Sunday, December 6, 2009

Le Cordon Bleu

One day course with Le Cordon Bleu Director De Cuisine, Chef Marc Bonard,
at IFT Macau

Learning the art of French-Japanese cuisine

This creation got me and me and my partner Alan a 70/100 from Chef.
Barely passed.

But I am jumping the gun. Let me start from the beginning: the prep stage.

In the morning: a 3 course demo from Chef Mark Bonard, fusing French techniques with Japanese ingredients and using French and Japanese presentation styles

We arived in class at 10 am to find chef doing his mise-en-place

Assistants helped him lay out the ingredients: the meats, the rice, onions, butter, cream, even the sakura-ebi - a tiny dried shrimp that chef had carried all the way from Japan.

Interesting concotion: the chef 's inimitable French-accented English, the Cantonese translator, Macanese assistants and Japanese ingredients.

Appetiser: Skewered quail Yakitori style glazed with sansho flavour. Served with leek, chervil and parsley salad.
The dark diagonal in the middle is a single brush stroke of olive oil dotted with Japanese sansho pepper. Tre Bien !

The quails were sauteed in butter and finished in the oven For the glazing sauce, chef used quail bones, chicken stock and beef stock.

Main Course: Chicken Breasts Nori-Maki style. shellfish reduction, vegetable pilaf
A classic dish and a beauty to watch

The chicken breasts were hammered thin and covered with sheets of Nori. Chef made a stuffing of egg white, cream, chopped chicken, tarragon and sakura-ebi, piped the stuffing on the chicken-nori sheets and then rolled it like a giant sausage.

Steamed in the oven for 20 minutes, cut into sushi-like pieces and coated in sakura ebi powder.
The shellfish reduction was simply shrimp head and tails boiled and reduced with tomato paste, and the vegetable pilaf was cooked with chicken stock.

And this is the final composition on the plate. A visual haiku with a french accent.

Dessert: Milk chocolate 'shooters' with green tea cream, green tea streusel, chocolate granache and hazelnut crunch

Bottom layer: green tea cream, made with powdered green tea, heavy cream, egg yolk and gelatin
Layer 2: bombe chocolate noir - chocolate, syrup and cream
Layer 3: a thin spread of green tea, powdered sugar, butter and salt
Layer 4: milk chocolate and cream granache
Topped with: hazelnut biscuits made fresh in the oven

Frankly, I was completely lost on this one !

Class in progress.
I couldn't stop staring at the Cordon Bleu logo

So that was the morning.
In the afternoon we were divided into teams and asked to recreate the main course

Lots of chopping and stuffing, reducing and straining.

These culinary students from the IFT were fantastic. Look how expertly they are rolling the chicken nori-maki in the sakura-ebi.

I was teamed with Alan, a Chinese chef from Macau. We were a bit of a bumbling pair, though we did manage to look busy

Taking time off to pose for the camera now and then

Somehow in 2.5 hours we came up with this, which didn't look or taste bad at all I tell you. But of course it was nowhere near chef's standard. The chicken was slightly overcooked, the rice was underseasoned and overplated and the sauce was too thick and very slightly burnt. Wouldn't have got us any Michelin stars but we did get a 70 out of 100.

In the end , this made it all worth it. Never thought I'd be so thrilled at getting a certificate !


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Eating in New York City

Eight Days a Week in The Big Apple

CX 830. Smooth take-off from Hong Kong. Stewardess named Honey.
" Would you like the fish or the pork, sir" ? Lunch over Japan.
Dinner over the Great Pacific Northwest. Shut-eye over Chicago.
Touchdown at noon. Blast of cold air. "How ya doin?" New York City.

Then, a week at jet speed. Tapas Bars, Paella Bars, Wine Bars,
Beer Bars, even Rice Pudding Bars. Cuisine from all over: Italian,
Spanish, Mexican, American, New American, New Brooklyn,
Polish, African, Salvadoran. Giant portions and small plates,
glistening fat and micro-greens, the familiar and the strange and
even the outre. All in the electric cauldron of New York City.

