Words by Redazione Cook_inc.

Photos by Food On The Edge

The international launch of Food On The Edge 2019 took place on the last Monday (May 20th) evening at Robin Gill’s newly-launched Darby’s restaurant in London. The event saw the announcement of the 2019 venue, the themes and list of speakers to date, as well as the launch of the Food On The Edge Ambassador Programme.

ABOUT FOOD ON THE EDGE

Food On The Edge is the much talked about two-day global convention that has taken place annually in Galway City, Ireland. The fifth Food On The Edge is taking place on the 21st and 22nd of October 2019, again in Galway. A coming together of international chefs to listen, talk and debate about the future of food in our industry and on our planet. Previous speakers have included Elena Arzak, Albert Adria, Massimo Bottura, Ana Rôs, Magnus Nilsson and many more visionary, change-promoting chefs. More than 600 people attended over the two days of Food On The Edge 2018, which was held at the NUI – National University of Ireland. More than 50 of the world’s best international and Irish chefs and food leaders took to the stage to share their food stories and debate topics, while approximately 70 Irish food producers showcased their produce in the Artisan Food Village. The two-day programme includes a wide range of 15-minute talks, panel discussions, master-classes and networking activity.

ABOUT THIS YEAR EDITION

The venue for this year’s Food On The Edge event was also announced at the London launch, as being held in NUI Galway, the city’s university, for the second year. JP McMahon then went on to reveal the full list of confirmed speakers (that you can check here) which includes cult chefs and stars of the Netflix series Chef’s Table, namely Brazil’s most influential chef Alex Atala of D.O.M, and New Zealand-born Ben Shewry of Attica restaurant. Columbian chef and winner of 2017 Best Female Chef in Latin America Leonor Espinosa of Leo Cocina y Cava will be attending as well as trailblazer Daniel Giusti, former head chef of Noma in Copenhagen, who set up Brigaid, a project that puts professional chefs into public schools to transform and rethink school food. Australian chef Mark Best of Bistro and Netflix fame from The Final Table; Prateek Sadhu of Masque, the number five ranked restaurant in Mumbai; British-Indian chef, presenter & food writer, Romy Gill of Romy’s Kitchen in Thornbury; Irish chef Derry Clarke of Michelin Star l’Ecrivain in Dublin; and Dalad Kambhu of Michelin Star Kin Dee in Berlin are just some of the ground-breaking chefs due to speak. Other confirmed speakers are Alan Jenkins, editor of the Observer Food Monthly; Korean-born Danish chef Kristian Baumann of Michelin Star Restaurant 108 in Copenhagen; chef, cookbook writer and activist Sophia Hoffmann of Berlin’s Café Isla Coffee; Contemporary pizza chef Denis Lovatel of Pizzeria Ezio in the mountains of Belluno; and Brazilian chef Alberto Landgraf, of Oteque in Rio de Janeiro. The main themes of Food On The Edge in 2019 are Migration, Conversations, Food Stories, Food Waste, Action, Reaction and Food Education.

ABOUT THE FOOD ON THE EDGE AMBASSADOR PROGRAMME

JP McMahon, founder and symposium director of Food On The Edge, said: “We are delighted to launch Food On The Edge 2019 in London this year and to use this event to announce our new Food On The Edge Ambassador Programme. Each year we receive a large number of inspirational applicants hoping to partake and speak at Food On The Edge. These applicants are very often doing wonderful things for Irish food and developing the industry in their own way. While we have limited capacity of speaking slots, we wanted to do something to acknowledge these food champions. I hope this initiative will widen the reach of the Food On The Edge and act as its legacy into the future, eventually expanding onto a global scale”. Six people who are working to change the landscape of Irish food and are exemplifying the Food On The Edge ethos will be selected to be the Food On The Edge Ambassadors for 2019. The Ambassadors will be invited to speak in a discussion at Food On The Edge 2019 on the work they are doing, as well as receiving a two-day ticket to the event and a profile on the event website.

Discover more about the event here www.foodontheedge.ie

Words and photos by Constanze Weiss – Cover Photo by Toro Toro Restaurant

Perched on the wall beside the gate, the eponymous iron bull is the first indication that this is a special place. He is surrounded by torches, illuminated against the dark night and greats his guests, as they pass through the entrance. The Spanish restaurant he guards – said by many culinary guides to be the best in the state, even in the whole country – is located about twenty minutes from the city of Salzburg, in Hallein, Austria. It houses in an old hunting château but bears no resemblance to what anyone would expect such a place to look like. Instead, to enter Toro Toro means to leave Austria behind, to cross the thousands of kilometres separating yourself from Spain in a matter of a single step.

1 (closest to the front) Mousse de garbanzos con chorizo (chickpea mousse with chorizo)
2 Aceitunas y salsa de tomate (Olives and tomato sauce)
3 Arenque en escabeche (Pickled Herring)
4 Tartar de salmón ahumado y aguacate (Tartar of smoked salmon and avocado)
5 (furthest in the back) Jamón iberico con carpaccio de piña (Iberian ham with pineapple carpaccio)

Behind the threshold, the Iberian Peninsula is instantly palpable. The music tells tales of passion and fire, the air weighs heavy with the scent of saffron rice and seafood, and the waiters recommend the best dishes and wines from the menu with their Spanish accents clearly audible. Like the produce handled in the kitchen, they are all from the South, providing a dinner experience on a more personal level of authenticity that is guaranteed to stay in a diner’s mind. Their friendly service – one of the things most important to la patrona Gisela Reitsamer – has also been especially underlined by Gault & Millau, when the restaurant was awarded their first hat in 2014. The atmosphere is the second indication that this is a special place, with King Felipe VI smiling from his picture on one side of the room and his wife adorning another part of the restaurant. Both members of the Royal Family are surrounded by memorabilia of Spain; painted maps and Spanish quotes written out in calligraphy.

Prawn and bacon

Finally, food has to be mentioned. It’s new and creative, a special way of giving emphasis to details that would go neglected or even unnoticed in other places, while never losing touch with the Spanish motherland. Particular attention is given to the 6 ­– and 12 – course menus, the restaurant has gotten known for, and in which every course is telling a story in its own right: of the sweetest sun-grown tomatoes and freshly caught fish, fragrant olive trees and shrimp from the middle of the ocean. These characteristics are combined effortlessly, resulting in dishes of great quality and taste, like their unusually flavourful Tomato soup, reminiscent of warm summer days, or a Prawn and bacon combination dipped into an orange sauce that stays in the mind long after the dinner has finished. Needless to say, the food is the third and final indication that this is a special place.

The outside

In the end, the restaurant’s exceptionality lies not just in its ability to transport guests from a small country town in Austria to the vastness of Spain or in the fantastic taste of each dish presented. It’s the astounding sense of authenticity that makes a dinner visit at Toro Toro an experience to remember. With its amazing food, loveable service and unique atmosphere, the restaurant resembles a breath of Spanish ocean air surrounded by Austrian mountains.  

Toro Toro

Altendorffstraße 2

5400 Hallein – Austria

www.toro-toro.at

Text and photos by Anna Morelli

Translation by David J Constable

It was November last year when I received the phone call from Andrea Petrini. We talk often, but the content of this call contained something different: an offer, a request, a challenge. “Are you ready to travel around the world?” he asked, “eating at at all five restaurants that make up the shortlist for the awards?” I took a moment to think. Should I play the drama queen here? Should I curse him to hell? Nah, he knows me too well. “Petrini… of course I’m ready, man!”

