Monday, November 21, 2011

Working Hour Lunch Feasts

The lunch feast

Starting a company in a foreign land is not easy, especially when you have to battle floods, riots, more floods and sneaky amnesty proposals. Just click the link of the right-hand bar under the label "Working in Thailand" and you will see some of the difficulties I have faced over the past 2 years.

That said, taking care of a company on your own does have its perks too. At least I can run it the way I feel a proper company should be run, treat customers the way they rightfully deserve, and most importantly, build up a team of people who will give their heart for a common cause and collectively reap rewards from it. Though I made my fair share of mistakes (and will continue to make them), the decision to provide free rice, condiments, rice cooker and electric stove has proven to be a masterstroke, one that is making me very satisfied indeed.

20baht per head (the rice is free) for this spread of authentic thai food, beat that

The picture above is a typical lunch at my office. Clockwise from the top left is Thai spicy sauce (a condiment to go with the food/rice), Thai red curry chicken with pumpkin, spicy catfish stirfry, spicy pork stirfry with long beans and basil, TES-cooked smoked fish soup (my staff cooked it with smoked fish made by another staff's mom) and finally deep-fried pork strips with garlic. Everyone would take turns to bring their favourite ingredients and even cook their best dishes to share with the company.

The best thing is actually not the food. It's the camaradarie built when everyone sits down around the same table, waiting for each other to be ready before tucking in, laughing together, refilling rice for each other when one has an empty plate. That's the best part. I'm not well-versed in Thai, but I sort of get most of the jokes made and contribute my own once in a while. I most fondly remember joining 4 Thai words together "Kin-Lao-Ro-Dai" (which means "drink whisky and wait for your death") which lightened the mood when everyone was worried about the floods a few weeks ago (I guess they just did not expect this chain of words to come out of my Malaysian mouth). They are still talking about it till this day.

TES family tucking in
I think this is not only a company, it is fast becoming a family. No matter how bad the day is, or how unreasonable a customer can be, I can always look forward to my team calling me at my extension at noon everyday asking me to join them for lunch.

The food isn't always spectacular, sometimes it does not suit my palate and I end up just having rice with omelette, but the warmth in my heart keeps me going for the rest of the day.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Tasting exquisite French fine dining in Bangkok @ Chef Herve's Le Beaulieu

Update June 2016: Read my review of Cafe Parisien here!

Update October 2015: Le Beaulieu is permanently closed, but fret not, a new brainchild of Chef Herve has popped up as Cafe Parisien, at Glasshouse Sindhorn along Wireless Road. Stay tuned as I will visit soon and write my review here!

It's only 3 months before my family life changes forever (for the better of course), so I have made it a point to spend as much quality time with Li Li as possible within this period, and being the foodies we both are, this will obviously include a religiously-executed food hunt, flood or no flood. Bangkok is a culinary paradise thanks to the endless flux of tourists and expats. Aside of Thai food, there is already a mature market in Japanese and Italian cuisine. You could spend 6SGD for a bento set that puts Sakae Sushi to shame or 8SGD for a pasta that makes PastaMania look like school canteen food.

We had a smash with Mr Oreste at his cosy La Buca, reputed to be one of the best Italian restaurants in Bangkok, during our first wedding anniversary in September, so this time, we visited Chef Herve Frerard's Le Beaulieu, widely recommended to serve the finest French dishes in Bangkok. To be honest, despite my large collection of cities visited which included more than a week of lonely roaming in France, French food has always been, to me, something like an over-rated popstar - focusing more on form than substance - you spend hundreds to watch him perform, he has the prettiest face and the most fans, but never fails to sing off-key when he opens his mouth. Maybe it's because I haven't tried hard enough to appreciate its sophistication, so I have given Le Beaulieu a chance to prove me wrong. One thing that attracted me most was the fact that Chef Herve changes his menus as frequently according to the appropriate seasonal produce. Li Li and I arrived to enjoy the 137th edition of his popular executive set lunch, incredible!

