Sunday, May 3, 2009

BTO: Bright nights

Business Times - 02 May 2009

Bright nights

The week's dinner offerings were ablaze with Michelin-star power


Heinz Beck
La Pergola
Via A Cadlolo 101
Rome 00136, Italy'
Tel +39 06 3509 2152


HEINZ Beck is a German chef who went to Rome in the 1990s, set up a restaurant there and conquered the Michelin star inspectors, besides the Romans, of course.


Singaporeans got a taste of his award-winning dishes this week, and he proved to be truly an 'Iconic Chef', as the programme labelled him.


At a one-night-only dinner at St Regis ballroom, the three-star Michelin chef impressed with innovative dishes that managed to surprise and yet win you over with their simplicity.


Right from the start, he showed his knack for combining flavours and his skill for keeping food refined. The lobster medallions were paired with thin strips of pancetta, both of them served warm as if they were just blanched in the kitchen prior to their debut. The ingredients were barely seasoned, retaining their natural flavours, and the squirt of granny smith 'jam' added a nice fruity moistness.


How could a German present a variation on pasta that Italian chefs haven't come up with? By mixing strips of red king crab with a smoked aubergine coulis for the sauce, using sedanini pasta, which is like straightened macaroni, and topping it with an 'aromatic crumble'. Delicious.


Seafood such as scallops and sea bass were presented in different ways again, including the use of new-fangled cooking equipment that changes the molecular structure of food. Thin slices of raw scallop sandwiched chickpea mash, surrounded by a smoother chickpea puree with drops of intense coffee oil. Then the seabass was slow-cooked in a mild garlic-flavoured olive oil, while the 'Baccala fish snow' on the side turned out to be chilled fish 'powder'.


With the experimental bits out of the way, Beck delivered the more traditional dishes of the night, but still with a modern twist. The duck foie gras was delightful - with its sharply sweet layer of sugar caramelising the outer layer of the firm liver, seated on a savoury contrast of porcini mushroom-flavoured bulgar wheat-like 'cereal'.


And the braised veal cheek was steeped in black truffle sauce, and tender with requisite collagen-induced 'stickiness'. The cheek was served with Jerusalem artichoke puree.


If one had a bone to pick, it was with the apricot jelly and raspberry jelly cubes, with a strongly aromatic basil infusion and bergamot ice-cream - the combination was simply too acidic, and had one flavour too many on the same plate.


Although he served over 100 diners for the banquet, chef Beck maintained a good pace through the night. The St Regis staff also have to be commended for their service - they appeared to be comfortable with what they had to do, and not anxious or harried, as waiting staff are prone to be in banquet settings like this.


We also enjoyed excellent Chianti wines, making the Iconic Dinner one of the more successful events of this World Gourmet Summit.



Claudio Sadler

Ristorante Sadler
Milan, Italy
Tel +39 02 5810 4451


MILAN has a reputation for sticking to its traditional cuisine, but chefs like two-Michelin-starred Claudio Sadler is making sure that modern cuisine is represented as well.


Hosted at Domus from Monday to Friday, the introduction to the chef's cuisine was a favourable one. The chef is big on flavours, so the description of his dishes might sound fancy but ultimately they're more appetising than just eye candy - literally.


The first dish, for instance, was a chilled but soft cake of burrata cheese topped with a white tomato foam, so you get an ephemeral tomato flavouring the creamy mild cheese, with just a hint of anchovy oil and mild sundried tomato.


The black ink risotto with raw cuttlefish was a dream dish with the al dente arborio rice thickly coated with black ink. Sophisticated garnishings on the side - gold leaf sprinkled over the rice, flying fish caviar, a few smears of mango sauce - made it into a dish fit for a two-star Michelin rating.


But there was 'fun' food as well, as chef Sadler revealed his cheeky side. He had once consulted for McDonald's in Italy, so his salmon 'sandwich' which he calls the McSadler, is a take on that experience. It looks like a refined, miniature version of a round burger, with luscious chunks of salmon mixed with mozzarella cheese as the filling for two thinly sliced, toasted bread pieces. It's one of the signature dishes at his trattoria in Milan, reveals the chef, although in a bigger portion, of course.


Playing with food seems to be the chef's forte - as we deduced from his lamb chop coated with almond flakes and deep-fried strips of aubergine, served with lime-scented baby tomatos. Lovely - as the toasty almonds went well with the lamb.


And the dessert had fizz as well - a creamy ice cream-like semifreddo made with beer, with Sprite jello on the side, and a passionfruit cream.


While not all of the Michelin-starred chefs perform as well at the World Gourmet Summit here as in their familiar kitchens back home, that can't be said of Claudio Sadler, who transported his diners at Domus this week to his Ristorante Sadler in Milan.


Klaus Erfort

Gastehaus Klaus Erfort
Mainzerstrasse 95,
Saarbrucken, 66121 Germany


HE may not be a household name in these parts, but German chef Klaus Erfort still managed to make a major impression on diners this week at Jaan, where he presided over a culinary experience of updated classics that was special in every respect - a savoury, sensory feast to remember.


