By Michael Karlo Lim
AN OLD saying goes that too many cooks spoil the broth. The year of the four-hand dinners has since proved otherwise. But, eight?
As a second act to the Asian Culinary Exchange’s forum, a series of dinners by participating chefs were held simultaneously across Metro Manila. I had the privilege of sitting down to one at Flame restaurant at Discovery Primea. Stirring the pot were chefs Woo Wai Leong, Vicky Cheng, Luis Chikiamco and Margarita Fores.
Chef Woo Wai Leong, of the first Masterchef Asia fame, opened with his “Snack.” Traditional Malaysian, deep-fried, molded cookies, Kuih Loyang, were filled with a savory Century egg paste with some ginger cutting through the pungency. Verdicchio Casal Di Sierra white wine complemented with its velvety mouthfeel and intensely fruity flavor.
Next, Chef Margarita Forés presented her modern take on the humble Ukoy. Eschewing vegetables, pure shrimp broth was reduced to a crisp dotted with dried baby shrimp and seasoned with vinegar salt. A crab fat maionesa dip doubled the delight with its indulgent make and the peppery herb, pansit-pansitan, cutting through the richness. Stone and tropical fruit flavors plus the nutty finish of Rutherford Ranch Chardonnay paired married the seafood-forward dish well.
Chef Vicky Cheng added the distinct aroma and zing of Sichuan chili oil to the robust flavor of local tuna. The creaminess of uni tempered the tingle from the spice and added umami while a crispy fish skin piece made a delightful contrast to soft textures. Tahitian Gooseberries introduced sour notes, and all punchy flavors were grounded by the earthiness of the red amaranth and floral bitterness from Cadena de Amor. The terrestrial fruit in Verdicchio Casal Di Sierra mirrored the briny sweetness of the frutti di mare.
Quintessential Filipino met quintessential French in Chef Luis Chikiamco’s Foie Gras Sinigang. The classic sinigang trio of tomato, cherry, in this case, spinach and eggplant were blanched to make a crispy bed for an entire lobe of seared foie gras. Beef tendon and tamarind consomme, clarified for three days to make a very forward-flavored and gelatinous broth, was poured tableside.
Lobster is always a winner and its delicate and briny sweetness figured with the aggressively salty umami of Jinhua ham in Chef Leong’s Black Garlic Custard. Fish roe popped through the muted burnt garlic flavor of the silky smooth base. Fennel refreshed with herbals through the intensities of the individual components. The Casal Di Sierra still
held its ground against the characters here.
Cherry, black pepper and tobacco notes of the Montepulciano Jorio red pushed the deep and darkly-sweet flavors of Chef Fores’ Laguna Duck Breast forward. Duck Breast Adobado — a sweet take on adobo — was enhanced with a blend of Nespresso plus Barako coffee and guava jelly glaze, served with whipped Nueva Ecija sweet potato, a sliver of fresh guava and Cadena de Amor blossoms.
Chef Leong elevated yet another Pinoy streetfood classic with his “Taho.” Brown sugar sago was swirled into a silky Soy Milk Sorbet and topped with lactic meringue — a foam with the tang of sour milk, for an unusual palate cleanser.
Chef Cheng switched up the traditional pork in char siu with USDA Beef Shortrib. Retaining the definitive mahogany color, the 24-hour charcoal roast rendered the meat tender under a caramel crust with the aroma and flavor of the five-spice and garlic. Another French touch was an earthy shiitake puree drizzle. An Adlai hash brown was an exciting side topped with roast shiitake pieces and slivers of pinakurat-pickled local heart of palm. The dish’s smokiness was echoed by a warm and woodsy 2015 Rutherford Ranch Merlot.
Chef Chikiamco closed strong with a blueberry, mulberry and raspberry chocolate sponge topped with a pili nut “gingerbread” cookie in his Dark “Auro” Chocolate Marquise. Cabernet Sauvignon and Port ice cream upgraded service a la mode. Just as we undid our pants’ top buttons, he presented his Petit Fours: Chocnut truffles, warm calamansi creme Madeline, pastillas macaron with dulce de leche filling, bibingka with salted egg custard filling, and a pili nut canelle.
Too many cooks spoil the broth. With a distended belly and on a gustatory high, I’d say many hands make light work, instead, and, with hands as skilled as these, more is undoubtedly merrier.
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