Asian Fusion: Flame Restaurant x VEA x Restaurant Ibid x Grace Park
Established last month, the Asian Culinary Exchange (ACE) 2018 flew in high-profile chefs and restaurateurs from around the region to join our prominent Filipino chefs and well-versed foodies to open up much-needed conversation about contemporaneous issues such as sustainability, food waste, and discrimination as well as exchange on current trends. The ACE forum was organised by bestselling cookbook author and food writer Angelo Comsti.
The forum got together Filipino greats like Asia’s Best Female Chef 2016 Margarita Forés, Tippi Tambunting, Myke Sarthou and Bruce Ricketts with Singapore’s Sun Kim (Meta), Rishi Naleendra (Cheek by Jowl), Keirin Buck (Le Bon Funk), Bryan Koh (Milkier Pigs and Violet Gold author) and Woo Wai Leong (Restaurant Ibid); as well as Hong Kong’s Vicky Cheng (VEA) and Joe Villanueva (The Wise King), and Thailand’s ThiTid Tassannakajohn (Le Du).
The following evening, creativity ran amok via collaboration dinners galore as ACE’s participants joined creative forces and hands. At Hey Handsome, Nicco Santos united with Sun Kim; Rishi Naleendra got behind the kitchen at Helm with Josh Boutwood; Chele Gonzalez worked alongside Keirin Buck at Gallery by Chele; Toyo Eatery saw its very own Jordy Navarra partner up with ThiTid Tassannakajohn; and Joe Villanueva headed up quite the party at Coconut Club.
The biggest collabo, however, was the 8-hands dinner by Luis Chikiamco, Margarita Forés, Woo Wai Leong, and Vicky Cheng hosted by Flame (of which Chikiamco is Executive Chef) at Discovery Primea. The sold-out event, which was in partnership with Wine Depot and Vintage Wine Company, was nothing short of spectacular. As Daniel Blais of the Vintage Wine Company aptly put it, “This isn’t a wine pairing dinner but a dinner with wine.”
The shared appetite for good food, wine, company and, well, sharing, was evident and the inspired 10 courses thoroughly thought out by the four. There were, of course, highlights and the standout dishes of the evening beg to be revisited.
Forés’ Ukoy Moderna (Filipino-style fritters traditionally made with shrimp and vegetables of choice) served with crab fat maionesa, for one, got tongues wagging. Perhaps it was the vinegar that cut through the saltiness of the shrimp; perhaps it was the peppery twang from the Pansit-pansitan (green herb from the pepper family) garnish, either way, she was pleased with the curiosity her modern version of a Filipino fave elicited. Referring to her favourite cuisine and her uncanny ability to update it, said Forés, “Everyone knows this is mine.”
Combining Chinese and French influences, Cheng’s spicy albeit luscious Sichuan Local Tuna, which was paired with the Verdicchio Casal di Sierra 2017, was another hit. Hand carried by Cheng himslef, the Hokkaido uni was a stunning textural accompaniment while the Sichuan peppercorns used in the sauce gave the dish a fantastic pop.
Chikiamco’s experimentation with elevated comfort food worked with his French-Filipino Foie Gras Sinigang; not only did it look good on paper, but the acidity of the sour tamarind broth turned out to the flawless chemical foil to the fattiness of the pan-seared foie gras. This was paired with Verdicchio Casal di Sierra 2017.
An absolute stunner was the Black Garlic Custard (Leong), a steamed, silky infusion abound with poached lobster, prized Jinhua ham (apparently this smoky-flavoured Chinese delicacy fethches a higher price than abalone, fish maw, and ginseng), and liberally infused with fish roe (“Just because!” said Leong with a shrug). Topped with wansoy—or micro arugula—this smoky, garlicky and salty beast of a dish found its match in the Rutherford Ranch’s 2015 chardonnay.
Faultlessly complemented by a gritty barako coffee and guava jelly sauce, the perfectly pink Laguna Duck Breast (Forés) was paired off nicely with a lovely Montepulciano ‘Jorio’ 2016. Following suit was a most novel palate cleanser, which was found in a rather common dessert—taho! Funnily enough, Leong had never before sampled taho but knocked the ball out of the park on this one: soy milk sorbet with brown sugar sago foam, and lactic meringue for a more rounded sourness. Genius!
The last savoury course, the Beef Char Siu (Cheng), was a 24-hour steamed and barbecued succulent sensation. Cheng’s interesting take on hash browns using adlai was inventive and surprisingly, along with the Rutherford Ranch Merlot 2015, just what the char siu needed.
The Dark Auro Chocolate Marquise was Chikiamco’s exquisitely rich ending to an exquisite night layered with red wine ice cream. Naturally, Comsti popped by Flame to check in on the evening’s collaborators and survey the progressive output brought about by his ACE initiative. With this being the first of many conversation starters and many collaborations to come, we cannot wait to see what 2019 has in store.