Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The difference between High Tea and Afternoon Tea.

[photo by Gastronommy, at Arteastiq]

Do you really know what high tea is?  I frequently hear and see the misuse of the term "high tea" by friends and even on menus offered by five star establishments.  Let’s clarify that today.

High tea
is confusingly used as the label for an elegant mid-afternoon tea (typically known to be enjoyed by society’s tai-tais and proper English ladies). On the contrary, the true origins of high tea was labeled by the UK’s working class as their early evening meal (5pm-7pm), in lieu of dinner.  The name high tea was created because of the “high” table it was eaten on, and the foods usually consisted of heartier dishes such as pot pies, sliced meats, custards and hot or cold tea.

The term most people are really looking for is “Afternoon Tea” or "Low Tea."  Daintier in form and with its own rules of etiquette, afternoon tea is rumored to have been created by one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting.

To make the long story short, this lady-in-waiting, the Duchess of Bedford had a growling stomach and wanted to nibble and have good mid-afternoon gossip.  Inviting her lady friends to Belvoir Castle and encouraging them to leave their corsets at home for a relatively comfortable afternoon snack-a-thon, she began a new trend among the socialites of Britain. Their typical afternoon tea is still similar today with assorted light sandwiches, sweets, cakes and of course, tea.

Today, the term “high tea” has been completely misused especially in the United States and Asia… though they do carry the same essence and purpose at the end of the day.

How does one OM NOM NOM NOM NOM?

An instructional video by the master himself:

Thank you Cookie Monster.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Disgruntled Chef (Singapore)

Daniel Sia, chef-owner of The Disgruntled Chef is anything but cranky. The name is not so much about the chef’s disposition as it is about making a statement. The classically French-trained chef seeks to get away from convention—get rid of the stuffiness and expectations that meals should be a set three course. At The Disgruntled Chef, every portion is a la carte and comes in “small bites” or “big plates” to be shared and in no particular order. It's a great venue for a casual gathering with friends.

The casual-chic venue comes with a straight forward menu that displays classic modern European favourites without the pretention. Some highlights include crackling suckling pig with honey and cloves ($16); chicken liver parfait with onion marmalade ($14); marinated Japanese cucumbers with miso beans ($8)—a refreshing bite between the other plates; and the chef’s personal favourite, the baked bone marrow with persillade to be spread over sourdough toast ($14). There is even Macaroni & Cheese on the menu, for those who want a gourmet Crayfish spin on the indulgent dish.

Similarly, dessert stays in the realm of familiar comfort with options of sticky toffee pudding ($12), panna cotta ($12) and a rich chocolate fondant with peanut butter and banana brulee ($14). The blue cheese aficionado also get their fill with fig crisps, layered with a light roquefort parfait and port reduction ($14).

The Disgruntled Chef

26B Dempsey Road, Singapore 247693
Tel: +65 6476-5305

[review can found in Appetite Magazine, November 2010]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Finding snow in Singapore (a sample of Noma)

*edit Nov 22: I should clarify, that while this dessert was created by the ex-head pastry chef of Noma, the desserts by Chef Daniel Texter are unique to Les Amis only. Not even Noma gets a bite of this (anymore). :)

The ex-pastry chef of Restaurant Vendome in Germany and Noma in Copenhagen (San Pellegrino's World's number 1 best restaurant 2010) has recently relocated to Singapore to join Les Amis. There, I got to sample some of his work to come... none of which I'm going to post here today except for his final dish.

As if he read my mind about my recent yearnings for cold weather and a snowy holiday, pastry chef Daniel Texter presents me with the "snowball."

How did you make it, I ask.  He looks at me mischievously and says, "How else?  Like this!" as he makes the motion of packing a snowball. Guess no secrets will be revealed today.

Sitting next to me, Executive chef Armin Leitgeb of Les Amis observed my fascination with the dish and laughs, "There are two places you will find snow in Singapore.  Here... and in front of Tanglin Mall."

(On the topic of Noma, I was thoroughly awed by the stunning styling and photography in their new book.)

Paradise Dynasty (Singapore)

In the narrow entrance and behind the glass of an open kitchen, dozens of white-powered hands work at round cuts of dumpling skin while others are slapping hand-pulled noodles into form. The small hallway soon takes a sharp turn and opens up into an expansive room of dark timber panels, a tasteful gold centrepiece, and royal purple curtains to shade the dining area from the unforgiving Singapore sun. Further in, there is even an alfresco that overlooks high over Orchard Road. The restaurant looks typically upscale Chinese—elegant, dark and cosy.

