Monday, February 18, 2019

Stranger in Bangkok's Retty food tour: International at Asoke

Hungry people at our first stop, Cali's Grill.

Over the last couple of years, the scary prospect of leading a food tour popped up many times. As much as I have confidence in my own recommendations, taste is subjective, and I will be shattered if things didn't work as planned, leaving restaurants/attendees disappointed.

This was the case until the possibility to curate a food tour for Retty Thailand popped up. Retty is the most popular foodie app in Japan, with the sole purpose of creating an active foodie community and a platform to facilitate it. It plans to do the same in Thailand, albeit in small baby steps, as it has only set foot here for slightly more than a year.

Knowing I will be leading a small group of pure foodies who have an open mind to accept all kinds of food, and a bunch of trustworthy restaurant owners/groups to back me up, I summoned enough courage to lead my first ever food tour: "International in Asoke", focusing on a comfortable walking tour around Asoke BTS Station/Sukhumvit MRT Station to enjoy a variety of cuisines.

Stop 1: Cali's Grill, representing Ecuadorian and Mexican cuisine

As the tour started pretty late at 1pm, Cali's Grill, with the immense hospitality of chef/owner Mauricio Zurita, was the perfect place to start. We totally enjoyed the South-American cuisine, especially the lapingachos, which are Ecuadorian potato patties. They were a joy to eat, especially when paired with Mauricio's signature salsa. 

Lapingachos, still thinking of it today

Mauricio's signature salsa, which I think goes well with everything

Assorted Quesadillas

Stop 2: Paris Mikki, representing authentic French pastry

Without being overly-naggy on the excellence of Paris Mikki's products on my blog, I will let pictures do the talking.

Copa Cabana
My recent favourite, the St. Lucia, which is a refreshing tangy mango and passionfruit-based dessert


Stop 3: La Dotta La Grassa, representing Italian cuisine

After a brief sweet respite at Paris Mikki, we only had to cross the road to reach our next stop, the whopping new little sister of Thong Lor fresh pasta institution La Dotta. The classy yet casual pink vibe La Dotta La Grassa represented was apt in the mid-afternoon laze. 

Linguine Vongole, a favourite among the ladies

I personally preferred this manly Wagyu Mac n Cheese more

The Bomboloni bar is one of LDLG's signatures, we of course couldn't miss trying them out

Final stop: Ping's Asoke, representing Singaporean and Thai-Teochew cuisine

How can an Asoke food tour led by me not include a visit to one of my absolute favourites in the city?

This time, however, aside of my beloved fish maw soup, I specially ordered a Singapore Popiah (fresh spring roll) party platter and Singapore curry puffs (both only available through special order or catering, not in Ping's everyday menu), to fit into the theme of international cuisine.

Mouth-watering fish maw soup, my kids are growing up with this as their favourite dish in the city

Singapore Popiah platter, a foodie do-it-yourself activity

Singapore curry puff, in my opinion, the best version of it in Bangkok

Caught engrossed in foodie conversation with food writer Nianne-Lynne Hendricks

Phew, that was an epic food journey for an afternoon's work wasn't it. 

I was glad to see happy faces and full tummies at the end of the tour. I could ask for nothing more.

Photo credits: Retty Thailand

Friday, December 21, 2018

Cookie R&D: Stranger in Bangkok x David's Soft Cookies

Last weekend, I traveled 800km, deep into Isaan, to the border city of Nakhon Phanom, to spend 8 hours spread over 2 days, in the kitchen of David Okamoto, founder of David's Soft Cookies.

This is a journey not many people will be interested to take, but for me, it was one of the most exciting trips ever, because not only was I able to share precious time with a good friend, I could also be personally involved in coming up with an all-new cookie flavour in collaboration with the cookie master himself.

More importantly, I got to see for myself how passionate and dedicated David is over his craft, and understood that my faith in him over the years is well-placed.

Stranger in Bangkok doing his part.
I was very excited when David pitched the idea of working on a cookie flavour together. I love conceptualizing new dishes and flavours, even at home while cooking for my family. We eventually settled on coming up with a lemon white chocolate cookie, so here goes....

We need some green lime and yellow lemons of course.

Unfortunately, the local green lime zest tasted too unforgiving, so we could only use the yellow lemon zest.

Blanch multiple times to get rid of the bitterness.

No time to confit multiple times, so once will do for this trial batch.

The way David manipulated the dough, I think he can shape the cookies blindfolded with hands behind his back.

Into the oven!

Voila!

3 versions of the same flavour, all excelling in its own way.
I have always known that baking is a science, but this exercise convinced me that in baking, aside of talent, discipline and precision is everything. A slight tweak in the recipe (even 1 additional egg yolk for a batch of 12 cookies) will give a completely different result.

I was also shocked to note that a traditional chewy soft cookie has almost twice the amount of sugar a normal David's cookie has, though it does not taste doubly sweet at all.

In conclusion, our lemon white chocolate cookie was a major success. Everyone who tried it (albeit a small sample size) had good things to say. Then again, some fine-tuning is required, to further enhance the flavour profile as well as the outlook of the cookie.