Joe Warwick and Andrea Petrini, photo by Paulo Barata

My partner in crime for this culinary whirlwind tour was Paul Carmichael, the chef of Momofuku Seiōbo in Sydney. Like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, we accepted our mission and awaited further instructions. There was so much expectation around the first World Restaurant Awards. Anything Petrini and Joe Warwick set their efforts to is always something worth attending. They have the ability and the contacts to create international buzz, and these awards were no exception. I could feel the adrenaline building, and the idea of eating around the globe with Paul was intriguing.

Paul

The details of our mission arrived. The category we were to judge would be “Arrival of the Year”, and the itinerary – devised by IMG – would send us bouncing around the globe for two weeks. I reached out to Paul to make an introduction. “I’m in and ready for the ride!” he replied. The journey began on Monday 7th January 2019. From my home in Lucca, Italy, the plan was to travel to Amsterdam, then on to San Francisco, and from there, to Lima, Peru. Then, a brief return to Europe, before taking to the road for San Piero in Bagno, Italy, and then Paris, eventually ending our tour in Tokyo. We would mark off cities like international assassins, moving from airport to airport, hotel to hotel, restaurant to restaurant. But it started badly.

The fog in Florence had fallen like a blanket, covering the Tuscan hills and obscuring the city. There was no way a plane could take off in these conditions. So I sat and waited, biting my nails. Thankfully, I departed only a few minutes late. But then Amsterdam happened. Arriving at Schiphol Airport, I noticed the hazy Dutch sky hung with a heavy fog like Florence. Perhaps though it wasn’t fog, maybe it was all of the pot – this is Amsterdam after all. A two-hour layover, and then, I’m off again – to San Francisco. US entry. Ohhh, here we go… another gruelling exercise in patience as the blunt instrument immigration officer gives me an aggressive stare, looking into the depths of my soul. Then, the litany of questions: “What are you doing here? How long are you staying for? I’m cool, calm and collected, and reply “One day… I leave tomorrow.” “Huh! What do you mean” she says. I explain my secret culinary assignment to the officer. “Oh, lucky you. I want that job!” she says. And then in I enter, across American lines.

Paul was there to meet me at the airport. He was an easy spot through the crowds. The long black dreadlocks, the mega smile and an entourage of luggage. There’s a huge check-in suitcase, a carry-on and another duffel bag in green, gold and red Rastafari colours. Honestly, I’ve never seen one person travel with so much, although to be fair, he had been but travelling for a month. He tells me that he also encountered a two hour delay at LAX Airport, and when he landed, bumped into Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez. The irony was that after our dinner tonight in San Francisco, we were due to dine at Virgilio’s Central restaurant two days later in Lima.

Van Ness Inn Hotel in San Francisco

We left the airport, taking an Uber to the Van Ness Inn, near Fisherman’s Wharf. The building is a typical American horseshoe-shaped design, a two-tier motel with parking in front. It’s the sort of place you see in cops and robber movies, when the criminal is on the run with a bag full of cash, and hides out in a motel room. Then, inevitably, there’s a shoot out. It reminds me a little of the Bates Motel from Psycho. Perhaps I shouldn’t take a shower here? I slept well enough. There was some sort of shifty exchange outside of the motel, a fuss between biker types. Paul told me that his room smelt of bleach and he was forced to nap that afternoon with his door open.

Angler’s Bar

That evening, we had dinner at Angler, a new restaurant by American chef Joshua Skenes. Things kicked off with a Pineapple Daiquiri at the bar, a pleasing west-coast style welcome. At the end of the room was a huge blue marlin hanging on the wall, and an open kitchen meant that I could peek in, seeing the chefs at work and an abundance of fresh seafood cooked over open fire. The use of fire is of great importance to Joshua, with the specifics of the kitchen designed to his keen eye. Of even greater importance, is produce; the kitchen working with a small group of fishermen, hunters, gatherers, ranchers, and farmers to find and follow microclimates that produce the highest quality products in local existence.

Radicchio X.O.

Paul and I decide to order from the à la carte menu, with sides of Parker House Rolls and freshly-churned Angler Butter. Everything we receive is good. There’s an Antelope Tartare to begin, a meat I’ve never tried before. It’s an enjoyable texture, a little gamey as expected, similar to venison. The Diamond Turbot is delicious, followed by Radicchio X.O which I find a little to sweet for my palate. Then, Little Abalones, that are truly wonderful, masterfully cooked and like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. And, Petrale Sole, a lovely flatfish that’s prepared to perfection. The food here is clean, fresh and a good reflection of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay region. Unfortunately, we didn’t try Angler’s signature dish, the Whole Pastured Chicken, but we did see one arrive at the neighbouring table, a wonderful site with the enticing smell of roast chicken stealing my senses. I looked across to gain a better view, and who should I see… Virgilio Martinez, again. He’s dining with Dominique Crenn, the newly crowned three-star chef of Atelier Crenn.

Dominique Creen at her Farm in Sonoma Valley

After dinner, Paul and I join Dominique and friends. There’s a contagious enthusiasm and electrifying energy. Dominique assists us back to our motel, promising to collect us in the morning for a visit to her farm in Sonoma Valley. We wake bleary-eyed and true to her word, there’s Dominique ready to collect us. We visit the farm, picnic in the rain, and leave for the airport. Next stop: Lima.

It’s a bumpy nighttime flight south, across the states to Dallas, Texas, before a change of flight to Lima. The short-tempered American Airline staff do little to ease the journey. Things couldn’t get much worse. But then, oh, here comes dinner…

Paul enjoying the terrible meal served by American Airlines

For the second-leg of the journey, I pass on the meal. Instead, I snuggle into my seat, and self-medicate by popping an Aspirin and knocking back a gin & tonic. Woah, it works wonders, and I’m out like a light, sleeping the entire journey. I wake in Lima, refreshed and eager to get going on our next adventure. In contrast, Paul tells me that he had a wretched time of it. He couldn’t get comfortable in the chairs and therefore couldn’t sleep. Instead, he watched three of the longest movies he could find.

It’s 7am on Wednesday 9th January by the time we land in Lima. Keen to escape the tourist crowd, we depart the airport as quickly as possible but are met with the bumper-to-bumper traffic of morning rush hour Lima. Thankfully, we were not in a rush and had a few free days to acclimatise and recover from jet-lag. Taking advantage of this, Paul and I explored the city. I have a personal link to Lima and, thanks to DNA, have a wealth of family still living across Peru. Now, my youngest daughter Carla lives here – part of her Latin American adventure.

Carla and Paul

We check-in at the hotel, but we’re early and our rooms are not yet ready. I had arranged with Carla to meet Paul and I in the breakfast room and spot her instantly. There she is, my hippie traveller daughter, dressed in dungarees and flip-flops. She took an all-night bus from the very northern reaches of Peru to get here, and my heart bursts upon seeing her.

