CRAVE World Chef Showcase puts a whole new meaning on bringing the world to you. 40 chefs. 11 countries.
Here’s my highlights, from day one program two Asian, with MC Annette Shun Wah, Margaret Xu Yuan, Kylie Kwong with Amanda Gale, Jennifer Lee, Luke Nguyen, Rick Stein and Janice Wong.
Or you can read my article on Kylie Kwong’s session on the SBS Food website: talking, cooking, blogging.
I spent the day in progam 2 Asia presented by Cuisine. Talking with Jill Dupleix, food writer and MC of the World Chef Conference program 3 Contemporary Creative, in the break, I remarked how all the MCs over the weekend were women. Jill hadn’t noticed. Just a coincidence she thought. One for the girls, I thought! Though when Kylie Kwong was asked during her session whether there was a better female representation of chefs in commercial kitchens these days, she didn’t think so.
There were plenty of women represented in program 2 and our day got started with a remarkable story of an advertising executive turned grower turned chef. The story is even more remarkable when you learn that Margaret Xu Yuan started by growing her own herbs and a mango tree on a rooftop garden in bustling Hong Kong because she couldn’t buy local produce.
When she finally moved out of the urban area to a village, she started her restaurant with just one table. Today, she cooks for a total of just 30 people at a time. Yin and Yang, traditional yet contemporary, hot and cold, old and new, the balance of nature, encapulates her cookery. I was fascinated at the skills she has learnt in village life: stone grinding, woodfire and charcoal cookery, and she makes her own tofu from her own soy milk too.
In the session, Margaret Xu Yuan demonstrated Crab Roe Radish Cake and Flower Power – Cabbage stuffed with Tofu and Prawns. Just naming the dishes makes it sound simpler than it was though, as she also went to the trouble of making all the components including the tofu. The quietly spoken and humble chef had me entranced, and her integrity, outlook and commitment to organic and local produce just about has me convinced to take a trip to her village restaurant. Or maybe I have been convinced …
Chef Amanda Gale once worked with Kylie Kwong when they both first started professional cookery. That was in the cold larder section of Rockpool, way back when. They’ve been friends ever since and so were co-presenters of this next session. As well as demonstrating Hiramasa Kingfish Sashimi Salad with Sesame and Tamari Dressing, Amanda Gale, Aussie expat and Executive Chef of the prestigous COMO Hotels, showed us a slide show of the exotic locations under her charge.
In the real life day to day dangers of a kitchen, a sharf knife won while Amanda Gale was segmenting citrus. Friend that she is Kylie Kwong shimmied across from the other side of the stage and finished the job to allow her friend to finish her commentary undistracted by stinging juice in her cut.
Kylie Kwong steps out of the kitchen and onto the stage with an ease that shows she is practised at presenting. Nonetheless what shone on the day was definitely her commitment to produce and sustainability. Flavour is still at the forefront though with Kylie Kwong stating that she takes every opportunity to build her Vietnamesse-Style Chicken Soup into not just a great soup but something “extraordinary”.
I enjoyed not only her passion, the stories and the demonstration, but the choice of recipe – chicken soup – nurturing, healing, comforting and an expression of love, seemed the perfect way to showcase her attitude to food.
The session convinced me to make a last minute booking to her Sydney International Food Festival degustation “It Tastes Better” on the following Monday night. But that’s another story …
Talk about a showman! And, the first bloke up in the day’s program engaged all of our senses. One of my favourite fella’s Luke Nguyen started his session wandering the room with aromatic freshly roasted spices. He’d grabbed our attention as he filled our nostrils with spicy smoke before he filled our eyes and ears and hearts and tastebuds with Vietnamese Pho. (in between sessions and while he was setting up – I was happy to get not just a wave, a smile, a hello but a kiss on the cheek and a hug from the Cabramatta boy gone global!) Regular readers might remember that Luke Nguyen has already shared his PHO recipe with YOU on Inside Cuisine.
So, I’m not going to say much more about Luke’s session other than to remind you, like Luke reminded us, that PHO is pronounced PHER? (say it with a question mark on the end). And, to tell you that although I’ve seen Luke demonstrate his PHO a number of times before, that I’m always engaged anew in each enthusiastic and passionate presentation.
Rick Stein and next bloke up was the misfit of the day. He admitted it. The program was Asian. His invitation had been because of his travel adventures and his TV series Far Eastern Odyssey. The focus of this session was unfortunately Rick Stein’s run-in with a mandolin. I’m not sure why cutting a carrot took so much of the afternoon, whether the British chef had jet lag, or maybe a different kind of lag after a big night?
He recovered somewhat after a slow start to show us two dishes. The first was his British take on Asian: Spicy Green Mango Salad with Smoked Fish and Sweet and Sour Dressing. (you can check out my preferred recipe for Green Mango Salad by Luke Nguyen on an earlier post of Inside Cuisine).
Don’t get me wrong. I usually like Rick Stein (bit of a fan actually) and I like British food and his simple classical treatment of seafood. So, I better enjoyed the next of the dishes Rick Stein presented. John Dory Chowder with Mussels and Cider is the kind of food I’d like to eat on a cold night. Back to his roots, he’d found his feet.
In his struggle on the day though, another of the hiccups was when the preparation kitchen had given him cider vinegar instead of cider. Lucky he tasted it before adding it to the dish. Rick Stein was thankful of the opportunity to remind us all how important tasting our cooking (and the ingredients) are to the success of our dish.
Best of his generous 3 dishes was Duck Braised in Spiced Orange Juice inspired by a dish he tried at the Viet Grill, East London. Chef tells us, some might say a bit like duck a l’orange, but he uncovers the Asian background. Again, we are also reminded to think French colonialisation of Vietnam (Luke Nguyen had reminded us earlier too).
I haven’t tried this dish yet, just watched the demonstration, but I can taste the flavours, more complexity in aromatics and spice than the French, and I just love the simplicity in preparation. The duck is braised in the orange juice. It’s a must try on my list, and luckily, the showbag we received at the showcase included a book of recipes from the whole weekend’s presentations. The book also credits this recipe to Rick Stein’s cookbook Far Eastern Odyssey (Random House).
Last up in the chefs’ presentations was Singapore’s Janice Wong. This was very interesting with a slideshow showing us behind the scenes at her restaurant 2am:dessertbar. Janice Wong is at the forefront of global dessert, experimenting with a separate venue for a food laboratory she pushes the limit with new technique and new flavour combinations. I’m not really a fan of ‘molecular gastronomy’ and prefer ‘honest’ approaches to traditional food preparation so although I approached this session, I believe, with an open mind, it really didn’t connect. The food looked like art. It looked impressive. For me, it was more about artistic presentation than anything else. I found that the taste and texture didn’t deliver.
And, as I’d missed a bit of the chat, when MC Annette Shun Wah interviewed visiting journalist and author, Jennifer Lee, between the morning and afternoon session, that part of the story will have to wait for another day too …
photos by Kurt Huth