The bamboo basket of xiao long bao however, are not so typical. A striking combination of colours usually only reserved for a packet of Skittles, the xiao long bao circled inside the basket in a savoury rainbow. Much like a tasting selection of cheese, Chef Fung Chi Keung recommends the first time eater to sample them in a particular order: the original (white), ginseng (green), foie gras (brown), black truffle (black), cheese (yellow), crab roe (orange), garlic (grey) and Szechuan (pink). While the experiment is a brave one, some flavours prove to pale in comparison to Paradise Dynasty’s unbeatable original xiao long bao. Encapsulated in the heat of the dumpling, the crab roe loses its delicacy while a distinct pungency of the black truffles overwhelm the pork broth in the black versions. There are still innovative winners among the batch though, such as the light herbal ginseng and the numbing spices of the peppercorns in the Szechuan xiao long bao.

But beyond the array of colourful dumplings lie the real highlights. The piping hot Radish Pastry—a sweet radish, soft but firm to the bite, feather-wrapped in airy flakes stays true to its traditional preparation. The la mian with sliced pork also holds a delight within its silken threads of noodles and signature pork bone soup.

Paradise Dynasty
#04-12A, ION Orchard
2 Orchard Turn

[Shorter version of this review is in Appetite Magazine, November 2010]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My Endless New York

And yet, New York remains a world city. It is not the great American city — that will always be Chicago. New York sits at the edge: like Istanbul or Mumbai, it has a distinctive appeal that lies precisely in its cantankerous relationship to the metropolitan territory beyond. It looks outward, and is thus attractive to people who would not feel comfortable further inland. It has never been American in the way that Paris is French: New York has always been about something else as well. 
 - except from My Endless New York, by Tony Judt

It will be a short and fleeting visit, but I can't wait to see home again.  New York City, New Years Eve, here I come!

Photography by Andrew Hom.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Culinary F words

"Fusion," I often find Chef Samia Ahad saying, "is the culinary 'F' word."  She says it with such fantastic condescension.  It's times like these that I'm glad for the existence of this blog, where I can keep track of such memorable moments.  You'll be hard pressed to find a chef these days who won't recoil in defense at the mere suggestion of the word.  Tom Aikens (youngest chef to earn a Michelin star kitchen) calls it, "Fusion-confusion."  Sometimes, I want to toss the, "So, is your cuisine fusion?" question on the Q+A list, just to see how much of a reaction I can get. (To date, Chef Hal Yamashita from Tokyo is the only culinary professional I've met who embraces the term with open arms.  But this might be due to the fact that he doesn't speak English)  If you want to catch her live, Chef Samia will be doing a joint culinary demo with Aussie heartthrob Curtis Stone during the Singapore Sun Festival.  She also teaches cooking classes at her Clarke Quay restaurant, The Coriander Leaf.  Check out November's issue of Appetite Magazine for my feature on her.

Other culinary 'F' words I can think of?  How about "Foodie."  I can't think of a term more execrable. The term is so used and abused, it screams wannabe.  Oh how it offends me.  Unfortunately, there are few, if any alternatives to the term.

Tell me your culinary F words.

[photo from]

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A few minutes with Chef Alexandre M. Fargas

Found some back logged stuff in my drafts!  In March, I included contemporary Spanish restaurant, FoFo by el Willy in my Hong Kong Noms Series.  Following up is a Q+A and FoFo Hong Kong's chef.  Chef Alex is warm and welcoming with his big smile and twinkling brown eyes.  He also has a romantic Spanish accent to boot.


Where were you previously?
I did all my culinary training in Barcelona at the Hoffmann school (the only school in Europe with a Michelin star). Later, I worked in few Michelin star restaurants in Spain; one of them was La Alqueria, in El Bulli Hotel, a 2 Michelin star restaurant doing the old menus of El Bulli.  After this I went to join the Team in Marenosturum, a venture of a Michelin star restaurant in Beijing.

My previous job before FoFo was in Dubai. It was a very big operation, with more than 40 restaurants.  I was running the fine dinning restaurant of the operation.

How did you come across Fofo?  Was there anything that inspired you to lead the way for Fofo Hong Kong?
Back in China, I met "Willy" Guillermo Trullas Moreno; he's an amazing person and chef based in Shanghai.  He contacted me when I was in Dubai and explained all the FoFo projects.  It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the project. Just after two months, I moved to Hong Kong to join this venture.

How do you like Hong Kong so far? 
I love Hong Kong.  I moved here two months ago and I love it.  It’s a fantastic city where anything is possible.  I hope that Hong Kong will be my home for a long, long time.

What changes from Fofo Shanghai's original menu have you been making for HK?

We haven’t changed much from the original menu in Shanghai.  The recipes and techniques are the same.  At most, we changed a few dish presentations, but we maintain Willy’s philosophy: good food, good price.

All the dishes in the menu are Willy's creations, but in less than 2 months I feel like they are my creations also.

What differences have you noticed about HK people's tastes compared to Shanghai, Dubai, Spain, etc?
At the moment, we are still learning about the locals’ taste.  I can’t give a detailed answer about their tastes yet, but so far we appreciate that Hong Kong people seem to know a lot about good food.  Hong Kong people are very conscious about health, and things like salt, oil, fat are all very sensitive issues.


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