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Archive for the Culinary issues Category

Who had sex on the beach in Hong Kong?

Bo_Innovation_HK_smallLooking at the list of “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants“ (click here) remembered me on a fascinating evening I had two years ago at Bo Innovation in Hong Kong. This restaurant, whose 15th rank makes it possible to call it a front runner, is situated in a side street from Johnston Road in the Wan Chai district. It took me a while to find it, as there was no sign you could have seen from the street.

 

It was a hot ’n’ humid night, and there were some problems with the air-con. I was given a seat at the bar right next to the entrance, which allowed me to watch the goings-on in the narrow show kitchen area. The staff looked really cool. One heavily tattooed guy had quite long hair and his sunglasses on. With critical eyes he  inspected every plate that had come out of the kitchen, and every now and then he readjusted the look of the dishes. At first I thought this could be the boss of the house, Alvin Leung, known as the “Demon Chef”. But the founder of this already at that time highly talked-about place turned out to be in London to open a new branch there.

 

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What does this guy make so special, besides his look? Well, maybe the fact that not many chefs in the Chinese culinary business consider cooking as a creative art form. Chinese cuisine is in general very much bounded on traditions, much in contrary to European cooking philosophies. Leung combines both Chinese and European approaches, including molecular elements, and calls it “X-treme Chinese”. I am usually not so much convinced of molecular cooking styles, but there is no way to deny the highly artistical level of Leung’s cuisine. This counts both for its taste, respectively the mouth feel creating texture, as well as for its optical appearance.

 

On that night my culinary adventure trip started with the “Scent of the Victoria Harbor”: Fuming oysters that did not really look like oysters (see picture). I also had “Molecular”, which came as a mysterious ball, with a texture similar to jelly. It tasted like something very familiar. What was it? The menu helped me out: It tasted exactly like Xiao Long Bao (小籠包), the juicy dim sum dumplings with meat inside. I loved the caviar on a smoked quail egg in a “nest” of crispy taro. Leung furthermore combined both French and Cantonese signature dish on the very same plate: foie gras and mui choy, the mustard cabbage. The latter one came as an ice cream. It was an evening of surprises. The most figurative dish was Leung’s contribution to raise the awareness of red ribbon issues: “Sex on the beach” – not a cocktail but a jelly “condom” on a “sand” of crushed biscuits and a white chocolate shell.

 

 

The “chef’s table menu” consisted of 15 fascinating dishes. Listing all of them would not make sense, as they change over time. Probably none of these dishes are on today’s menu anymore, but I am sure the style of Leung’s cuisine has not changed. I found a very nicely done video dealing with Alvin Leung’s ideas:

 

www.nowness.com/day/2012/10/30/2556/demon-days 

 

What fascinated me, by the way, was the carefully selected and highly matching wine pairing that including among others sparkling sake, a German Riesling and a French Grenache Noir. This is absolutely worth pointing out, as from a Western point of view a proper pairing still is a huge deficit in Asia, even in such a world city as Hong Kong.

 

It would be nice to learn about current dishes there. Anyone who ate there recently? Please leave a comment.

 

Bo Innovation

Chef: Alvin Leung ( “Demon Chef”)

18 Ship Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong | Website

 

Would Confucius dine at the Shangri-La hotel?

At least since the intoxicating book on Fuchsia Dunlop’s culinary travels “Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper” the Western world knows that Confucius was a picky wise man when it came to food:

 

His rice is not excessively refined, and his sliced meat is not cut excessively fine. Rice that has become putrid and sour, fish that has spoiled, and meat that has gone bad, he does not eat. Undercooked foods he does not eat, and foods served at improper times he does not eat. Meat that is improperly carved, he does not eat, and if he does not obtain the proper sauce, he will not eat. (p. 208)

 

Confucius lived in Qufu (曲阜市) at a time when the city was part of the so-called Lu state (魯國, around 1042–249 BC). Imbedded in today’s Shandong province it has been listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. People come to see the Temple of Confucius (Kǒng Miào, 孔庙), the Kong Family Mansion (Kǒng Fǔ, 孔府), and to stroll around the woods of the Kong family (Kǒng Lín, 孔林), which is in fact a cemetery where also Confucius is buried.

 

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Very near the Temple of Confucius there is a new Shangri-La hotel scheduled to open soon. Its cuisine will partly revive the tradition of the Kong family (Confucius’ original name Kǒng Qiu, 孔丘). Before the kitchen personnel would start to cut loose there, they already got their knives out in several other Shangri-La hotels in South East Asia. In January they kicked off their road show in Qingdao, which was followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taipei. From March 9th they will stop by in Bangkok (until March 15th) and in Jakarta (March 19th to 25th). These kind of tiny pop-up-festivals will in each case take place at the hotel’s Shang Palaces, the Cantonese restaurant brand of the Hong Kong based hotel chain.

 

I know that from a journalistic point of view it seems a bit awkward to cite a press release longer than, let’s say, three lines. However, I found this release from the Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel in Taipei highly interesting to read, so here it comes in bulk:

A classic menu item is the “Six Arts” Cold Appetizers Platter (spiced beef shanks, jelly fish salad, spiced duck tongue, sea whelk jelly salad, scallop skirt and lettuce salad, and baby celery with sesame and olive oil). Each appetizer represents a category in the “Six Arts,” which Confucius advocated at the time; the arts are Rites, Music, Archery, Chariot Racing, Calligraphy and Mathematics.

 
Kong Mansion’s Eight Seafood Treasures in Superior Broth, Lu Wall’s Hidden Collection (prawn roll wrapped in crispy vermicelli), the Three Ingredients Soup (soup cooked with chicken, duck and pig trotters), and Kong Family’s Special Four Treasures (braised chicken, braised fish, braised pork and meal roll of minced chicken breast and prawns wrapped with seaweed) are also signature dishes found in Kong Family cuisine.

 

Many dishes commemorate Confucius and impart stories related to him. One example is called Wisdom Frees Perplexity (braised pork ribs stuffed with spring onion stalk). Legend has it that the dish was created during Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s era of the burning of the books and live burial of scholars. It was said that in order to preserve the Kong family line, a minister named Zhang Ge exchanged his own son for the life of a Kong family male descendent. In the process, this dish was created to pass on secret information. Mirroring the concept of the story, pork rib bones are removed and replaced with the stalk of a scallion. The meat is deep-fried and finished with a rich sauce.

 
The Kirin Imperial Book dish (deep-fried snapper with crispy skin) tells another tale. Rumor has it that just before the birth of Confucius, one Kirin – a mythical Chinese creature believed to bring good omen and that looks like a unicorn with scales – made its appearance in the neighborhood of the Kong family with a jade stone in its mouth. On the jade was written, “From a defeated kingdom rose a new emperor – a spiritual leader.” The fish, marinated in Chinese wine, is deep-fried with scales until golden brown, which resembles the skin of a Kirin.
In total there are 25 à la carte dishes and three set menus on offer. The culinary team consists of Executive Chef Ng Kok-Leong, Banquet Sous Chef Washington Lin, the two senior chefs Perry Kong and Sam Liu, and Sous Chef Frank Chen. In addition, two “storytellers” from Qufu are traveling with the chefs, to help unfold more exciting tales related to the dishes.

 

Sources / Links:
“Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper” (Ebury Press, 2008) / Fuchsia Dunlop
Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel / Press release