Nice comfortable place decorated with zebra paintings
Situated in a serviced apartment in Sukhumvit Soi 19, it's only a short walk (not so short on a hot sunny afternoon) away from the newly-open Terminal 21. It's not the most obvious location, and most restaurants would find it tough to prosper at such a drab site, so Chef Herve must have done something right.  The interior design was prim and proper, nothing to shout about, certainly less glamorous that what I expected from the supposed best French restaurant in Bangkok, but once the first dish (which is yes, the bread) touched the table, my impression of French food would start to evolve.

Jiam Tao Roti - French loaf
Wrapped in a napkin to keep it warm, the fragrant french loaves served were crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, a perfect start to what was to be a brilliant meal.

Li Li's starter: Poached free-range egg in black truffle cream and fennel confit
I did not try much of this dish, but according to Li Li, it wasn't too heavy and the truffle cream was aromatic.

My starter: Baked Morteau Sausage, Parisienne brioche and port wine sauce
2 large gourmet sausage slices baked in a French pastry served with a rich wine sauce. It's not bad, though a little salty and heavy for a starter for me. It almost made me full. A large serving shouldn't be a complaint though, as many other French restaurants would probably serve half a mouthful as your starter.

Aside of enjoying glorious food, there's also an entire library of books and magazines for you to browse through at your pleasure, mostly on food and wine as well. I tucked my head into Chef McDang's "The Principles of Thai Cookery" in between my courses and realised that these books are not ordinary ones.

I was actually reading a book specially presented to Chef Herve by Chef McDang himself! What an honour.

Ok, back to the food.

My Steak Au Poivre with Belgian fries and rocket salad
Fries and rocket salad would go well with most main courses, so the focus was really on the slab of beef. I am actually quite tired of ordering steaks in Thailand as local restaurants never fail to overcook the beef - so much so that you might have to order a rare to be served a medium. However, as expected, this time, I was served a piece of steak cooked precisely medium and drenched in a potent black pepper sauce. It was so tender and fragrant, it's easily the best steak I had eaten in a long long time.

The star of the day: Li Li's seafood marmite w Pilaf rice and saffron broth
This was a match made in heaven. 2 generous pieces of beautifully-poached sea bass and salmon (so soft you don't even need to bite) with pilaf rice and an intensely flavourful saffron sauce. This was really a touch of genius from the kitchen. It made my wife and baby very pleased indeed. As much as I enjoyed my brilliant steak, I couldn't stop thinking of this dish all through this past week. I would love to try it again, with a whole plate, all to myself.

Li Li's dessert: Fresh chocolate tart in vanilla sauce
Nothing much to say about Li Li's dessert. You would need an absolute disaster to to make a chocolate tart on a pool of vanilla sauce go wrong, and disasters don't often happen in Chef Herve's kitchen.

I, on the other hand, took a plunge into the deep end. I understand that it is very normal for French people to end off a meal with a board of cheese slices, fruit and a sip of wine, but this choice really gave me a baptism of fire. 

My brave dessert: assorted French cheeses with fruit, carrot, celery, olive and some  rustic bread
Putting on a brave front
Once the different cheeses gave their explosions of sewerage waste and salted fish inside my mouth, it all went downhill
This was the very most I could do, the one grape I got was delicious though

Sorry Chef Herve, pardon my palate's incompetence. I now appreciate French cuisine and everything you have meticulously done to ensure we had the most perfect dining experience, but cheese with raw vegetables to end a meal off really isn't my cup of tea (not yet at least). Where's my piece of cake?

Two-and-a-half very satisfied customers

Chef Herve serves the most delicate and tasty food around ( this is really an understatement), there's no doubt about that, and the service staff did a commendable job as well, but after spending a good two hours at Le Beaulieu, I sort of understand why some online critics say that if this is the top French dining spot in Bangkok then there's some improvement required, because as great as the food can be, the general feeling you get about gourmet French dining also involves the classiest ambience and the most extravagant furniture/cutlery, both of which are not outstanding at this restaurant. Luckily, Le Beaulieu is moving in 3 months' time to their dream location, promising diners a brand new dining experience. I am expecting critics to be fully satisfied after the relocation. 