Socarrat Paella Bar, Chelsea
A dancer from Barcelona and a heavenly Paella. But was the rice burnt ? ...

Socarrat Paella Bar, Chelsea, New York City

A Crust to die for

Paella Valenciana, with pork ribs, rabbit, snails
snow peas and asparagus

Quiet Friday afternoon in Chelsea, New York City.
Marcel the waiter at Socarrat, who happens to be a
dancer from Barcelona, suggests an Albarino from
the wine list. "Trust me", he says.

I sip the crispy, refreshing Albarino and munch on
white anchovies with garlic and parsley on toast
while perusing the Paella menu.

Doesn't take me long to zero in on the Paella Valenciana,
which Marcel pronounces as V-a-l-e-n-th-ee-ana, with
a slight lisp around the 'th' sound in the middle.

"It will take about half hour", he says, and pours me
some more wine.

I look around. All the restaurant has is one long slender
highly polished bar counter and about two dozen high stools.
Brick-lined walls, mirrors and framed Spanish paintings
complete the look.
And all it serves is Paella. And just a few Tapas.
And that's enough to bring in the hordes in the evenings
when I believe the queue snakes around W 19th street,
making this small, tightly-focused Paella Bar one of
the most talked-about new restaurants in the city.

Because the Paella is very very good. My Valenciana came in
a gleaming black pan, smelling of everything that I imagine
Spain to be and tasting so good that I was almost giddy.
I haven't been to Spain yet you see, so perhaps it
doesn't count for much when I say this was the best Paella
I've ever had. But it was.

And that crust at the bottom, that glistening, slightly charred, caramelised , salty, bacony,
al dente layer of rice sticking to the bottom - Socarrat in Spanish - that was just to die for.
I scraped and scraped with the big steel spoon and licked it clean. Marcel was appreciative.
"That's the best part, yeah ? "

Socarrat Paella Bar
259 W 19th St, New York 10011
Phone: (212) 462-1000

"Eating in New York City" series

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cabrito, West Village, New York City

Drunk on Goat

Cabrito. Sour orange and chili-rubbed goat,
slow roasted and served chopped with Salsa Borracha
and warm flour tortillas

After coming back slightly inebriated from a wonderful dinner at
Cabrito, I wrote an email to some of my friends. Looking back,
the email sounds a bit over-enthusiastic and slightly alcohol-fuelled.

But I am reproducing it here anyway, as a more sober review
would perhaps not do justice to this fabulous meal.

--- On Tue, 4/14/09, Argha Sen wrote:
From: Argha Sen Subject: Re: Cabrito To:

Guys - thanks for trying for the reservations. Well I Sodi was booked and so was Scarpetta and so was Convivio. And that too on a Tuesday night. So much for Recession America.

So we went to the next restaurant on my list. And boy was I glad. Was I glad glad glad. And happy. HAPPY.

This was Cabrito, the Mexican place Frank Bruni raved about, in the West Village, on 50 Carmine St between Bleeker and Bedford. What an amazing, satisfying, heartwarming Mexican meal. The energy and easygoing buzz of West Village, a slightly shabby-chic decor and fantastic fantastic fantastic food . And no Burritos, Tacos, Enchiladas, Chimichingas.

Instead we had: GOAT. Sour orange, garlic and chili-rubbed goat. Slow roasted, ( roasted real slooow, like real sloooow) and served chopped with Salsa Barracha and warm flour tortillas. Meat falling off the bone, no gamey goaty smell, but not delicate, dainty either. This was goat with real character and substance, but no punctuation, no commas, no fullstops. And the salsa was sweeeeet. Do you get it ? The contrast, the textures, the taste ?

And CHICKEN. A plump, juicy chicken, rubbed with chili and served with a buttery rice studded with raisins, fried plantains and coconut. Do I have to tell you that the chicken was juicy, like JOOOOCY. And the rice. Oh.

