June 21, 2009
Four steps to good food
Season, heighten, tighten and clean - two bachelors show how it's done in a cookbook
By Huang Lijie
Marketing consultant Nicholas Lin, 25, and chef Adhika Maxi, 24, became fast friends over a conversation about duck fat a year ago.
It happened in New York when Mr Lin overheard Mr Adhika, then a stranger, talking to a friend about using duck fat to fry chips.
Mr Lin, a Singaporean who works in the Big Apple, says: 'I felt compelled to join in because I like eating duck fat and using it in my cooking.'
He and Mr Adhika, an Indonesian, discovered that they were neighbours in the same apartment building and shared a mutual interest in food.
The next day, the two met for dinner over bowls of century egg congee and fried pig's intestines and decided to collaborate on a cookbook teaching bachelors how to whip up easy but presentable dishes.
The book was a long-time dream for Mr Lin, who graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a bachelor's degree in marketing. He says: 'I've been passionate about cooking since I was 13 because I like eating. I would invite friends over to my home and cook for them.
'While my culinary skills improved with experience, the presentation of the food I served remained very rustic.'
However, when he turned to his collection of about 15 cookbooks, they provided no suggestions on how to plate or serve a dish attractively.
On why he warmed to the book idea immediately, Mr Adhika, who spent six years studying in Singapore at the now defunct Fowlie Primary School in Katong and St Hilda's Secondary School, says: 'Men today buy books on how to dress better and they groom their eyebrows, so there should be books teaching them how to cook better and plate their food nicely.'
The former chef de partie at celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's eponymous restaurant at The London hotel in New York City adds that in the past, male friends have sought tips on how to cook to impress dates, so he is confident the book has a ready market.
Their self-published, 213-page cookbook titled Bachelor's Banquet features more than 80 recipes from appetisers such as chicken satay and mint rice salad to entrees such as zucchini and vodka pink penne.
There is also a section on desserts such as wine-poached pear, and a playful category called In Bed Aphrodisiacs featuring bite-size treats such as white chocolate petits fours.
The pair dipped into their savings to pay the book's $30,000 publishing fee. It has an initial print of 3,500 copies and will be on sale in bookstores here in September.
On how they chose the dishes, the bachelors say they went with food that they enjoy eating which were simple to cook.
They even came up with a catchy mantra on how to make tasty, good-looking food: Season, heighten, tighten and clean.
Mr Adhika explains that as much as a dish should look good, its taste is equally important and seasoning each component ensures every mouthful is well-flavoured.
He adds that dishes should have some height - achieved by topping it with garnish - to enhance the presentation. A tightly put-together dish adds to the visual appeal.
'Finally, fingerprints and smudges on the sides of the plate should be cleaned away,' says Mr Adhika, who took a course in advanced culinary techniques at the French Culinary Institute in New York.
Every recipe ends with instructions on how to garnish and plate the food.
The book took a year to complete, of which six months were spent brainstorming the dishes and testing the recipes. Mr Lin says: 'After Max finished work at the restaurant, we would cook from 1 to about 5am. This would happen almost every day for six months.' Max is Mr Adhika's nickname.
They share a recipe for lemon chicken with corn relish from their cookbook.
A hardcover copy costs $23.99 while a softcover one costs $18.99. There is a 15 per cent discount for online pre-orders until Sept 4.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: LEMON CHICKEN WITH CORN RELISH
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tsp grated garlic
salt to taste
2 chicken thighs, deboned
1 tbs olive oil
2 thin lemon slices
2 cups fresh or canned corn kernels
Juice from 1 lemon
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
pepper to taste
2 small radishes, thinly sliced
A few sprigs of baby radish sprouts or any type of microgreens (young vegetable shoots)
1. Combine lemon juice, sugar, rice wine vinegar, garlic and a pinch of salt thoroughly in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
2. Lightly season the chicken thighs by rubbing salt on them.
3. Add olive oil to a medium skillet and sear the chicken thighs, skin side down, over medium heat.
4. After one minute, add the lemon marinade to the chicken.
5. Baste the top of the chicken thighs with the marinade repeatedly for three minutes.
6. Flip the chicken thighs and continue to baste them for another three minutes. When done, set aside.
7. Sear the lemon slices for two minutes in the skillet or until caramelised. Set aside.
8. Blanch the corn kernels in boiling water for one minute, drain, then cool under cold running water for about one minute. Drain thoroughly and set aside.
9. Combine juice from a lemon, lemon zest, extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper to taste in a mixing bowl.
10. Add the corn kernels and radish and toss to mix well.
11. Spoon the corn relish onto a serving plate, place the lemon chicken over the corn and garnish with microgreens and a slice of seared lemon. Serves two.