Babel bookshop in Miraflores, Lima

We drop off our luggage, and then we’re off again. Two have become three, and we explore the Miraflores district, meeting with my friend, Javier Masía. Javier is a local journalist who recently opened the Babel bookshop inside La Casa Inclán. We visit the bookshop, a stunning place surrounded by plants and greenery, next door to both a fashion house and an artisan jewellery store, and adjacent, there is a small but beautiful coffee bar. Javier joins us for our walk around the neighbourhood, stopping to eat ceviche and chicharrón de pescado in the Surquillo Market.

Surquillo Market

I spent the afternoon with Carla, catching up on her adventures and filling her in on mine. Paul grabs a few winks, filling in the missing hours lost during the night flight. We assemble that evening, refreshed and recharged, ready to head to the Barranco district. This is one of the city’s smaller neighbourhoods, but it’s also one of the most beautiful. Over the years it has become a popular destination for creative types, growing into an art hub, and bulging with trendy coffee shops, bars, nightclubs and art galleries. It’s here where we discover Ayahuasca Bar. The name comes from the infusion of Amazonian herbs – the aya-huasca, also called liana of the soul or liana of the dead, consisting of hallucinogenic properties. We order Pisco Sours, before snooping about the property and exploring the impressive venue, but time is tight, and soon we’re off for dinner at nearby Statera. According to Javier, who has knowledge of these things, chef André Patsias and Statera is one to watch. The cuisine is rooted in the Peruvian traditions, using the variety of products from the country’s bounty and its incredible biodiversity. André works closely with a small group of farmers based in the nearby hills and the result is a terrific meal demonstrating a myriad of ingredients and techniques.

Paul and Carla in Barranco

The following day – Thursday 10th January – Carla and I leave early to meet my cousin for coffee. By lunchtime, we’re back with Paul for an appointment at Maido, the restaurant of Mitsuharu ‘Micha’ Tsumura. Maido was not one of the stops on the judging shortlist, but if you find yourself in Lima, travelling with such ravenous company, then you can’t pass on a meal here.

With Micha

Maido, meaning ‘welcome’ in Japanese, is Micha’s flagship restaurant, serving an inventive tasting menu of Peruvian-Japanese ingredients. His approach is truly unique and has resulted in the restaurant earning the number one spot in the 50 Best Latin American Restaurants list for the past two years. The meal was exquisite and while I’d love to continue my love letter to Maido, it doesn’t meet the “Arrival of the Year” criteria. That position was reserved for Kjolle, the new restaurant by Pía Léon, where we would all dine the following evening.

In front of Central with Virgilio

Pía is married to Virgilio and the two have set about creating Kjolle, as well as a bar – called Mayo – on the same complex as Central. The building also houses the offices of Mater Iniciativa, a project led by Malena, the sister of Virgilio, which consists of a team of researchers and botany experts who travel the country to studying ingredients. It’s a real family affair. The biological and cultural research of Mater Iniciativa influences the menus of Central, Kjolle, MIL and Mayo.

Piranhas at Central Restaurant

Dinner at Central was amazing, an unforgettable adventure. The tasting menu speaks of altitudes and ingredients, telling stories of communities and ecosystems: products are sourced from the coast to the desert, from the Andes to the Ceja de Selva, to the banks of the river in the Amazon jungle. Each dish contains a story of only one ecosystem and is composed of products exclusive to that specific area. It is a complex experience, each course accompanied by its own unique story.

Moray Cusco

The following day and it’s another early rise. We’re up and out by 6 am, meeting with Virgilio for a flight from Lima to Cusco in the Peruvian Andes. From the airport, it’s a bumpy incline drive by van – at the dizzying height of 3,568 meters above sea level – to the Sacred Valley, where MIL is located. The idea behind MIL goes far beyond mere restaurant. This is an exercise in agriculture, it is anthropology, research, study, production and processing combined. MIL is all about the people and the land, respecting and preserving a culture. The landscape is breathtaking, set within the ruins of a terraced circular depressions and the Moray archaeological site.

Francesco Dangelo, the anthropologist

Upon arriving in the Sacred Valley, we were greeted by a delegation from the local indigenous community. Santiago Pilco – the community leader – and Francesco – an  anthropologist – toasted our arrival with Chicha de Jora, a local corn beer prepared by germinating maize, but not before they poured a drop for Pachamama, the fertility goddess. Due to the research and work behind the sourcing of ingredients, MIL is only open for lunch, during which they serve an 8-course menu that changes with the seasons.

MIL – Andean Forest (lupinus legumes, pork belly, avocado, rocoto pepper)

With tight time constraints, we were soon back in the van, heading downhill, bumping along a dirt track. The travel, speed and altitude were too much for Paul, who was beginning to feel poorly. Most likely, his symptoms would suggest soroche, the Altitude Mal. We left Cusco for Lima, and once there, Paul returned to the hotel for a hot bath, cotton sheets and a well-deserved rest. I went on with the next stop on our culinary assignment: Kjolle. Having experienced MIL and the Sacred Valley, I now had a greater understanding of the menu at Kjolle and the work gone into sourcing such a vibrant list of ingredients. The name itself comes from a tree that grows in extreme altitudes and produces beautiful orange flowers, the official name being Buddleja Coriacea, but which is referred to as Kjolle, pronounced koye.

MIL Community

The tasting menu at Kjolle is 10-courses, with a vegetarian option available. To begin, there’s an appetizer of Scallops with Seeds & Sea Urchin and Sea Bass and Shells with Mashua and Amazon Nuts. This is followed by Various Tubers & Cassava Olluco Tart with Potatoes. Then a meat course of Duck Tartare served with a delicious warm bread that is typical of the Cusco region. Octopus, Sachatomate, Garlic & Native Basil then arrives, and there is a vegetable dish of Yacón, artichoke & Coffee Broth. There is a sort of Crême Brulée too, made of pumpkin cream with shrimp and bitter orange; and another wonderful meat dish of Beef & Corn with Macambo & Paico. We close with two desserts. The first is a Frozen Pomerose, Muna, Airampo & Cocoa of Mil with Chirimoya & Amazon Honey, which was, well… wow! This was a real standout dish, an avalanche of ingredients with strange and unpronounceable names, that when assembled became something other. It seems to me that the difference between Kjolle and Central, is that Pía is more playful with her ingredients, pulling from all the regions and ancient traditions, but in a more experimental fashion. The result was a truly fantastic dinner with an explosion of new tastes and textures. This really is something very special, and I look forward to returning again soon.

Kjolle – Tubers (Cassava, Olluco, Potato)

After he had fully recovered and tasted the menu at Kjolle for lunch, Paul joined me for our journey back to the airport. We decided that we would discuss the meals as little as possible and let them settle over the coming days. Both Angler and Kjolle had been great, but there were still another three restaurants on the itinerary. We thought it best to keep our cards close to our chest, at least for the time being. Finally, we landed in Florence, where we were collected by my husband and driven back to Lucca.

Pía Léon

Returning to Europe – and Paul’s very first time in Italy – the next day we all drove to Da Gorini in San Piero in Bagno. The restaurant is rather secluded and driving three hours across the country is both the best and most direct way of travel. I have visited the restaurant before and know the young chef, Gianluca Gorini, well, so am pleased to see him upon our arrival as he welcomes us and joins in for an aperitif in front of the fireplace.

