As mentioned previously, my plan was to spend a few days in Kota Bharu, one of Malaysia’s more staunchly Muslim cities, during Ramadan. I was looking forward to the holiday atmosphere, not to mention some extreme holiday eating at markets like the one I’d encountered in Pattani. Paradoxically, this wasn’t to be the case, as because of Ramadan, all shops and restaurants were closed and most of Kota Bharu’s residents seemed to be elsewhere.
There also appeared to be no equivalent of a special Ramadan post-fast market in Kota Bharu, although the town’s evening market was particularly buzzing. Most dishes sold at the market were served to go:
typically bundled up in sheets of brown waxed paper. But if you wanted to eat at the market it was possible to take your bundle to a stall selling drinks, order a drink, and eat there.
These fish were coated in a curry paste-like marinade and pan-grilled on banana leaves:
There was heaps of grilled food:
but I really enjoyed the curry stalls (pictured at the top of this post), which served rich, meaty curries over rice, as well as nasi kerabu, the local equivalent of khao yam, blue rice topped with sliced fresh herbs and other toppings.
The sweets were also impressive, both in terms of quantity:
On the eve of Aidilfitri, the last day of Ramadan, I waited in a very long and competitive line for two bundles of rice and took them to a drink stall. Most diners had already bought their meals, staked out a table, and were patiently waiting for the moment when they could eat again. Finally, just after 7pm, prayers were broadcast from the mosques in the area and after a month of daily fasting, Ramadan was over and people dug in:
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted something on this half of the blog, mostly because I haven’t been taking too many pics lately. Other than the occasional photography assignment, I’ve predominately been working on guidebooks and other writing projects. It was during this photographic drought that I mentioned to a friend that I’d always wanted to check out a look thung concert, roughly equivalent to Thai-style country music. I got the hook-up (thanks, Angie!), and this afternoon I found myself at Suan Lum Night Bazaar, taking pics from the audience as well as backstage. I’ve previously posted photos of other Thai performances, from ngiw to likay, previously, and it’s a topic I’d like to pursue, so stay tuned for more in the future.
Last night was the first dinner of the Four Seasons Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival!
Our chef host was Graham Elliot Bowles, of Chicago’s graham elliot. I’d read that Bowles’s food is strongly influenced by American cuisine, apparently stemming from his youth as ‘Navy Brat,’ having lived (and eaten) from the Philippines to Hawaii, California to Maryland.
Deconstructed Caesar salad: baby romaine, white anchovy, Parmesan fluff, brioche Twinkie
I found this to be true, and to my enjoyment virtually ever dish was evocative of the tastes, flavours and ingredients I’d grown up with as a kid in the US. The strongest example of this, for me at least, was Bowles’s Sweet corn bisque:
Sweet corn bisque with garlic marshmallow, pepper jam, Corn Nuts and lime crema
which, when poured, smelled exactly like the very American creamed corn, a soup I haven’t encountered in a very long time. The garlic marshmallow was sweeter than I expected it to be, but this was countered by the subtle spiciness of the pepper jam. And I think this was the first time in perhaps 20 years I’ve consumed Corn Nuts.
The Barbecued pork belly:
Barbecued pork belly with cole slaw, potato salad, fried pickles, root beer
was similarly evocative, combining all the best elements of a southern American-style barbecue (another thing I haven’t eaten in ages): cole slaw, potato salad and tender pork. The root beer sauce, although unusual, was comfortingly ketchup-like and delicious.
Bowles’s dessert, Movie theater extravaganza:
Movie Theatre Extravaganza: popcorn gelato, Malt Balls, Twizzler puree, Cracker Jack
was heaps of fun, and included even more ingredients I haven’t encountered since my childhood. The popcorn gelato was deliciously buttery and savoury, and although I’d almost certainly never even consider eating Twizzlers as an adult, the flavour was a perfect sweet/sour counterpoint. The Malt Balls and Cracker Jack provided a satisfying crunch.
The meal was accompanied by several Kendall-Jackson wines, of which our entire table really enjoyed the Grand Reserve Chardonnay 2006, and I couldn’t stop sniffing the Grand Reserve Merlot 2005 (it tasted lovely too).
