradually by refrigerating it overnight. You can also thaw seafood by placing it in the microwave and putting it on the ‘defrost’ setting.
2. A majority of seafood is cooked in an average temperature of 145⁰F. You can tell if the seafood is done cooking by checking if the fish meat is opaque and is separated easily using a fork. For scallops, the flesh is firm and opaque. For lobsters and shrimps, the flesh turns opaque and pearly. For mussels, oysters, and clams, the shells normally open while they’re being cooked, if they don’t open, throw them away immediately.
3. Never leave seafood outside the refrigerator for more than two hours.
4. Separate hot seafood from cold seafood when serving them for a meal.

These are ways you can follow whenever you need to prepare, cook, and serve seafood. Restaurants in Central make sure their seafood is cooked and served properly for guests. You can follow their example, if you are cooking seafood for any meal of the day.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

#Bloodties for Red Cross Singapore

A video by Red Cross Singapore:


#bloodties #adrenalineinmyblood #sgredcross #ydcsg


Be a part of this good cause. Join me at the Blood Donation Drive on 12 & 13 July at Scape (Level 5). Spread the word by posting your selfie and declaring your passion.
#bloodties #(state your passion here)inmyblood #sgredcross #ydcsg

#foodwritinginmyblood

I've often confided in people close to me about my concerns about food writing - call it an existential crisis, if you will.  I have friends who've given up their very comfortable NYC corporate life for something that was more meaningful for them... like using their skills to improve waste management in New Delhi and healthcare in Vietnam (Tiffany Talsma and Luan Vo, I have the utmost respect for your work).  Meanwhile, I'm luxuriously spending my days writing about the taste of food.  If you read my work or this blog, I'm guessing life's really not all that bad for you in the big scheme of things either.  Donating our blood to help save lives is the least we can do, right? :)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

3 Signs I've Been Living in Singapore

Signs I've been living in Singapore... for too long.  I remember when I naively thought I was down with the Singapore culture (read: I'm Not a Tourist Because...), but now that I'm coming up to my 4 year anniversary in Singapore, I'm starting to realize its more than just a simple understanding of what Singapore is. I was back in Hong Kong last week when either my friends and I noticed a few things...


1.  Heat Tolerance
On a [Comfort 1 to 10 Discomfort to-the-point-of-rage] scale, over Hong Kong summers I'm usually bursting at a monstrous 12.  After 4 years in Singapore, I can bear Hong Kong summer heat in long pants and heels and feel around an 8.
2.  Chilli in EVERYTHING
I was having dinner (Cantonese cuisine) with a group of friends, and something felt like it was missing the entire time.  That is, until my friend Victor asked if I wanted chilli, "All of my Singaporean friends always ask for chilli when we eat out."  Everything tasted better after that.  Damn.
3.  Can lah, unker!
In Hong Kong, when speaking to locals, my inflections have become Singa-fied rather than Chinglishy.   Taxi drivers are more convinced than ever that I am a pure foreigner rather than the Canto-deficient HK ABCer that I am. (Hong Kong American-Born-Chinese)
Now I'm just awaiting the day that I simply start mangling words Singapore-style all together.

Monday, June 23, 2014

[Food Diary Singapore] Le Comptoir, Salt Grill & Sky Bar

(Click for other Food Diary Entries)
Food Diary Singapore May-June 2014: 
notes on Le Comptoir and Salt Grill & Sky Bar.

Le Comptoir
Time: Friday 23 May lunchtime with Alex
Place: 79 Circular Rd. Singapore, 049433 Singapore
Tel: (65) 6534-7645 Website: www.lecomptoir.sg



Le Comptoir, not to be confused with Le Comptoir du Relais in Paris, has opened its doors in Singapore by the same French family behind Gemmil Lane's Ô Batignolles.  The open air creperie specializes in galettes (buckwheat crêpes), catering to the Boat Quay and Raffles Place crowd with their casual Brittany cuisine and well stocked wine bar open until late hours.  Le Comptoir serves fusion galettes inspired by the region, such as Kao San Road ($20), a galette with pan-fried prawns, soya mango chutney, and mint.  Personally, I prefer the classics ham and cheese versions, as well as the simpler sweet bites.  Normandy Landing is a simple crêpe, drizzled with homemade salted butter caramel. (related: See Obnoxious Foodie Translator on the galette)


For those not keen on galettes, Le Comptoir has a small selection of traditional brasserie eats.  I imagine another potential strong point of the newly opened Le Comptoir will be from its three-sided bar, serving specialty French Breton Ciders, wines (from $10 a glass, $46 a bottle), and spirits.

Le Comptoir
Opening Hours: Mon-Tue 11am-midnight, Wed-Thur & Sat 11-2am, Fri 11am-3am, Sun 11am-10pm

Salt Grill & Sky Bar
Time: Wed 4 June lunchtime with Amy Van
Place: Address: 55th and 56th floors, ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, Singapore 238801
Tel: (65) 6592-5118 Website: www.saltgrill.com


There have been a number of changes since the last time I was here a few years ago, with adjustments to the dining room and bar positioning (a private room is now tucked away in a higher alcove of the restaurant), and general decor by designphase dba.  Thankfully, the wonderful view remains completely untouched at the 55th floor of ION Orchard.