Release the lemon cookie please?
I do not know whether David will eventually release the cookie. I only know that when he does (if he does), I will be a really really proud man, and do make sure you readers support me by ordering and telling me how you like it!



Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Follow the Chef: Michelle Goh Wen Yi, the feisty pastry chef from Kuching

Michelle is the 7th chef in my "Follow the Chef" series. Somehow, this edition feels different. It pulls many more heartstrings.

Firstly, in my 10 years in Bangkok, I've only known 1 other Kuching native who works and lives here, that's Michelle. It's a miracle simply to find her in this crowded city, let alone realize what a talent she is. Secondly, she's 24, a whopping 13 years younger than me. I watch her capabilities in amazement sometimes. What was I even doing when I was 24?

Ter'ra
Michelle Goh: The feisty pastry chef from Kuching.
Before I digress too much, let's move the focus back to Michelle, to her time in our native Kuching (in Sarawak, East Malaysia), the endearing little city with less than a million inhabitants, where she grew up as an opinionated lady who always felt oppressed in a traditional all-girl's Catholic school. By the age of 15, she was making and selling out 700 cupcakes a day. She quickly knew where her interests lay, and by the age of 18, became the youngest student of her time at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute in Sydney, winning awards for best academic studies on her way to both cuisine and pastry certificates.

She subsequently trained at Shangri-la Sydney under Anna Polyviou, at the 3-hatted Rockpool, now known as Eleven Bridge under Neil Perry (one of the only Australian chefs I know), at Pollen in Singapore under Jason Atherton, before embarking on her Bangkok adventure.

Ter'ra
Michelle exuding a different air (of icy-cool calm encasing a ball of fire) while working.
Michelle joined Suhring as pastry chef exactly a year before they got their first Michelin star. By the time Suhring got their second star just last month, Michelle was already running the pastry team and creating new recipes for the menu. One of my major gripes with the fine dining scene in Bangkok is that desserts mostly feel like an after-thought by the chefs, which irritates me to no end. Suhring though, was one of the places which never failed to impress with their sweet courses, a testament to Michelle's capabilities.




A post shared by Michelle Goh (@rokin_shells) on

I would hereby like to thank Uncle Peter and Auntie Nancy, for seeing the spark in Michelle and making a decision that me, as a father, might not have had the courage to make. For supporting her in her pursuit of a future that cannot be considered 'promising' in our conservative traditions. For allowing her the possibility to put Kuching on the culinary map in the near future. For giving me a sense of pride, to be waving the Kuching flag in Bangkok.

As for Michelle, her stint at Suhring has just ended.

What next?

I guess we will have to Follow the Chef to find out.


*************************************


"Follow the Chef" is a new blog series where I sit down face to face with chefs and help them tell you what they want to say, in their perspective. My inspiration for this series stems from the fast-changing dining landscape in Bangkok, which is both exciting yet confusing for consumers like us. Do we follow the restaurants, or follow the chefs? I hope I can help you make a better decision.




Thursday, November 15, 2018

歌曲分享:幸福的孩子爱唱歌



It's been a long time since I felt this way about a song.

很久没有这种感觉。

This morning, on the way to school, with my son on my left and my daughter on my right, I played this song, with them smiling and watching beside me.

今早,在送孩子上学时,儿子在左边,女儿在右边,我播了这首歌。他们笑着,看着,哼着。

I realised how simple happiness can be.

忽然间,发现快乐其实很简单。

It can be as simple as a song, singing a song with the people who mean the most.

跟亲爱的人听歌,唱歌,就这么简单。

I had to hold back my tears towards the end of the song.

听着听着,眼睛有点湿湿的。

I am such an emo dad.

我真是一个感性的爸爸。

PS. Pardon my poor translation of the song lyrics from Chinese to English.

           幸福的孩子爱唱歌

作词:黃靜
作曲:谢欣芷

阳光灿烂天空好清澈 
Sun is shining bright in the clear blue sky
花朵开满各种颜色
The fields are filled with colourful flowers
听见窗外一群小白鸽
I can hear a school of little white doves 
咕噜咕噜噜在唱歌
Singing a beautiful song outside my window

忽然明白幸福是什么
I suddenly understand what happiness is  
幸福就像是一首歌
Happiness is like a song
大声地唱歌怡然自得
Singing loudly and joyfully 
心情就变得好快乐
Will make me feel so happy

幸福的孩子唱着幸福的歌
Happy children singing a happy song
啦啦啦啦啦啦 珍惜美好的时刻
Lalala... Treasure the good times

我们一起唱幸福快乐的歌
We sing a happy song together
幸福快乐的孩子爱唱歌
Happy children love to sing

爱唱歌的孩子幸福快乐
Singing children are blessed and happy

Monday, October 15, 2018

Karmakamet Diner in the Clouds

It's interesting how a restaurant can be remembered internationally for 1 dish.

That's what's been happening at Karmakamet Diner. They have their regulars of course, but when I ask my friends, "the nice place with the cotton candy" is the usual reply. Having dined at both Karmakamet Diner and Karmakamet Conveyance (their new fine-dining concept restaurant) recently, even if I don't love all the dishes, I feel that the depth of thought Chef Jutamas Theantae (Som) puts into every dish is often neglected at the back of the wildly-popular cotton candy dessert.