Graham will be hosting dinner again tonight, October 6. Some of the events are already sold out, so if you’re in Bangkok and interested, act fast. Call the Four Seasons at +66 (0) 2 126 8866, or email the hotel at email@example.com.
Prawns with shredded herbs/Nahm yaa sai gung sap
I’m always excited when David Thompson is in town. I first met him several years ago when he hosted a dinner at the Metropolitan Bangkok, and we’ve stayed in touch since then, having had quite a few food-based adventures together in Thailand. Although David is often associated with his London restaurant, Nahm, the only Thai restaurant to have received Michelin stardom, he’s also established himself as an author. His second book, Thai Food, is widely considered the most authoritative English-language book on the topic, and his third book, Thai Street Food, has just been printed and will soon be available in Australia (the rest of the world has to wait until next October). And fans of Thompson’s cooking who live here in Bangkok have something else to be excited about: the chef has recently agreed to open a branch of Nahm at the Metropolitan Bangkok, to be open sometime next year.
Yesterday, as part of the Four Seasons Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival, Thompson demonstrated three different recipes featuring khanom jeen, what he reckons is the only type of noodle native to Southeast Asia.
David Thompson and Bangkok-based blogger, Newley Purnell
The recipe below, which Thompson suspects has its origins in the 1950s, requires relatively few exotic ingredients and is, according to him, more accessible to an audience outside of Thailand.
Prawns with shredded herbs/Nahm yaa sai gung sap
500 g medium small prawns
1 cup coconut cream
a few tablespoons stock or water
pinch of salt
1 – 2 tablespoons fish sauce
pinch palm sugar
2 tablespoons sliced red shallots
1 heaped tablespoon sliced Thai garlic
2 tablespoons sliced lemongrass
½ teaspoon sliced galangal
4 tablespoons shredded grachai (a root also known as Chinese key)
several sliced scuds – optional
a little additional fish sauce – to taste
3 – 4 shredded kaffir lime leaves
additional ½ cup coconut cream
Peel the prawns. Carefully de-vein. They should now weigh about 250 g. Scrape out any tomalley – there should be about 3 tablespoons.
Bring the coconut cream to the boil with the salt. Add the tomalley and simmer for a minute or two. Season the sauce with the fish sauce and palm sugar. Add the prawns and when just cooked, add the chopped prawns and the sliced ingredients and simmer for a moment:
Finish with the additional coconut cream, the fish sauce if needed. Stir in most of the kaffir lime leaves. Serve sprinkled with the remaining kaffir lime leaves. It should taste rich and creamy, aromatic and just a little salty and hot.
Serve accompanied by
* khanom jin (fresh rice noodles)
* lemon basil
* white turmeric
* sliced cucumbers
* trimmed bean sprouts
David will be hosting dinner at the Four Seasons Bangkok tonight and tomorrow, October 6 & 7, and on the morning of the 7th, will be leading a market tour. Some of the events are already sold out, so if you’re in Bangkok and interested, act fast. Call the hotel at +66 (0) 2 126 8866, or email the hotel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carosella’s love for the food of her native South America is palpable, and she showed us how to make three dishes, all based around relatively common ingredients and representative of South American flavours, including a very Argentinean roast beef with chimichurri, an orange-scented dulche de leche flan, and a deliciously tart Peruvian ceviche:
Paola Carosella’s ceviche
Carosella spent a year traveling and eating in Peru, and explained that her ceviche recipe is the result of this experience and is a classic version of the dish. She explained that ceviche can be made with whatever seafood is available, shrimp, octopus or even sea urchin, with the caveat being that it must be very fresh. She combines her ceviche with a small amount of leche de tigre, literally “tiger’s milk,” a blended ceviche that, in Peru, is typically served in shot glasses, sometimes supplemented with pisco, a type of local grappa. Carosella added that in Peru, ceviche is also often served with some sort of crispy side dish, in this case, sweet potatoes fried until golden.