Spit of Fifth Quart of Spicy Pigeon

We move from the cosy fireplace setting to our table. It’s a Monday night in winter, so the room is quiet and we share Gianluca with only a few other tables. As the dishes arrive and fill the table, we’re able to question him about the creations, learning more about the genesis of each plate. What follows is a long and complex assembly of ingredients, dotted with flair and flushes of creativity: Battuta di Daino, Bergamot, Chestnut Honey & Coffee; Codfish Almond, Rosemary, Lemon & Olives; Roasted Artichoke, Artichoke Sauce, Capers & Matcha Tea; Barbecued Eel, Radicchio & Shallot; Green Noodles with Mantis Shrimps, Bread Flavoured with Seaweed & Marinated Lemon; Rigatoni with Cream of Smoked Parmesan Cheese, Mace, Coconut & Dried Sausage; Ravioli Stuffed with Shallots, First Goat Salt & Dried Chicory; Passatelli in Cabbage Broth, Pumpkin & Soybeans; Stew of Venison Stewed with Beer, Orange Cauliflower & Carnation; Grilled Pigeon, Laurel Extract & Dark Onion; and Spit of Fifth Quart of Spicy Pigeon.


Spaghetti with gentian butter pecorino and
candid bergamot
, photo by Sofie Delauw per Cook_inc. 22

Gianluca is a chef who doesn’t mind taking risks. He knows all about the balance of flavours, but is brave enough to push the boundaries in an attempt to create something new and interesting. Previously, I had visited Da Gorini in the summer, so this winter menu made a nice alternative and demonstrated Gianluca’s talents. Here, he was able to play with the seasons, using new ingredients, pulling on produce more from the land than the sea. The only ocean-sourced ingredients were the salt cod and the mantis shrimps with seaweed.

Gianluca and Paul

One of many highlights during dinner, was a Rigatoni dish with dried sausage and shaved coconut. The coconut resembles shaved Parmigiano in appearance, but adds a subtle sweetness to the pasta, cutting nicely through the smoked sausage. The table are all agreed that this is one of many highlights, and as I throw in the towel, full from an extensive meal, I realise that there is still dessert to come. I look over to Paul, who smiles at me. “Bring on the dessert” he says enthusiastically. We finish the evening by returning to the snug comfort of the fireplace, where we knock back a couple of gin & tonics. This is a memorable meal that Paul and I will discuss often.

We drove back to Lucca in the morning to repack, but there isn’t time to hang about as we have a flight to Paris. It’s Wednesday 16th January now and we’ve been on the road for just under one-week, during which time we’ve eaten in North America, South America and Europe. Thankfully, it’s a straightforward flight from Florence to Paris and we arrive at our hotel in good time.

Paul and I both have friends in Paris, so we parted for a few hours to touch base with our buddies. My childhood friend, Desirée, is an actress who is based in Paris and I visit the theatre where she is performing in Les Derniers Jours de Ma Vie (The Last Days of My Life). Desirée introduces me to the troupe, who want me to stay for the show. As much as I’d love to hang with the cast, my dinner reservation is creeping up and I’m due to meet Paul, so off I dash to Virtus.

Welcome dish at Virtus

Virtus is the restaurant of Chiho Kanzaki and Marcelo Di Giacomo, two chefs who met in 2009, working for Mauro Colagreco at Mirazur. Paul and I walk to the restaurant, a spectacular setting on the Rue Cotte. Both Chiho and Marcelo greet us upon arrival. Inside, the restaurant is beautiful and cosy with elegant decorations adorning the walls, almost maison privée. We had convinced ourselves that this would be a Japanese menu, however, we soon realised that most of the Japanese chefs based in Paris, are adopting European flavours and leaning more towards classic French cuisine.

Yellow Cod

Dinner at Virtus begins with Scallops, Cauliflower & Broth of Granny Smith, a delicious and fresh partnership that’s the perfect opener. This is followed by Declination of Celeriac, Caviar Osciètre and then Sea Urchin, Fruit of Passion & Watercress. Everything is clean and fresh, high on flavour. Nothing is out of place, although I would say that because of the mix of ingredients and flavours, the character of the sea urchin was lost. The meal continued with Yellow Cod, wonderful in a turnip and clam broth; then Canard de Challans, a roast duck with black sesame that’s perfectly prepared by the kitchen. By the time the Plateau de Fromages is offered – a staple of the French table – both Paul and I are near bursting point, so we decide to split the cheese rather than declining it. Accompanying the cheese is a glass of La Notas by Jean Claude of 2012, Rosso, from Mendoza, Argentina. A few weeks after our visit, I learn that the French Michelin Guide rewarded Virtus with their first star – a well deserved accolade.

Plateau de Fromages

Having marked off Paris, we’re packing our suitcases again, ready to board another plane. This time, we’re saying goodbye to Europe and hello to Asia, as we head over to Tokyo, Japan, on the last stop of our tour. Paul has made several visits to Tokyo and is more familiar with the city than I am, which is just as well, as the subway is confusing, to say the least. I play the tourist and follow Paul’s lead until eventually, we arrive at Inua, located in the uber-cool Iidabashi neighbourhood. Honestly, I have no idea how he found the restaurant. In typical trendy, Japanese style, Inua has no sign, no board, nothing to distinguish it from any other building. But find it he did, and we enter into the stylish building, an elevator taking us up to the restaurant.

Tokyo skyline view

Inua itself is a restaurant of minimalist design. It’s very Japanese, very Nordic too. This is no surprise, seeing as chef Thomas Frebel worked as Rene Redzepi’s right hand man at Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant for nearly a decade. The German-born, Tokyo-based chef now applies his trade using the very finest Japanese ingredients. He spent two years foraging the Japanese land and sea – from the tropical southern islands of Okinawa to the northernmost mountain forests of Hokkaido.

Petrini dined at Inua last year, and his report will feature in the 23rd issue of Cook inc., out March 2019. For me, this was an exciting journey with some new and interesting ingredients. In many ways, it was reminiscent of Noma – Scallop Mousseline, Fresh Tofu, King Crab & White Truffle, Reindeer Tongue, Wild Herb Salad – but punctuated with Thomas’ own unique take on things. Dishes like Seasoned and Smoked Maitake, Grouper in Salted Plum Sauce and Salad of Sweet Prawns & Seaweed were really exceptional. The Enoki Steak with Egg Yolk Sauce is further proof that this is something special, as too is Rice & Beechnuts (please give me a second helping!). By the time the Whole Wild Duck arrived at the table, Paul and I were already won over. The duck – perfectly pink with succulent, lick your fingers fat, and a crispy skin – confirmed everything: this was truly outstanding cooking.

Wild Duck

Deciding that it would be best to moderate our wine intake, Paul and I had plenty of room left for desserts, which include a chewy, pliable and deliciously soft, Mochi. I thought it strange when the lights shook and the room seemed to spin. Turning to Paul, he too had the same look of shock across his face. Hang on, how far gone was I? I had barely touched a drop and I know whether I’m properly sloshed or not! Oh no, this was an earthquake tremor. Gulp! I clung to the table, looking around the restaurant. No one else seemed to mind though, so I took comfort in this and copied the calm actions of the other Japanese diners.