Well the Fatty Crab Ale and the second twangy ale whose name I forgot to note obviously heightened the satisfaction and is perhaps muddling my brain a bit as I write. Mick Jagger was wrong. You can get SATISFACTION. And I didn't even try Bruni's recommended dishes: the Carnitas and the roasted Poblano peppers in cream.

I asked if the chef was Mexican. The waiter said "no, but he was born on the border of Arizona, so close !"

Viva La Mexico. You rule. New York City is great


Pollo Barbacoa. Roasted half-chicken
served with mezcal raisin and coconut rice

The Cabrito bar, packed on a Tuesday night

50 Carmine St, NY 10014
Ph: +1 212 929 5050

"Eating in New York City" series

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I Sodi, West Vilage, New York City

But did the heart sing an Aria ?

  • Pic courtesy

    I Sodi hits hits all the right notes

    Executive chucks up corporate career to start a restaurant. Check

  • Teams up with famous chef to craft a small, changing menu themed around her mother's Tuscan cooking, with authentic Italian emphasis on seasonality and simplicity. Check

  • Hires designer to create a sleek but cosy ambience, combining Tuscan trattoria feel with New York City sophistication. Check

  • Hip bar with Italian apertivos, cocktails, distinguished wine list, couple of craft beers and counter dining. Check

  • Professional service. Check.

  • Absolutely fabulous espresso, hand-pulled by an enthusiastic Barista who went into raptures over the Danessa beans he had used. Check and Double Check.

We had all the pastas on the menu
~Aglio Olio E Peperoncino Con Pecorino Romano
Spaghetti with garlic, olive oil, red pepper and precorino

~Lasagne al Sugo di Carne
Housemade lasagne with meat sauce

~Spaghettini Freschi Al Prezzemolo E Pomodoro
Housemade spaghettini with parsley, tomato and parmigiano

~Risotto Verde
Risotto with spinanch and parmigiano

And we shared two secondi
~Galletto Schiacciaoto
Cornish Hen roasted under a brick
~Coniglio In Padella Con Olive
Pan-seared rabbit with olives

This is exactly the kind of Italian restaurant I always want to eat in.
Exactly the kind of gloriously simple menu I had encountered
in small trattorias and tavernas in Tuscany. The design and
ambience and attention to detail here made it all the more

Yet somehow the heart didn't sing as it did with my best meals in Italy.
Maybe it was me. Maybe in Italy I was always under a spell. Maybe
the magic of Italy can never be recreated outside. Or perhaps the dishes at
I Sodi, while excellent, didn't have that extra something to lift them into
the realms of the divine.

I Sodi
Chef Owner: Rita Sodi
Designer Owner: Jeff Dworkis
Executive Chef : Michael Genardini
105 Christopher St., New York, NY 10014
nr. Bleecker St.
Ph +1 212-414-5774

"Eating in New York City" series

Friday, May 1, 2009

Public, Nolita, New York City

Just a few pics of the stunning bar at PUBLIC, on Elizabeth Streeet in Nolita, New York City

I was trying to click the waitress who looked like Drew Barrymore, but she moved too fast.
For the record I had a Guava and Red Chili Margarita
Sauza Blanco tequila infused with red chili, lime juice, orange liqueur and guava puree
210 Elizabeth Street, New York City 10012
Ph: +1 212.343.7011

Rice to Riches in Nolita , New York City

"Eating three sensible balanced meals a day will only spoil your appetite for rice pudding"

Stumbled upon this delightful, irreverent, unashamedly sweet-loving
and carb-inducing little joint on Spring Street, somewhere between
Nolita and Soho in New York City, called RICE TO RICHES, sort of
like a Gelateria selling rice puddings in different flavours and
with different toppings.

What a wonderful concept ! They have taken the dowdy, unsung
rice pudding dessert and given it a sensational makeover with
flavours like " Take me to Tiramisu" and " Man-made Mascarpone"
and toppings ranging from Nudge ( chilled espresso with cocoa) and
Mischief ( Buttery Graham Crackers) to Remedy ( caramel vanilla sauce)
and Heartthrob ( raspberry jelly).