Paola Carosella’s Ceviche
For the avocado cream:
2 fresh avocados
For the sweet potatoes:
1 kg sweet potatoes
For the leche de tigre:
100g white fish
15 g fresh chilies
50 g white onion
2 garlic cloves
For the ceviche:
1 kg extremely fresh white fish
1 kg limes
1 kg red onions
100 g sea salt
200 g fresh chilies
200 g fresh cilantro/coriander
100 g garlic
For the avocado cream
Put the avocados in a blender along with juice of one lime and a pinch of salt. Puree and keep refrigerated.
For the sweet potatoes
Boil the sweet potatoes skin-on in salted water until tender. Allow to cool, cut into slices and fry until golden and crispy. Keep warm.
For the leche de tigre
Combine all ingredients in a blender for a few minutes. Strain and keep refrigerated.
For the ceviche
Peel and cut onions into very thin slices. Clean and separate cilantro/coriander leaves and chop. Cut fish into thin slices or cubes. In a glass bowl, season fish with sea salt and the juice of the limes, add the leche de tigre, chilies, onion and cilantro/coriander. Mix well and keep refrigerated until serving.
To serve, spoon a little of the avocado cream in each plate. Put a slice of sweet potato on the side and add ceviche and juices. Serve immediately.
Paola will be hosting dinner at the Four Seasons Bangkok tonight and tomorrow, October 7 & 8. Many of the events are already sold out, so if you’re in Bangkok and interested, act fast. Call the Four Seasons at +66 (0) 2 126 8866, or email the hotel at email@example.com.
Chef David Kinch’s Tomato soup, barely cooked, with coriander ice
I was particularly excited about meeting David Kinch and trying his food. Chef friends here in Bangkok have long been relaying the buzz of his California restaurant, Manresa, and I’ve long been obsessed with the Spanish flavours and ingredients that partially inspire much of his food. Not to mention the fact that, a few years back, I spent a fun afternoon in Bangkok with David’s longtime Thai partner, Pim, of Chez Pim fame.
Before attending Kinch’s cooking demonstration, I spent a few minutes talking with the chef, and an excerpt from our conversation is below:
Chef David Kinch giving a cooking demonstration at the Four Seasons Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival
AB: In looking at what you do at Manresa, it appears that there’s a huge emphasis on locality. With this in mind, is it even possible to recreate what you do at Manresa here in Bangkok?
DK: Absolutely not. At Manresa we strive for a certain sense of place, which can’t be done anywhere else. To take this out of the equation is a giant curve ball for us. We have to come to these events with more ambiguous menus. For instance, I’ll say that I want to use fish in a dish rather than have a specific kind of fish in mind.
AB: So you haven’t brought any ingredients over from your garden or Love Apple Farm [the California farm that supplies the vast majority of Manresa's produce]?
DK: No, it’s just not practical.
AB: Will you incorporating any Thai flavours or ingredients while here?
DK: No, we’re simply trying to provide a snapshot of our restaurant. I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable making Thai food here.
AB: Your influences appear to come largely from Spain and Japan, two disparate food cultures. Are there any similarities between these two cuisines?
DK: I’d say that my influences are more generally European, but I’m still very much a Francophile at heart. Respect for the product and tradition are paramount in both places.
AB: Many of the chefs here, particularly the Australians, have published books. Do you have any book plans?
DK: I’m working on a book about a couple of meals I cooked for a friend. He’s a jazz musician and has composed songs for the meals, which will be sold as a CD along with the book.
AB: As a restaurateur, how do you feel about amateur media, such as blogs?
DK: Everyone is allowed their opinion. But there are a lot of people blogging irresponsibly. People don’t always get the facts right and sometimes misidentify dishes or ingredients. And there are a lot of bad photos. The photos people take are of our products, and when they look bad, this makes our product look bad.
For today’s cooking demonstration, Kinch demonstrated three recipes: Slow roasted rack of lamb with exotic spices:
Chef David Kinch’s Rack of lamb with exotic spices
Tomato soup, barely cooked, with coriander ice (pictured at the top of this post), and a combination of desserts he calls A taste of New Orleans:
Chef David Kinch’s A taste of New Orleans
Both dishes pictured above will be featured in Kinch’s dinner at the Four Seasons Bangkok on October 10th and 11th, but I thought I’d share his recipe for the tomato soup, as it’s probably the easiest to recreate.