Thomas Frebel

Post-dinner, Thomas and some of the kitchen team joined us at the table. We discussed the menu, the research and the travel required to source such rare and interesting ingredients – like kihada berries from Nagano and scarlet pitanga fruits from Okinawa. These ingredients, when applied, create some of the most inventive cooking in the country.

Imperial Palace

I woke early the following day, scratching my head and having to think about which time zone I was in. I decided to seize the day and venture out while the city was still quiet, marking off the wonderful gardens of the Imperial Palace. I visited the National Museum of Modern Art, taking in the exceptional displays of silk and sculpture, and the Fukuzawa Ichiro exhibition. This proved to be the perfect opportunity to stretch my legs in preparation before boarding yet another plane for the twelve-hour flight back to Italy.

The World Restaurant Awards Ceremony

Finally, I was home, having marked off the Americas (North and South), Europe and Asia. The problem now was whittling down the list, from five to three to a single winner. All of the restaurants were outstanding, all driven by a talented force, all offering something completely different. Paul and I debated the options. We looked at the location, the environment, the chef, the research, the ingredients, the service. We studied all components, moving back and forth until, eventually, we agreed upon one. We now had a winner, but the rest of the world would have to wait until the awards ceremony in Paris on February 18th.

The top spot, in the end, was awarded to Inua and Thomas Frebel in Tokyo, Japan. And, ça va sans dire, a decision which Paul and I both believe, is fully deserved.

Written by David J Constable

One of the main focuses of the Royal Project in Chiang Mai Province was the cultivation of the coffee bean, something the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej founded in 1969 and saw as more than a viable alternative to the opium crop that was initially being farmed in Northern Thailand, especially along the borderlands with neighbouring Laos and Myanmar. Today, Thailand has become a burgeoning producer of coffee on the global market, presently ranked in third place among Asia’s top coffee producers.

At the Coffee Research and Development Centre located inside the Chiang Mai University campus, Dr Pongsak Angkasith, Head of Coffee Research and Development Project Foundation, spoke about the ascent of Thailand’s coffee production, and with it, Royal Project Coffee.

Mountains in Chiang Mai

“We started replacing opium with fruit farming, such as peaches but moved on to vegetables and various temperate fruits. Coffee was also one of the promising crops, so we started to promote coffee to farmers. Coffee is a perennial, or what we call a permanent crop,” Dr Pongsak noted, adding that farmers started to realise they could earn a good living, achieving an even better income than farming the poppy had given them.

“Research was key, as setbacks often thwarted the cultivation of coffee,” Dr Pongsak recalled. “In the beginning, there was a rust disease, or coffee disease as we call it. This destroyed the coffee tree. If we couldn’t find a solution to this, the farmers would have to use more pesticides, and this would result in more costs for the farmers. We had to find a rust-resistant crop.

Rice Terraces, Royal Project, Chiang Mai

Unwavered by the challenge, Dr Pongsak and his team set about research ways in which they could combat the so-called coffee disease while appeasing farmers at the same time. Research continued, and they began working even closer with the farmers to study the land and the weather patterns, looking at ways to overcome current and future crop damage. “Our research continued, and we were able to produce a better standard of production,” Dr Pongsak proudly notes. Coffee production expanded from Chiang Mai to neighbouring Chiang Rai, and across Mae Hong Son, Nan and Lampang – highland areas at 800 m to 1,600 m elevation.

The Royal Project now encompasses 22 areas that produce Royal Project coffee. In all they produce about 500 tons annually, increasing year on year. The coffee is bought from the farmers and sold to roasting companies, but the Royal Project also roasts its own coffee, around 50 tons a year.

The growers of Doi Chang harvesting coffee cherries

One of the coffees grown by hill tribes in northern Thailand, within the Royal Project mountains, is Doi Tung; with farmers now planning to expand exportation to the United States market. “We are looking for partners who understand our role as a social enterprise and are flexible when doing business together,’” said ML Dispanadda Diskul, Chief Executive of the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, which developed the Royal Project that gave birth to Doi Tung coffee.

The project produces 250 tons of coffee beans a year from 800 coffee-growing hill tribe households and is already exporting between 30 tons and 50 tons a year to Japan. The coffee is found in most supermarkets in Thailand, and the project runs 11 Doi Tung cafes around the country that brought in $2.4 million in sales last year.

In total, there are around 4,500 Royal Project developments in Thailand, covering not just coffee cultivation, but also research centred around food and water resource management to tackle such things as malnutrition and poverty, a problem still present in Thailand, particularity across the northern provinces. This aligns with the late King Rama IX’s Sufficiency Economy theory, which not only focused on sustainable development but also encapsulated an almost epicurean philosophy which he hoped would be followed by the people of Thailand. The basis of this was to live within one’s means, and if the country practices sustainable development, then the people of Thailand would always have enough.

The Royal Project initiative also included healthcare and educational initiatives, all aimed at offering a better life for people in remote and rural areas. For this, and other work, King Rama IX was given the United Nations Development Programme’s first Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.

www.royalprojectmarket.com

AWritten by David J Constable

It’s a futile attempt to try and conquer the full expanse of the Thai flavour wheel, although that doesn’t stop people from trying.

Bangkok lagged behind many Southeast Asian cities for years, without the affluence and access to the outside world and remained an almost hidden, tucked-away conurbation, overshadowed and unvisited. Now, that has all changed and Bangkok has been thrust into the culinary elite. The city is more than just a burgeoning food scene. It’s a full throttle, in-your-face, slap of technicolour. The food here is a deliriously fearsome bash of fire and sour and salt and smoke; of the high ethereal waft of turmeric and lemongrass. It’s a proper no-hold-barred indulgence at every level; from the street food vendors with their roaming carts to Michelin-rated restaurants.

Street Food Dried Squid

For a genuine and authentic exploration of what the city has to offer, you need to peek beneath the surface. Go deeper, explore the Sois and khlongs, and discover an expanse of curries and a beguiling array of fruits and vegetables. Try the staples of Pad Thai (Thai Style Fried Noodles) and Som Tam (Spicy Green Papaya Salad) by all means, but then venture deeper.

Explore the khlongs and try the famous Kway Teow Rua (Boat Noodles – cover photo), tiny bowls assembled on small boats by old ladies and consisting of egg noodles, pork and fermented bean curd, all added to a deep-red broth of pig’s blood. Various toppings were added over the years – beef, garlic, crab balls, offal cuts – and it is recommended to try between four and eight for full culinary satisfaction. Also, no visit to Bangkok complete without Moo Ping, the grilled pork skewers of street vendors, nor Lan Larb Bpet (deep-fried duck beaks), but don’t confuse Larb with Laab. The latter is a northeastern-style spicy salad with meat, mushroom and mint, while the other includes Larb Mote Daeng (Red Ant Eggs).

Larb Mote Daeng

Vendors have become accustomed to the point-and-order farangs, unable to wrap their tongues around the pronunciation of say, Sai Ooah (northern Thai sausage) or Kao Niew Ma Muang (Mango sticky rice). Another simple classic is Pork Fried Rice which, for me, never disappoints.