All too often, big name chefs make much-hyped appearances in Singapore that turn out to be more disappointing than delicious, but Erfort, 36, a low-profile chef from an off-the-radar destination in Saarbrucken, Germany, about an hour's drive from Strasbourg, made his first Asian gig a good one.


It helped perhaps that he was hosted at Jaan, whose resident kitchen maestro Andre Chiang has similarly admirable qualities. Regular diners here are already accustomed to high quality meals and the switch to Erfort's three-Michelin star offering, distilled into a seven-course tasting menu ($240 or $390 with wine pairings) served over five evenings this week, was a seamless transition. The menu was also a mini-masterpiece, comparable perhaps to a very good book where each chapter (or course) is better than the one preceding it.


The two starters - raw oysters with spicy soya jelly and apple foam, and raw marinated langoustine with crispy chicken skin and seawater jelly - were an imaginative blend of textures and flavours, tasty and light enough to heighten the sense of anticipation for the dishes to follow.


And what followed didn't disappoint. First, a deceptively simple but hard to execute turbot medallion with parsley infusion and glazed morels, then an exquisite fillet of kurobuta pork with beetroot and mustard air - nicely chewy, full of flavour and perfectly cooked.


The two-part main dish, slow roasted Bresse pigeon breast and a separate portion of minced pigeon leg with truffle foam and breaded celery root, was also a definite favourite - tasty, tender and accompanied by an intensely flavoured jus that was apparently made using seven different types of sweet wine.


The pre-dessert offering arrived in the form of goat cheese ice-cream, served with marinated pineapple. The main dessert was rhubarb served four different ways (with champagne, as a sorbet, with creme brulee and in a gratin, with meringue topping).


Erfort's cuisine is both distinctively classical and refreshingly modern, a seeming contradiction that manifests itself in dishes featuring traditional ingredients and rich sauces, presented in a modern style and Asian-sized portions - the result is singularly appealing. The chef, who doesn't speak English or French, was a little concerned that something might have been lost in translation, but he needn't have worried - his cuisine is a winner in any language.


Wylie Dufresne & Alex Stupak

50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002
Tel +1 212 477 2900


ITS name brings to mind a certain brand of lubricant, but the guys from avant garde New York restaurant wd~50 didn't have all the cogs moving quite as smoothly as they should have when they cooked at Tippling Club this week, as part of the World Gourmet Summit. Each 11-course meal, on average, ran for between three and four hours, with snooze-inducing pauses in between some of the dishes.


Not that wd~50 chef-owner Wylie Dufresne appeared concerned. The Michelin-starred chef sauntered about the kitchen, joking with his staff and occasionally clapping a cook on the back for a job well done.


Perhaps, for a man who says he aims to make diners 'reassess taste, texture and how we experience flavour', a meal with plenty of time to reflect on the food was exactly what he was ordering for everyone. And there was a lot to reflect on.


How, for instance, had the traditional New York smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel tumbled through the stoves of the chef's mind, to emerge as a slightly browned and toasted sesame-seed-covered ring of bagel-flavoured ice-cream alongside a sheet of crispy cream cheese and salmon threads?


How had he thought to combine a sous-vide-cooked scallop with - of all things! - tendons, one draped over the scallop and blow-torched to a melty, chewy consistency and the other dehydrated so that it resembled crispy fish maw?


There were other mind-boggling concepts too: fat rolls of passionfruit-puree-stuffed 'flexible' foie gras that melted, light and cream-cheese-like, over the tongue; and the chef's famous reworked eggs Benedict - gummy yellow cylinders with rather thickly breaded cubes oozing Hollandaise sauce.


One suspects that Dufresne, who works with food scientists at Mars and M&M's to create new methods of turning traditional food on its head, is capable of doing even wackier food, but it is to his credit that he exercises restraint so that his dishes, on the whole, remain acceptable to diners.


Still, those who prefer food done the traditional way - not liquefied or dehydrated or married with chemical substances - may find that much of his cuisine tires the palate after a bit. We were glad of the more simply-done (if that can be said of any of wd~50's recipes) dishes in our meal, such as a slowly steamed and smoked eel that went brilliantly with Campari-infused tofu, scalpel-sliced aubergines and yuzu gel; and a slow-cooked wagyu skirt steak served with ribbons of pasta made from peanut butter (animal gelatin containing proteins is added to peanut butter, which is then combined with transglutaminase so that the protein molecules bind together, allowing the al-dente-like 'pasta' to be made and cut).


Desserts at wd~50 are made not by Dufresne, but by an intense young man named Alex Stupak, who's been hailed as one of the best pastry chefs in the world. He was at Tippling Club too, where he magicked up some of the meal's highlights: a fake tart that had no pastry but was all amazingly light passionfruit puree, and a scrumptious brown butter sorbet that you mopped up with a piece of caramelised brioche as it melted, together with a very tart apple puree and parsley foam.


There's a lot of 'how/why did they do that?' in a wd~50 meal, even if the tastebuds are not always stimulated. If you're determined to seek the answers, perhaps a trip to New York is in order.

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