Tomato soup, barely cooked, with coriander ice
Kinch explained that the most important element in making this dish is to slowly bring bring the tomato soup to a maximum temperature of 150F. This relatively low heat allows some of the tomatoes to become fully cooked while allowing other parts to remain essentially raw, resulting in a soup that has the best elements of both the cooked and raw fruit. Kinch also uses a hand-operated food mill to process the soup, which results in it having a slightly coarse texture. If you don’t have access to a food mill, Kinch suggests using a Cuisinart or Robot Coup, but not a conventional blender, as this will result in a texture that is too fine.
For the coriander ice:
1 litre chilled water
120 g sugar
3 bunches coriander/cilantro
1 bunch mint
For the tomato soup:
4 lb ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
2 oz red wine vinegar (sherry or balsamic can also be used)
12 basil leaves
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
pinch of sugar
For the coriander ice:
Make syrup with 200 ml of the water and chill. Chill the remaining water. Blend all ingredients in a blender and strain. Freeze and grate using a fork or a food mill.
For the tomato soup:
Combine ingredients in a large saucepan and without using a lid, bring slowly to 150F. This should take approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Process in a food mill. Strain and refrigerate.
Serve chilled, garnished with coriander ice, a basil leaf, and if desired, pickled vegetables or fruits.
David will be hosting dinner at the Four Season Bangkok on October 10 & 11. Many of the events are already sold out, so if you’re in Bangkok and interested, act fast. Call the Four Seasons at +66 (0) 2 126 8866, or email the hotel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: Of the chefs assembled here for the Four Seasons Bangkok World Gourmet Festival, Chef Christine Manfield is easily the loveliest. And up to this point at least, I reckon that her dinner has been the tastiest. But more on that in a minute.
Manfield, a native of Australia whose current outpost is the Sydney restaurant Universal, is a longstanding proponent of drawing tastes and flavours from disparate cuisines. I spent a bit of time in her kitchen leading up to her dinner (more on that to come soon) and was blown away by the diversity of ingredients she was using. Some of her vegetables seemed most likely to be bound for David Thompson’s Thai meal, while some of the spices she used made the kitchen smell as if we were in Tunis or Marrakesh.
Previous to Thursday night’s dinner, I had the opportunity to chat with Manfield about Australian cuisine, writing, her eclectic palate and love of travel, excerpts of which are below:
AB: In talking with Australians, I often get the impression that Asian food is perceived as an essential part of what people today consider Australian Cuisine. Would you say that this is accurate?
CM: Absolutely. Because there were so many Chinese miners in the past, every tinpot town in Australia has a Chinese restaurant. The food wasn’t always good, but it’s always been with us. The shift happened over the last 20 years, and was a result of immigration and the fact that so many Australians travel. We’ve become used to this diversity, and now are even starting to appreciate the regional differences in Asian food.
AB: Do you plan to incorporate any Thai flavours or ingredients while here in Bangkok?
CM: Half of my repertoire stems from Thai food — fish sauce is my salt. When I was in London, we used to get excellent Thai ingredients. In Australia it’s more limited as we’re on island and there are lots of restrictions. When I’m here I like to use palm sugar, it’s like caramel. Som saa, which is like lime, orange and kaffir lime combined, is another I like to use. I like dishes that look simple, but at the same time, have highly refined flavours. You should be able to taste every flavour in a dish.
AB: Other than simply a source of inspiration for recipes, travel appears to play a central role in your life.
CM: I spend half my year traveling. Last year I went on 14 overseas trips! I take my staff abroad and lead culinary tours. I think young people should be required to travel abroad.
AB: Cooking is often perceived as a physical, rather than an intellectual endeavour, yet you and fellow Australian chef David Thompson are known as much for your writing as your restaurants. Why write?
CM: For me, a cookbook isn’t just a list of recipes. I come from an intellectual background and for me, cooking is about feeding my brain. I have a huge cookbook library and encourage my staff to read.