At Nai Mong Hoy Tod in Chinatown, a restaurant that sells nothing but oyster omelettes, dive into a rolled, crispy, tapioca flour-creation of decadence – and pay no more than THB150 (€4.00) for a Bib Gourmand omelette. Finish with a sprinkle of white pepper and a splash of sriracha chilli sauce. Chinatown is a great place to explore the culinary history of the city. Bangkok was a Chinese city in the 19th century, and up until the 1920s, most Thais lived outside the city. Much of the street food nowadays is a hybrid of Thai, Chinese and Malay – reflecting the waves of immigration.

Mango Sticky Rice

If you want to up the ante – and the financial spend – then the iconic Jay Fai crab omelette is a football-sized morsel bulging with crab meat. This Michelin-starred street-side restaurant has been in operation for over forty years. On the subject of crab, try local favourite Apsorn’s Kitchen, also known as Krua Apsorn, near the National Library, for Stir-Fried Crab in curry powder. Also, in Silom, there’s the joltingly hot Super Spicy Chicken Wing Soup at Somtum Der.

Venture to Aw Taw Kaw in Chatuchak and enter into the malodorous megalopolis market for fistfuls of durian (“The Stinky Fruit”) and fragrant mango. Some of the makeshift restaurants around the periphery of the market sell sensational sauces and relishes too. Try Sai Grok (fermented sausage) at one of the little outposts, and 100% Arabica Royal Project Thai Coffee from Chaing Mai.

Jay-Fai

Speaking of markets, Khlong Toei offers visitors one of the most authentic experiences in the city. Bangkok’s biggest fresh market is labyrinthine; winding lanes selling raw meat – both dead and alive – along with seafood and farm produce. If you have a weak stomach, avoid Kob (frogs), which are a popular delicacy in Thailand but are prepared by removing the skin, while alive, and hacking at the limbs with a cleaver; and Goong Ten (Dancing Shrimp), made with live shrimps, however, it’s rather wonderful for those with a more adventurous streak.

From Camembert to Kinder, How the UK Are Preparing Their Food Supplies

Written by David J Constable

As Britain prepares for a No-Deal E.U. Exit, fears of food shortages have people concerned over the imported foods that have, for many years, been part and parcel of British culinary life. As the possibility of a no-deal Brexit increased after a proposed deal by Minister Theresa May was rejected by the U.K. parliament, many are making preparations by stocking up on necessities imported from the E.U. After all, what is Great Britain without Nutella, Magnum ice creams and macaroni cheese?

A frustrated country has become a panicked one. Can the U.K. import, will they import, will other E.U. countries even allow them to import? This has created food anxiety at home. My goodness, where will all of the Camembert, chicken Kievs and boxes of Ferrero Rocher come from? Will Britain ever see a Kinder Egg again?

Camembert

Many are taking action, bulk-buying and stockpiling, filling fridges, freezers and basements with essentials and their favourite go-to snack. And, while I haven’t taken hoarding foods (yet), I fear for my balsamic vinegar and Piedmont wines. The gravity of the situation is becoming very apparent.

Currently, the import versus export position of the U.K. is very unbalanced. To put this into perspective, in 2015, the country imported £38.5 billion of food and drink, but only exported £18 billion worth of food. Things are already difficult, and the uncertainty of the future is quite rightly confusing. If indeed, a deal can be agreed and foods allowed to continue their importation, it will, very likely, be at a higher cost to the U.K. public. The likes of Nescafe (14%), Marmite (12%) and Mr Kipling Cakes (5%) have already seen a price increase within the last 12 months.

Magnum Ice Cream

Last month, Unilever — the British-Dutch transnational consumer goods company — admitted to stockpiling Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and Magnum bars ahead of the UK’s departure from the European Union. The firm’s Leeds factory, which makes Sure, Lynx and Dove, supplies the whole of Europe, while its ice creams are produced on the continent.

The political uncertainty has been reflected in the increasing sales of “Brexit Boxes” – a care package, worth €330, containing dozens of tins of macaroni cheese, pasta bolognese, chicken tikka, sweet and sour chicken, and beef and potato stew, as well as a water filter and a fire starter. The boxes are being sold by James Blake who set up the company Emergency Food Storage U.K. in 2009 with the aim of “making emergency preparedness as simple as possible”. Blake began selling the “Brexit Boxes” in December and is now selling around 25 a day.

Emergency Food Pack

Staffing issues have already been affected with many E.U. nationalities worried about their status and leaving industry jobs — kitchens, cooks, the front of house — to return home. As for the ingredients itself, a positive spin could be a more inherit approach to sourcing and cooking, with chefs forced to be more creative with the application of U.K. only produce. A good thing, surely. No more watered-down Danish bacon. Goodbye to Polish mushrooms. See ya later squishy Spanish tomatoes!

All of this begs the question: what will happen to the famed English Breakfast, a meal of incomparable gut-busting perfection, and often assembled via a list of imported E.U. ingredients. It is adaptable, catering to all tastes; the great interchangeable meal with an abundance of choice, the Marilyn Monroe of breakfast — as potent for a hangover as a litre of Alka-Seltzer.

English Breakfast

For eggs and toast, the U.K. will be fine. The British egg industry can produce enough for the country to be entirely self-sufficient in eggs. For bread, 85% of the wheat used by U.K. flour millers is homegrown. The flour produced is also from the U.K. with only 2% exported. As for sausages, bacon, tomatoes the news may not be so good. British farmers currently produce only 40% of the pork eaten in the U.K. The other 60% comes from E.U. countries such as Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Baked beans are mostly US imports, but tomatoes grow mostly where it is hot, immediately cancelling out the U.K. — although glasshouses are used.

With the great English Breakfast seemingly under threat and Magnum ice creams about to vanish, the full effect of Brexit is put into a new light. It doesn’t bear thinking about.

ACHIEVING HAPPY EQUILIBRIUM

Written by David J Constable

Photos by Sofie Delauw from Cook_inc. 22

The long and complex menu doesn’t bode well. For starters, it’s late in the winter evening and took me over three hours to get here for dinner, plus I’m tired and can hear the repetitive tip-tap-tip-tap-tip-tapping of child’s feet running around me as a four-year-old slides across the polished restaurant floor – way past his bedtime. It’s a cosy Italian ristorante though, and I’m a greedy Brit in Tuscany, so shuffle my lardy arse comfortably into the chair and look forward to plate after plate of crostini and a gargantuan Lampredotto sandwich.

Gianluca Gorini

Woah, but hang on, this is 14-courses, plus all of the surprise appetizers, amuse-bouches and added accompaniments. Gianluca Gorini’s menu is a litany of lavish ingredients, but even I, from time to time, am guilty of unwarranted snobbery. The restaurant da Gorini in San Piero in Bagno, on the Tuscan-Romagna Apennines, presents fabulous and inventive food in his own style – light rather than heavy, but still full of robust flavours. It wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was exactly what I wanted. The customary lineup of Italian ingredients are all evident – salsiccia, radicchio, Parmigiano cream, winter chestnuts – convincing me that I was in very safe hands, but these are paired alongside kooky catches that have no place appearing on such a menu in inland Toscana. Creations are both classic and contemporary, a difficult balance to pull off successfully in a time when outlandish chefs are all wanting to wow the diner.

