Saturday, August 16, 2014

DEMON CHEF'S MOLECULAR MADNESS



Three Michelin-starred chef Alvin Leung dazzled us with his X-treme Chinese cuisine to KL recently. The Demon Chef turned local and regional fare like bak kut teh, won ton mee, chilli crabs and oyster omelette on the head, combining innovative cooking techniques with traditional Chinese and non-Chinese ingredients to push culinary boundaries. You either like or dislike his brand of cuisine, there's just no two ways about it.


As with any experimental dishes, hits and misses are natural but for the hospitality students from BERJAYA UCH, it was a rare opportunity to learn how Malaysian inspired dishes can be given unique gastronomical twists from a world renowned master chef.

Together with Asian Food Channel (AFC), the region’s leading food-focused channel that celebrates unique Asian culinary experiences with the added touch of global flavor, Leung and the BERJAYA UCH team rustled up a sumptuous 5-course menu at Samplings on the Fourteenth for lucky us who were invited to attend.

The curtain-raiser of TOMATO CHINOIS was a 'busy' plate that had tomato on vine braised with “pat chan” (Chinese herb) and Chinese glutinous rice vinegar, in addition to organic yellow cherry tomato with “lam kok” (fermented Chinese olive), tomato foam, green onion, goat's cheese and beetroot. The juicy tomatoes which had the faintest hint of Chinese herbs were largely eclipsed by the briny goat's cheese but overall, the ensemble was top-
notch.

A chorus of 'oohs' and 'aahs' heralded the second appetiser of  UMAMI WON TON MEE as everyone gushed over the delicate sheet of crispy ebony-black squid ink paper adorning the duck breast “char siu”, langoustine tartar, rice noodle & vermicelli flavoured with “har mai” essence. We love how the dried shrimp oil lent a savoury richness to the noodles (similar to “har jee meen” or prawn roe noodles) with the langoustine's inherent sweetness balancing the flavour profile. Surprisingly the chef's inventive “char siu” duck tasted more like “lou” (braised) spongy-chewy brown sotong; the only oddity in an otherwise delectable dish.

The star dish of the night was Leung's CHILLI CRAB / OYSTER OMELETTE GAZPACHO. Our gustatory juices were stimulated the minute the aromatic hot gazpacho was poured onto the mound of fresh crabmeat topped with a quail's egg in our plates. Served with a dainty portion of oyster custard on the side, the cohesion of flavours and textures uncannily mimicked that of chilli crabs!

Although we had to pick our choice of main course, everyone managed to swap and sample the different mains. As it turned out, the simplest vegetarian version – BLACK FOREST was the winning dark horse. We had nothing but effusive praises for the all-black platter of silky smooth steamed Chinese rice pasta (“cheong fun”) speckled with bits of black truffles. Gently braised with sweet soy sauce, the flat rice noodle was complemented by baby black carrots, cat ear fungus, asparagus and taro purée. So it's true about once you go black…

Compressed watermelon cubes brimming with the woody “dong gwai” or Chinese angelica nuance left us reeling with delight when we savoured the BAK KUT TEH SHORT RIB. The meaty cubes of tender beef ribs and mini Yorkshire puddings hit all the right notes with dollops of bak kut teh chocolate – similar to that of a full-bodied mole.

 


Those who opted for the CHICKEN RICE found themselves digging into nutty, risotto-type rice known as Aqucallo that has been aged nine years. Cooked with chicken stock, pandan and ginger, Chef Leung said it was inspired by Hainanese chicken rice albeit with Hong Kong influences thrown in. Cat ear fungus was added for textural interest while the sand ginger cream mimicked the minced ginger condiment that's ubiquitous in chicken rice. The chicken component came rolled up with crisp, thin skin on the outside.

We were the first to taste his MODERN AIS KACANG – a riotous platter of different ingredients in dazzling hues: peanut butter & condensed milk ice cream, freeze-dried raspberries, cherry snow, banana caviar, pandan chocolate chips, red bean meringue, salty caramel popcorn, sous-vide strawberry with Sichuan and maple syrup, and a Blue Hawaii sphere. Personally, I think the mish-mash didn't gel all that well especially the tart and slightly bitter blue cocktail sphere and chewy popcorn.

Born in London, raised in Toronto, Alvin Leung is known as the “Demon Chef” for his quirky ability to combine culinary art and science; rocking diners with new taste sensations at his three Michelin-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and one Michelin-starred Bo London. Besides Heston Blumenthal, he is one of two self-taught chefs in charge of a professional kitchen that has ever received Michelin stars. Leung is also one of the judges in MasterChef Canada.

Despite his larger-than-life, rock & roll persona, Alvin Leung is really a sweetie and humble chef. He even remember to thank the students who rallied around for the special dinner which says a lot about him. Of course, we were over the moon when he readily posed with us for photos and greeted his fans, going from table to table. For that, he gets two thumbs up.

For more information about Asian Food Channel and its programmes, please visit www.asianfoodchannel.com.

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