Now to the meal. For those here in Thailand, I thought that it was no stretch to find similarities between Manfield’s dishes and the native cuisine. As she mentions above, the flavours were generally strong, independent and crystal clear, and she also didn’t seem afraid to employ a bit of spice and salt. The first course, Dry aged beef tataki, pomegranate and pickled beetroot, did a great job of setting the pace for the entire meal:
Chef Christine Manfield’s Dry aged beef tataki, pomegranate and pickled beetroot
The slices of beef were rich and moreish, and contrasted with the acidic, fruity flavours of the pomegranate, starfruit, beetroot and citrus. The meaty and acidic elements were bound together by a slightly sweet/sour onion chutney. The result was a dish that, even if it had been the only dish of the night, would have left most of us feeling mighty satisfied.
This was followed by Woodbridge smoked sea trout, smoked eel and pomelo salad:
Chef Christine Manfield’s Woodbridge smoked sea trout, smoked eel and pomelo salad
another dish that could have easily passed as a yam or Thai-style salad in its emphasis on crispy freshness and acidity. In fact, the combination of smoked fish and thin strips of green mango was eerily similar to ngnoam swei kchey trey cha, a Cambodian dish that also revolves around these two main ingredients.
The Spiced crab, ginger and coconut broth:
Chef Christine Manfield’s Spiced crab, ginger and coconut broth
combined, among other things, mustard seed, coconut meat and curry leaves, the ingredients that define the dipping sauce that accompanies southern-Indian dosai.
The most substantial dish (Manfield is known for serving virtually carbohydrate-free meals), was Jasmine tea smoked duck breast:
Chef Christine Manfield’s Jasmine tea smoked duck breast, grilled duck sausage, spiced eggplant and green bean sambal
The dish was served with slices of a duck sausage that I found nearly identical to a very, very good sai ua, a type of northern Thai sausage (this was confirmed by the table of Thais next to us). The green bean sambal (essentially a stir-fry) included morning glory, grilled eggplant and green peppercorns, and was pleasantly spicy and salty (too salty for the aforementioned table). Amazingly, each dish was fried to order.
The dessert, Raspberry ripple:
Chef Christine Manfield’s Raspberry ripple
was delicious, and included the first ripe raspberries I’ve encountered in Asia in years, but seemed slightly out of place among the largely Asian-influenced flavours of the previous courses.
Christine will contributing to tonight’s Gala Dinner, tickets for which are still apparently available. If you’re in Bangkok and interested, act fast. Call the Four Seasons Bangkok at +66 (0) 2 126 8866, or email the hotel at email@example.com.
David Thompson and Ning Najpinij of Khao Cooking School preparing for Thompson’s dinner at the Four Seasons Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival.
In addition to taking part in and blogging about this year’s Four Seasons Bangkok World Gourmet Festival, I also got the opportunity to put on the whites and spend a couple afternoons in the kitchen, lending a hand to prepare David Thompson’s Thai meals.
This meant the unique opportunity to share a kitchen with chefs such as Thompson and Christine Manfield, not to mention the pleasure of working with the Four Season’s talented and amazingly hospitable kitchen staff:
As I believe I run a risk of exaggerating my part in all of this, let me make it clear that my role was strictly that of kitchen slave (Thompson’s term, not mine). My contribution was limited to such technically advanced tasks as arranging quail eggs on a platter, peeling grilled chilies and stirring very heavy pots:
A crappy iPhone pic of me, pitching in to make Thai sweets for David Thompson’s dinner at the Four Seasons Bangkok’s World Gourmet Festival
It was only on the second day that I was allowed to touch a knife (with it I clumsily and slowly scored several kilos of squid), but over the two days I was able to see how several dishes were made, taste heaps of interesting food and provide input on their taste, and generally see what goes on inside the kitchen of a high-level restaurant. It was a fun and revealing experience. I’ve worked in a few kitchens since I was a teenager, but it’s been a very long time since those days, and I’d forgotten how physically difficult it can be to stand for hours on end, just how hot kitchens are, and the risk that fingers constantly face from lazy knife work, scalding hot liquids, searing chilies and the enduring odour of squid.
At the Four Seasons Bangkok World Gourmet Festival’s Gala Dinner
Friday night was the Four Seasons Bangkok World Gourmet Festival’s Gala Dinner.