Amuse-bouches
photo by David J Constable

As the winter daylight falls, I find myself tucked away in the corner of the restaurant, seated among friends, the family of Gorini – including his wife, Sara Silvani, and boisterous son – emerge from the kitchen with plate after plate of striking creations. First, a few light and delicately designed dishes such as Fallow deer tartare with a citrus sting of bergamot, chestnut honey and robust grated coffee, followed by “Mandorlato” of cod with rosemary. Then, a plate of Roasted artichoke with artichoke sauce, capers and a sprinkling of dried matcha tea – “an absolute masterpiece, probably the most interesting of the year”, as proclaimed by Identità Golose in their 2019 guide. For me, it was the only duff note of dinner, a tandem clash of artichoke spiked with piquant capers as salty as a marathon runner’s jockstrap and the lingering vegetal taste of powdered matcha difficult to shift.

Tagliolini al burro di genziana, pecorino e scorza di bergamotto candito
photo by Sofie Dalauw from Cook_inc. 22

It’s when the pasta courses arrive that things kick into gear and Gorini’s talents flourish. Robust tubes of Rigatoni come with a smoked Parmigiano cream, mace, coconut and shards of dried sausage. It’s a bowl of food that demands to be mopped up and a show in smart innovation, with the mace offering a tinge of citrus and cinnamon while the addition of shaved coconut adds a Southeast Asian twist to proceedings, melting nicely with the cream for a release of milky gamma-octalactone. A light-textured trio of Ravioli stuffed with shallots, salted goats’ cheese and withered chicory was a design of such simplicity, such straightforward craftsmanship of envelope-thin pasta, that it was one of the evening’s most outstanding courses. Meat courses follow in the form of Local roe deer with orange cauliflower and carnation, then Grilled pigeon with aromatic bay extract, and a skewer of pigeon offal – the delicious organ pop of a little heart and lung. The ripeness of the deer and the acidity of the orange dance happily. What’s striking is the way the meat has been adequately rested before reaching us. As a result, the deer has softened up, and I clear my plate immediately.

Semifreddo al raviggiolo, amarene sciroppate, croccante alle noci e vermut
photo by Sophie Delauw from Cook_inc. 22

Everything is sophisticated and delicate, wild when needed but never steering away from Gorini’s roots. It’s his roots, heritage and family that are so important to the framework of da Gorini; the household atmosphere of the restaurant creating a warm and open environment – deliberately family-friendly – and a continuation of the hospitality Gianluca encountered after growing up in a family of restaurateurs. From the go, it’s clear how important food and family are to Gianluca, and how he uses these as fuel to thrust himself forward. Gianluca has managed to create a happy equilibrium between family and business, running the restaurant with his wife and receiving a helping hand in front of house from his son. A special mention also to sous-chef, Filippo Tura, and cognoscente wine recommendations by Mauro Antonio Donatiello – many organic and biodynamic from the region. In all, it’s a masterful balance, a whiz-bang in culinary creativity that, as is always the way with Italians, comes back around to family. I’d go back weekly if I could, for all 14-courses… and some more.

A detail from one of the dining rooms
photo by Sofie Dalauw from Cook_inc. 22

daGorini

Via Giuseppe Verdi, 5

47021 San Piero in Bagno (FC)

Tel: +39 0543 190 8056

www.dagorini.it

Written by David J Constable

Photos by David J Constable – Cover photo by Francesco Tommasi (from Cook_inc. 20)

Occupying a space on one of Lucca’s famous cobblestone palazzos (Piazza del Giglio), Ristorante Giglio carries a list of stylish Italian aperitivi — vermouth, prosecco, Campari, Aperol — but it’s their impressive list of over 600 “ethical” organic and biodynamic wines and beers that have made them celebrated amongst the local, youthful beatniks.

A rustic institution, much loved by its regulars, Ristorante Giglio gained a new cult following last year when Benedetto Rullo left the smog and graffiti of the capital for Lucca, joining friends Lorenzo Stefanini and Stefano Terigi. Two became three, and a new kitchen trio was born.

A detail from the dining room ceiling

The restaurant already had a history of kitchen collaborations and generational torch-passing, having opened in 1979 under Franco Barbieri, Giuliano Pacini and Loredano Orsi, the reigns were handed to Paola Barbieri in 2000, before her son, Lorenzo, got in. The injection of youthful creativity presented a new contemporary dimension for the restaurant. Menus evolved, moving effortlessly from the rural traditions of Lucca and Mantua to a more diverse gastronomic identity in which foreign influences — particularly Asian — are present, without abdicating the Tuscan region.

Pinzimonio: raw vegetables with goat’s curd

In a time when international Italian food appears mostly in a bastardised, commercial form, three young chefs have put their travels and experiences to use, taking only minor poetic leanings and drawing on their Italian heritage to create new plates of fresh eating with the nonsense, pretension and snobbery left out. To oppose the age-old proverb, too many cooks do not spoil the broth, in fact, they improve and define it.

Without pontificating all of the guff of organic and biodynamic wines, the three friends are more understated, recommending, in a subtle nudge-nudge-wink-wink persuasion, their suggestions to diners. The food meanwhile is all that is good and true of nonna’s kitchen table. No dish has the dull, monotonous colouring of creamy pasta or dank garlic bread; this is all vibrant stuff, carefully assembled after months of research, discussions and recipe testing. Plates slap you with their freshness and psychedelic colouring, willing you to pull out your phone and photograph.

Tortellini with cream and soy sauce

Pairings that on paper look disastrous are in fact majestic creations that dance on the tongue, creating an accomplished and surprising menu laced with achievements. Take, for example, animelle (veal sweetbreads) with pumpkin and the citrus-sting of grapefruit; and Smoked hare with red cabbage, tempered in a light pine-nut milk and rabbit innards pie. Chicken liver with eel and pomegranate is a marriage as unlikely as Donald Trump and Angelina Jolie, but it works perfectly. Raw cuttlefish and citrus dashi have its roots in Japanese cuisine, while Tortellini with cream and soy sauce packs a punch. Thai spicing is used to marinade a locally-sourced Shoulder of baby lamb that, if the world was to end tomorrow, would very likely be my last chosen meal. A final mouthful of succulent, fatty, full-on-flavour, euphemistic mutton before a fireball of fury explodes the Earth.

A special mention for the bread. This is some of the best-unleavened bread I have ever eaten, bread that deserves a bombastic paragraph of celebration all to itself. By sticking to their principle of threes, three grains — rye, spelt and an ancient variety of wheat called Gentil Rosso — are blended and allowed to rise slowly, increasing in size as if blowing hot air into a balloon. I guiltily stuff my face, pulling away fist-fulls of warm dough and dipping it into puddles of golden olive oil, soaking up the local liquid like thirsty sponges.

Last year’s Michelin star was a reward in persistent refinement for Ristorante Giglio as they continue to strive and evolve. Even though the chefs have their own lives and families, they remain united as a creative culinary trio, each dedicated in their duty to bring their bespoke piece of genius to the table, just enough so that each part of the puzzle creates a whole.

The bread – photo by Francesco Tommasi (from Cook_inc. 20)

Ristorante Giglio

Piazza del Giglio, 2,

55100 Lucca – Italy

Tel: +39 0583 494058

www.ristorantegiglio.com

Written by David J Constable

Photos courtesy of Chef Darren Teoh

As chefs make a conscious effort to move away from the importing of luxury items, turning their attention towards the sourcing of more regional, “local” ingredients, it seems almost inescapable nowadays to find a restaurant that isn’t pushing, poking and promoting the local label. At a time when competitive chefs are striving for our attention, bombarding us with Instagram photos and popping up on our television screens, they continue to implement what they can for their fifteen minutes of fame. Others, however, in this time of overwhelming media deluge have chosen a different pathway; choosing instead to visit the exact source and revert to the student; open and accessible to new knowledge. More importantly, they appear to have given themselves over to education from those who know far more than they do.