And they have done it with such style. Funky decor in shades
of brown and orange, colourful flavours and toppings in inviting
" eat-me" displays, witticisms and tongue-in-cheek proclamations
( "eat all you want, you are already fat" ) draped all over the walls
and counter, futuristic furniture and storefront, attractive serving
bowls in sizes ranging from Diva ( 6z) to Sumo ( 40 oz), and a
lively , "Italian-gelateria-meets-trendy-Soho-bar" vibe.

Their website says "this is legally sin ... Our rice pudding
contains a secret ingredient ... the same one that gives
Viagra its magical power".
And you tend to believe them.

37 Spring St
New York, NY 10012
Ph: +1 212.274.0008

Saturday, April 25, 2009

New Brooklyn Cuisine at The General Greene

No Marching Orders for this General

Pic courtesy New York Magazine

The General Greene was an opportunity for me to kill two birds with one stone.
The birds being two NYC food trends that I'd been hearing a lot about:
New Brooklyn Cuisine ( NBC) which is now part of the zeitgeist across the
Brooklyn Bridge, and the concept of diners sharing " small plates" which
has been confirmed as a definitive trend by Frank Bruni of the
New York Times, no less.

Is there anything new about New Brooklyn Cuisine ?
Here's what New York magazine says:

"NBC has as its common denominator a very New York culinary
sophistication melded with a wistfully agrarian passion for the
artisanal, the sustainably grown, and the homespun…
Practitioners tend to be mom-and-pop shops, in fact or feeling,
and they cater to a clientele of idealistic gastronomes who
quote Michael Pollan and split shares in the local CSA.
There is often a whiff of the barnyard about these places ..."

Whoa ! Armed with this suitably cerebral and impressive-sounding definition,
and motivated by reviews calling it a " stellar example of NBC", we marched
into The General Greene with our battery of hungry stomachs,
visions of small artisanal plates of food dancing in our heads.

The decor was I guess, genre-defining. Sawn-off wooden tables and
long benches, bar stools made out of vintage tractor seats, flickering
votives and dimmed lights casting long shadows,
all part of the 'sensitive chic' ambience.

Having had a few beers earlier in the evening, I started with a glass of
Prosecco, ignoring the distinguished list of craft beers which are apparently
are served in jam jars ! And for the rest of the evening our group shared a
bottle of Tempranillo.

The small plates kept coming:
~ Devilled Egg, which was really a kind of mustard-y egg mousse.
~ Bacon-wrapped dates, with sticky maple syrup.
Hmm. A bit of bacon and candy.
~ Radishes and Anchovies.
Now wait a minute. Whoever thought of that one ?
~ Dirty Rice with Andouille Sausages.
This I liked. What's not to like ?
Rice - good. Sausages - goood. Bits of chicken liver - very good.
~ Lamb and Lentils.
Can't remember this one well which probably means it might
have been a little dull .
~ 6oz Angus Burger with English Cheddar.
Didn't get to taste this as someone else polished it off.
~ Chocolate Pudding.
Gave it a miss.

The food was generally good but nothing was excellent.
The small plates were, as expected, small, and slightly pricey.
The food was a little too precious, the restaurant seemed to
be trying slightly too hard to justify its Star of NBC moniker,
and the rave reviews seemed to have been overhyped
just a tad in my opinion.

Yet you could not help but appreciate that there is something
going on here. The use of local artisanal produce without
tom-tomming it too much on the menu, the very Brooklyn
sensibility of combining a neighbourhoody feel with star
restaurant vibes, the comforting sense of knowing that
'warm chocolate chip cookies' is a house specialty, and a
general feeling that there is substance behind the form.

BUT: I hate intellectualising about restaurants so I'll stop here.
I guess I just need to go back again , spend a little more time,
taste some of the other dishes, to truly feel the General's powers.

The General Greene
229 DeKalb Avenue (Clermont Avenue),
Fort Greene, Brooklyn; (718) 222-1510.

"Eating in New York City" series