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

Monday, September 3, 2018

Stranger in Bangkok's 2nd adventure at Jok's Kitchen (จก โต๊ะเดียว), 7 years on

Jok's kitchen (click here for my review in May 2011) is such a special place.

It's hard to book: started with only 1 table in the beginning and still only serves a maximum of 4 tables per meal (the same as 2011). If you thought Gaggan was tough, this was tougher, and is still as tough on most weekends.

Our tables, the only 2 tables of the night, specially on Monday night as it would be impossible to secure a weekend.

It's hard to find: Most of my friends who visited for the first time struggled to locate it. I am not ready to tell you exactly where it is, because turning around in circles and waddling through the same damp dark alley makes the whole experience all the more unforgettable.

This is the biggest clue I am willing to give you.
It's interesting how now we are bringing 2 little kids to this dodgy alley with us.

It's a pure Omakase experience: You eat what Jok cooks. He buys the stuff that catches his eyes the same day/day before and the most you can do is to state your preference on the cooking style, though I don't even recommend you control what he does. Giving him complete freedom to wave his wand over the food completes the experience.

I didn't plan to revisit Jok's Kitchen. It was out of my mind for years. Thanks to Retty Thailand, who never fails to dig out the most obscure of dining locations for the local foodie community, I had to chance to go back (this time with my family, we have multiplied in numbers) without lifting a finger.

So, the food:

First starter, fried gingko nuts. Salty, sweet, succulent. Best with beer.

One of my favourites, who knew pairing pickled mustard green with fresh chilli padi would be such a delight?
The Jok's Kitchen staple, shrimp dumpling with an insane about of fried garlic, still just as good.
Deep-fried cod with fish sauce. Evokes childhood memories, a couple of my companions said. Must be good!
My favourite dish 7 years ago and still is, large shrimp just scalded with salt, only 1 per shrimp per head.
Thai curry crab, only peeled pincers served. You will leave with your hands clean.
The only vegetable dish, I didn't eat enough of it to give a verdict.
Another staple, claypot yellow noodle with gooseweb, with equal ratio of coriander to noodle!
Still the similar fried rice to 7 years ago, but this time served in a peculiar way, with lotus paste salapaos.
The ultimate dish of the night, grouper and plum soup. Top quality fish in a fruity savoury broth, 10/10.
Deep-fried yam dessert that many regulars love. It was just ok for me.

If you are wondering whether Jok's Kitchen has remained consistent for 7 years, wonder no more. In my years of eating in Bangkok, Jok's Kitchen is clearly one of the most demanding in terms of ingredient selection and most stringent in terms of rules for their guests. There is just 1 cook, 7 more years of practice will only have strengthened his skills further.

Not every dish was a win for me, but I have grown to appreciate Jok's Kitchen as it is, and my 2nd visit gave me arguably more satisfaction than my first. Don't miss it if you ever get offered the chance to visit!

PS. This meal cost us 1,000THB per head for food and hot tea.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Sloane's Masterclass at Jamie's Italian: Learning from the Master

Given the frequency of me cooking at home and the glut of cooking schools in Bangkok (even Le Cordon Bleu has a campus here), one might think I am a serial attendee of  cooking classes. In all honesty, I am just someone who loves reading recipe books and watches nothing online except for football and food-related videos. Attending classes isn't really my thing.

Doing something serious here.

Half a pig prepared for the butchering demonstration.

However, my obsession with obtaining the best ingredients is real, which led me to Sloane's a few years ago, not so much for their sausages, but for their fresh pork. Therefore, when the possibility of attending a Sloane's Masterclass at Jamie's Italian popped, I pounced. A combination of meeting Joe Sloane strutting his stuff himself, at Jamie's Italian (Jamie Oliver is the single most important person who convinced me that cooking can be very simple), felt like something tailor-made for me.

Oh, how wrong was I. My ineptitude in sausage stuffing and linking brought me back down to earth. After cooking for 7 years at home churning out more than a thousand meals for the family, I am clearly still at the very beginning of my learning curve.

Joe Sloane showing his finesse. I will always remember, saw for bone, knife for meat.
The ultimate master butcher in Thailand.
The hands-on experience, as demoralising as it was, was something I would not exchange anything for. Without it, the class will be reduced to a demonstration by the master. I might take home some perfect sausages and bacon, but they will not be the imperfect ones I made myself from scratch. I wouldn't have been able to tell my kids, "These sausages were made by Daddy at Jamie's Italian!"

My bacon, which needs another week before it's ready, can't wait to eat the final product.

I would hereby like to thank the folks from Sloane's and Jamie's Italian for organising a fantastic masterclass which I loved and hated to equal measure. Please push on and organise more classes to bless more foodies like me in the future. I am already looking forward to the next one.





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