Temuan chocolate with jaggery ice cream

In Malaysia, food has long had a convoluted appearance, influenced by the country’s multiethnic cluster of people whose pallets dance between the traditions and practices of the indigenous Sabah and Sarawak people to the Peranakan and Eurasian creole communities, as well as a significant number of foreign workers and expatriates. In fact, what one would perhaps call “modern Malay” cuisine, can be boiled down to a melange of traditions from its Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and ethnic Bornean citizens, ineffable and impossible to categorise. This has made Malaysian food challenging to define, which is precisely why Chef Darren Teoh of Dewakan in Kuala Lumpur seeks to put endemic produce – or ingredients which are either native or naturalised to the land – on the dining table.

The dining room at Dewakan

The menu at Dewakan is a geographical journey through the biodiverse layers of the Malaysian habitats, a culinary run through of all that is good from the land, the sea, and the verdant jungles of Peninsular and East Malaysia. As a country split into two regions – separated by the South China Sea – it means an ultra-diverse ecosystem thrives, supported by both land and sea. Peninsular Malaysia shares a common history with Singapore, therefore, it is not uncommon to find the same version of dishes, such as chicken rice and laksa; however, because of its proximity and historical migrations with Indonesia, expect also to see the likes of rendang and sambal. Where Darren comes in, is somewhere more panoptic, bringing his experience from the kitchens of Les Amis in Singapore and his education in haute cuisine-style cooking and presentation, to incorporate a catalogue of ingredients from in and around his Malaysian home.

“The restaurant began with a simple idea,” Darren explains, “to use local ingredients. But then, just stopping with the ingredients revealed a missing piece of the vocabulary. We needed to apply local technique, as well, and, because I was trained in the European style, it occurred to me that I needed to step back and look at how I could use native produce to their full potential”. By visiting communities in all corners of the country, Darren and his team have re-energised many lost or forgotten ingredients, such as ulam raja microgreens, buah kampung, and chocolate made from foraged cocoa beans by the Temuan orang asli community, who are indigenous to western parts of Peninsular Malaysia.

Prawn umai with bunga kantan and ketumpang air

“It’s no longer a novelty to source these types of ingredients, but necessary to support these communities and utilise local produce”, says Darren. “If using these new ingredients means re-training our palates, then so be it, a lot of cooking and being creative is about challenging yourself.” Challenging indeed, not merely in the procurement of such items – the research, field-trip visits and driving over an hour and a half to collect ingredients – but when diners have certain expectations and require convincing that these rare ingredients are worth paying for. “Sure, that can be difficult, but my team and I are there to educate and transfer that message of humanism”.

Darren continues, “The previous government suppressed the lives of many people, especially those Malaysians in the countryside and forests. They were robbed of their ancestral lands, forced to live in poverty. We can’t talk about sourcing these products from such places for a fancy restaurant, without talking about these people. Dewakan is a celebration of the people and everything that’s great about our land”.

Dewakan

Lower Ground Floor
KDU University College,

Utropolis Glenmarie
Jalan Kontraktor

U1/14, Seksyen U1,
40150 Shah Alam, Selangor,

Malaysia
Tel: +60 35 565 0767
dewakan@kdu.edu.mywww.dewakan.my

Written by David J Constable


With yesterday’s announcement of France’s winners and losers in the coveted little red book, came as much applause as it made tears. Still very much considered to be the most successful and prestigious restaurant guidebook in the world, the Michelin Guide has risen to gastronomic bible status, a hefty on-the-road manual spawning legions of checklist gourmands. In doing so, the guide has both blighted and elevated the lives of chefs.

One of the biggest shocks of the French culinary guide for 2019, was Auberge de L’Ill losing its third star, an accolade the famed Alsace restaurant held for 51 years. “It’s hard for the team, it’s hard for everyone – the customers, the family – it’s very hard,” said Chef Marc Haeberlin, a champion of contemporary Alsatian cuisine. “I don’t know how to explain this loss,” said Haeberlin, whose culinary mentor, the legendary chef Paul Bocuse, died last year.

Another shocking announcement was Maison des Bois losing its third star. Chef Marc Veyrat – known as much for his wide-brimmed black hat as his love of mountain ingredients – confirmed that his Alpine restaurant had fallen from three to two stars. “I’m disappointed. I can’t understand it at all,” said Veyrat, who only earned the third-star last year. “I will stay combative and present with the team in my kitchen,” Veyrat said, blasting the decision as “unfair”. Chef Pascal Barbot, whose Parisian restaurant l’Astrance has held three stars for 11 years, also dropped down a notch to two stars in the 2019 guide.

Chef Julia Sedefdjian and the staff of Restaurant Baieta
Credits: Restaurant Baieta Instagram

More shock news occurred as it was announced that two-stars had been awarded back to Le Suquet, located in the Aveyron region, the restaurant operated by Chef Sebastian Bras who famously asked to have his stars returned in 2017. The guide left the three-star restaurant out of the 2018 publication only to award them with two-stars in the 2019 release. The chef admitted to being “surprised” to see the restaurant back in the 2019 guide having cited the “huge pressure” that came with Michelin recognition when he asked in 2017 for his three-star restaurant to be left out of the 2018 guide.

Meanwhile, a record 75 restaurants earned new spots in the one, two or three-star rankings, an expected increase given the guide’s new international director Gwendal Poullennec had promised to breathe new life into its pages, celebrating more female chefs and young talent. Eleven female-led restaurants were awarded, among them 24-year-old Chef Julia Sedefdjian, who won a star for her new restaurant Baieta in Paris, and Chef Stephanie Le Quellec, who claimed her second for the Parisian restaurant La Scene. “This year, more than any other, the MICHELIN Guide France is demonstrating a gastronomic France that excels on all fronts,” says Poullenec. “From remarkable regional dynamism to showcasing new talented youngsters, and to an unprecedented number of new star-studded restaurants led by women, the 2019 vintage shines brightly in many ways”.

Mauro Colagreco
Credits: Bob Noto (photo from Cook_inc. 11)

The biggest celebratory news of the evening, however, was the award of three-stars to Chef Mauro Colagreco of Mirazur in Menton and Chef Laurent Petit of Clos des Sens restaurant in Annecy-le-Vieux. Born in Argentina, Colagreco becomes the only foreign chef in France to hold three-stars. “So many emotions. Thank you! I’m so honoured,” the chef told the audience at the awards ceremony in Paris. Colagreco continued, “How can I begin to express such overwhelming emotion and gratitude! Gratitude firstly towards my team for their dedication over the years; gratitude towards my family, for their sacrifice and support; gratitude towards our loyal guests for their continued support; gratitude towards our local purveyors providing us with the best products of the region; gratitude towards Michelin and their guide for recognising our work from the beginning; and finally gratitude towards France — a country where I chose to express myself, that adopted me, transmitting its values of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”.