Photos provided by FoodNewsPR
Aussie Chef Luke Mangan's menu remains largely unchanged, with the Singapore kitchen being led by the 27-year old Executive Chef Matthew Leighton.  My opinions too, also seem largely unchanged since the last time I've tried these dishes during opening in 2012.  The Tea smoked quail (quail smoked with Earl Grey tea and rice, paired with almond cream, prunes, truffled grains, shallots, and sorrel $31++) and kingfish sashimi, topped with ginger, eschalot & goats feta ($21++) are both a lovely demonstration of modern Australian cuisine.

Sashimi of Kingfish

Tea-smoked Quail

'Glass' Sydney Crab Omelette in Miso Mustard Broth

However, the restaurant's pride and joy - the Sydney crab omelette in a miso mustard broth - still disappoints.  The flavors are unexpectedly flat, given the expectation of a nice umami touch from the miso mustard broth.  The dish feels watered down, with an unsatisfying texture of soggy omelette.  Thrice I've had this dish, yet my opinion remains the same.



On the other hand, I've also had Luke's Licorice Parfait ($12++) thrice, and each time it completely surprises me.  Because really, a licorice parfait just sounds awful.  Instead, the parfait lends a supple, creamy texture with pistachio and licorice notes.  There's something about the acidity of the lime juice that rounds the flavors just right - a topping that plays off the parfait in citrusy-sweet harmony.

Lunch averages $45++ per person, Dinner averages $150++ per person.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sometimes, Bad Customers Beget Bad Service


Like most average American teenagers, my brother and I have worked in the service industry at some point during our school years.  I worked front of house in restaurants (surprise!) and he had his turn in America's second largest retailer company, Target.  It's like Walmart, except you can pronounce the brand name with a false French accent - "Tarr-shay" - and attract a demographic of self-entitled maniacs.

My father was all about teaching us the value of working from the bottom up.  When we were adolescents, he had each of his five children work on the assembly-line of one of his factories in China.  To anyone with no experience with factories in China, this process sounds borderline child-abuse, but I can assure you it isn't (note: we were the only younglings working in his factory.  He doesn't hire kids!).  It was monotonous at worst, and it gave us an understanding of both life and business that has helped shaped who we are today. So, you might think, when we were a bit older and my pops asked my brother to try his hand at customer service at a nice suburban retail store like Target, it would be a cakewalk.  

Wrong.

The horror stories were endless.  A few months into working at a particular New Jersey location, he was quickly promoted from Clerk to Manager, but his usual relaxed demeanor started becoming laced with expletives about the general idiocy he had to deal with.  There are three stories that stand out the most in my memory of his experience:

Once, he was the last to close-up shop, only to find out that the men's bathroom was covered in poop. I mean, POOP. EVERYWHERE. "It was Armageddon," he painfully recalls.  "Have you ever walked into a room and just knew something evil had happened?  That's what this was like." Someone had come in and pooped all over the sinks, proceeded by poop hand and footprint smearings on the walls, mirrors, floor, stall handles... There was blood and feces in the urinal, and urine anywhere there wasn't poo. Admittedly, this story is less relevant to this post, but it's too hysterical not to share.

Another time, he seemed more irate than the poop incident when he told us a long detailed story of a particularly obnoxious customer who was demanding more than what was fair, impatiently berating him with tones of condescension.  I'll never forget what he said, "Why do people act like that?  I'm happy to go the extra mile to fix a customer complaint when the customer is civilized about it.  But when you act like a complete bitch, I will give you the minimal of what is required to resolve the situation." [paraphrased]

And he's absolutely right.  What do you expect to achieve when you treat someone like a wall for poop smudging?  This post was originally inspired by Matt Walsh's commentary on bad service, where he said the following,
They think their hallowed "customer" status somehow gives them the right to treat everyone with a uniform and a name tag like garbage. They think their past encounters with sub-par service makes it acceptable for them to fly off the handle about ketchup every once in a while. They think the rules of basic decency and respect come second when they are The Customer. And they're wrong.
Do you ever wonder why we have so many atrocious politicians in Washington? Well, you shouldn't wonder. Just look in the mirror. Bad politicians are generally bad because they can't handle power. It goes right to their head and they become narcissistic, petty, controlling sociopaths. But at least it's a lot of power so the temptation to be corrupted by it is almost understandable. You, on the other hand, become a maniacal tyrant when society hands you temporary and meaningless power over 17-year-old fast food cashiers. I shudder to think what you'd do if you had an army at your disposal.
The third story concerns his experiences as a manager and dealing with difficult, unmotivated employees.  Perhaps I'll get into that another time, after I get his permission to share the story.  Just know, we're all humanbeans.  You're going to get what you give.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

[Event Giveaway] Gastronommy x Heineken Star Serve Session

Join me at an exclusive beer appreciation session with Heineken Star Serve. Only 10 readers will receive entry for 2 (the winner + 1 friend) to this complimentary private tasting on Thursday 10 July.  Heineken's draught master will be hosting the session, along with two hours of free flow beer and soft drinks, and canapés.

To join, simply follow these steps:
  1.  Share this photo (above) on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter
    (or all three!)
  2. Hashtag it #GastronommySG and #HeinekenSG
    (privacy settings for this post must be public, so I can find it)
  3. Fill in this blank in the caption:
    My favorite place for a Heineken is __________.

See you there.

How to say Cheers! in other languages:
Dutch: Proost!
Chinese:  干杯! (gān bēi)
German: Prost!
French: Santé!
Korean: 건배! (gun bae)
Italian: Salute! Cin cin!


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