It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that most only order it for photo-taking purposes, and who can blame them?

banana split in the clouds
Even I succumbed.

Did anyone sit down and gave it a thought, to whether there was any meaning behind the cotton candy dessert aside of creating a signature must-order "gimmick"?

I did. I asked Chef Som, and turned out it wasn't that much of a gimmick after all.

Chef Som recalled her days studying overseas, and how sad she was leaving Thailand at the end of every visit back home. But whenever she looked out of the window during her flight, and saw the colourful clouds in the sky, she was happy, thus the inspiration to recreate that particular memory with this famous dessert.

#thekawayiis really loved their "Banana Split in the Clouds".

I can't help but feel a little disheartened for her, that all this thought behind her "Strawberry/Banana Split in the Clouds" is usually brushed off as a shallow Instagram icon. But Chef Som explained to me that she has long gotten over that initial disappointment, because she realised that the end-product of bringing happiness has been achieved regardless. She sees the surprise, glee, excitement and even ecstasy from customers whenever a cotton candy dessert is placed on the table, and that, is enough.


Happy girl.
I looked back at the moment my "Banana Split in the Clouds" was served, and recalled gasps of pleasant surprise by customers from both tables flanking mine (total strangers), and the joy my kids had munching into the cotton candy.

I guess there's nothing more we can ask for.



Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Gaa: The Absolute Benchmark for Modern Fine Dining in Bangkok

I love simple food that's not simple.

Too many times, dishes are served in front of me like meticulous assemblies of 10-15 elements, only to taste much less than the sum of its parts. I crave for food that look straightforward yet get my brain juices flowing.

Enter Restaurant Gaa, the brainchild of head chef/part owner Garima Arora. After understanding the origins of the word Gaa (a combination of chef's initials), it's easy to realise that the classy yellow house standing proudly opposite Gaggan is simply an extension of chef Garima herself, and the cuisine, a culmination of her personal journey, which includes a childhood in India, a stint in journalism and a star-studded cooking route through Paris, Dubai and Copenhagen.

Chef Garima Arora
Gaa's food is either simple-looking dishes that taste extraordinary, or peculiar combinations that end up making absolute sense. Chef Garima's craft has reached a kind a maturity that isn't easily found in Bangkok. This spirit is consistent throughout the whole tasting menu, right down to the in-house drinks (eg. the fizzy lychee sake or coffee kombucha). It's also the only restaurant in Bangkok that made 3 reputable chefs text me before they finished their meal to exclaim how great the food was.


Chef Garima insists on using only ingredients sourced in Thailand, which explains a lot as you glance through her menu (the main course is the single most delicious pork rib you will ever eat, not some air-flown A5 Wagyu beef). When I commented on the presence of obvious Indian elements in most of her dishes, it was clarified that spices were used to lift the flavour of individual dishes when required, not to specifically introduce hints of any particular cuisine. She is not ready to use any words or cuisine to limit what they will put out in the future.


With the rise in global recognition for Bangkok's fine dining scene, what needs to improve concurrently is the receptiveness of the local palate to different cooking styles. In this aspect, Gaa has set a benchmark in this city when it comes to the gradual education of local diners to modern unbounded cuisine. Chef Garima does not plan to slow down, and Bangkok will be better for it.

Personally, I have visited Gaa twice, devouring basically the same menu (bar 1 dish) both times, and I am happy to report that the 2nd meal was even better than the first. If there's any gripe about Gaa, I just wonder whether I will pay for the meal a 3rd time if the menu remains largely similar. Chef Garima, however, has assured me that many changes are on the way. She just wants to make sure every new dish is perfect before making changes, and not release them for the sake of it.


So there is only 1 thing left to do, that is to declare Restaurant Gaa as the first fine-dining restaurant to receive my "Wah Lau Eh!" Stamp of Approval. I thought long and hard about this, and I am super thankful that Chef Garima was actually willing to spend time with this little blogger and receive the cheesy sticker when I reached out.

For her kindness, I gave my stamp, and my first little heart, to Chef Garima.
Truth be told, Gaa deserves stars, not stamps, but whatever happens moving forward, they will always be, to me, one of THE places to eat in Bangkok.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Birthday Letters from Daddy: Ellie is 4!

Dear Ellie,

This year's birthday letter will be a little different.

It's different because in previous years I have always been celebrating growth, looking forward to change.

This year, I just want to celebrate your presence and appreciate the norm.


Always with something unexpected brewing in the little brain of yours.

So what if you are still whining when you are 4?

So what if you still show your feisty ruthless streak when you are having a bad moment?

So what if you keep grabbing onto me in the pool as if I am your only chance of survival when you are already wearing a life jacket?

So what if you always outwit me when converse?

I will hold you now, because I know very very soon, you will not want me embracing you anymore.

Daddy just wants you to know how blessed I feel simply by being in your presence.

Just stay around Ellie.

The little princess.

Happy Birthday.

Love,
Daddy

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