Each of the chefs involved in the event prepared a dish for the occasion. Some, such as Chef Christine Manfield, served a variation on her dish served a few nights earlier:
Chef Christine Manfield’s Woodbridge smoked ocean trout, tea smoked oysters, blood sausage, celeriac and apple salad
while others, such as foie gras king Michael Ginor, created a dish specifically for the event:
Michael Ginor’s Citrus butter poached lobster with sea beans and potato cream
If the above doesn’t already sound rich enough, Ginor’s dish was then garnished with flakes of foie gras that had been cured in kelp:
Chef David Kinch providing a foie gras garnish at the Four Seasons Bangkok World Gourmet Festival’s Gala Dinner
Behind the scenes, there was a surprising amount of cooperation between the chefs:
Inside the kitchen at the Four Seasons Bangkok World Gourmet Festival’s Gala Dinner
such as American chef David Kinch helping Japanese chef Kazumi Sawada prepare the latter’s deep-fried conger eel. There was also equally as much discipline, both in preparation and in service:
Dinner service at the Four Seasons Bangkok World Gourmet Festival’s Gala Dinner
And the night ended with pastry chef Francois Payard’s chocolate-centric creation:
Chef Francois Payard’s Palet d’or with hot and cold chocolate
and several glasses of Yamazaki malt whisky from Japan.
Chef Fulvio Siccardi shaving truffles at the Four Seasons Bangkok World Gourmet Festival
Chef Fulvio Siccardi was born in Turin in the Piedmont area of north-western Italy in 1969.
Since 2004 he has been owner and Chef of Ristorante Conti Roero at Monticello d’Alba, where he received his second Michelin star. His dinner for the Four Seasons Bangkok World Gourmet Festival was classically Italian, combining simple but high-quality ingredients with an emphasis on the tastes and ingredients of the country’s north.
Our starter combined peppery pastrami-like sheets of beef, crispy greens and a rich mustard sauce:
Chef Fulvio Siccardi’s Lightly smoked marinated beef tenderloin with grain mustard and chives emulsion
all of which were (generously) supplemented by truffles, shaved just before service by the chef himself (shown at the top of this post).
Our second course, which Siccardi calls alternatively Egg in jail or Vertical egg, is the his signature meal, and was quite possibly my favourite single course of the entire festival:
Chef Fulvio Siccardi’s Egg in jail
The full name of the dish is Egg with black truffle, scented Parmesan and milk sauce, and these ingredients are combined in a special kind of heat-resistant plastic bag and baked at approximately 450F for seven minutes. To eat, we untied our bags, added the crispy croutons:
Egg in jail
and using a spoon, scooped out every last bit. The eggs were rich and creamy, and had a wonderful Parmesan pungency that I can still recall clearly the next day.
This was followed by a very northern Italian gnocchi with a rich ragu:
Chef Fulvio Siccardi’s Potato gnocchi with bra sausage and veal ragu
The next course we had previously encountered at the Gala Dinner, although this version was supplemented with chanterelle mushrooms:
Chef Fulvio Siccardi’s Carmelized vinegar goose leg with Belgium endive and chanterelle mushroom
The chef explained that with this dish he’s attempted to combine all off the basic flavours: bitter from the endive, sweet and sour from the carmelized vinegar sauce and meaty and salty via the mushrooms and goose. Siccardi told us that the goose leg was cooked for several hours confit-style, but to our surprise the meat had none of the crispiness or stickiness associated with this method of cooking, and could easily have passed as sous-vide.
Dessert was three variations on yet another northern Italian dish, panna cotta:
Chef Fulvio Siccardi’s Panna cotta trilogy
the version on the left was a seriously impossibly light cream topped with a delicious salty caramel — it was probably my favourite dessert course of the entire festival — while the panna cotta in the centre was supplemented with hazelnuts in the traditional manner.
Fulvio will be hosting his final dinner at the Four Seasons Bangkok tonight, October 11. Some of the events are already sold out, so if you’re in Bangkok and interested, act fast. Call the Four Seasons at +66 (0) 2 126 8866, or email the hotel at firstname.lastname@example.org.