Everyone who's reading this and living in Bangkok, you have to give Chef Herve a shot, because for a stunning 3 course lunch complete with coffee/tea that does not compromise on taste nor serving-size, Le Beaulieu sets you back by a mere 45SGD (890THB++) per head, and believe me, you could do a LOT worse.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

福州炒煮面在曼谷!Foochow braised stir-fried noodle in Bangkok!

福州炒煮面 in Bangkok
Inspired by my friends, namely Fang Ting, who's always trying to create authentic Singaporean dishes in faraway Sweden, and Xinyi, who's a Singaporean trying to perfect her knowledge of Thai cuisine in Bangkok, I have courageously attempted to re-create dishes from my hometown as well.

That said, there is a clear difference between them and myself (resulting in a completely different cuisine), though born and (mostly) bred in Singapore, I am not Singaporean. I am from Sarawak, but it's complicated too. My mom comes from Sibu, my dad comes from Sarikei, but let's just agree that I am from Kuching, since all my folks are staying there now.

Taste of home is a tricky definition for me too because of my slightly complex background, but I shall stick with Foochow cuisine, which is what my mum cooks and what I scour the streets in Kuching/Sibu to hunt down whenever I visit.

福州炒煮面,which I will loosely translate as Foochow Braised Stir-fried Noodles, is my Dad's absolute favourite. It is basically a thick noodle dish that is fragrantly stir-fried before it's braised in nice stock to give a thick, dark dollop of sumptuous, soya-saucy goodness. Last Saturday, I figured I had enough ingredients to do a reasonable trial, so I took the plunge, even though I had no experience making it at all.

From my understanding of the dish, its crux lies in choosing the right thick yellow noodle and stir-frying it to perfection in a lot of garlic, a lot of Chinese wine and finally dark soy. The smell in my small apartment during the stir-frying process was absolutely divine, and my nose told me that I was on the right track. The stock was made with top-class pork sirloin, prawn heads/shells (pre-stirfried to bring out the fragrance) and chinese cabbage. The final step was simply to marry the noodles and stock and bring to a boil.

Not bad, not bad at all
Though I did not spend the effort to make lard (which will obviously improve the dish) nor have enough green leafy vegetables, I can shamelessly say that this first trial has achieved at least 70% of what I deem as the perfect product.

Home-made 福州炒煮面 to warm our hearts during a disastrous time in Bangkok - shiok!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

My first open-house: Home-made gourmet food and gaming fun!

Sorry for another grossly overdue blogpost. Though the floods have not arrived at my doorstep, the accumulation of mental stress from preparing for the worst natural disaster in Thailand for the last 50 years has been slowly eating me up. But thankfully with the support of friends and family, I am slowly starting to feel more relaxed, and with the extra time I have on my hands due to a sharp downturn in business, I have finally gotten down to clearing my blog and FB photo-sharing backlog.

For those who still don't know, Li Li and I have moved from our little shophouse to an even smaller condominium this August. Despite its size, I am very pleased because we can finally call somewhere our home, and building it with the one you love is really a very sweet and satisfying process. 

We decided to make our first open-house a potluck, inviting friends to come over with some home-cooked food. We were expecting decent food, but boy did they deliver the goods:

Wendy's Kebab: 3 Tastes aka 三味肉串,this is the one made of chicken, there's also pork and beef
Par and Xinyi's Parma Ham Pizza and Thai Shrimp Salad, perfect fusion of authentic Thai with flamboyant Italian
May's impeccable Khao Soi
I have to reserve special mention for May's Khao Soi. I still remember a couple of months ago when I spent 3 days in Doi Lo, Chiang Mai, I made it a point to eat Khao Soi every single day as it's my favourite dish from Northern Thailand. It is essentially what we understand to be curry chicken noodle, but with added sophistication. Aside of having a fragrant curry (which is a must of course), there is added emphasis on the right noodle (cooked perfectly Al Dente by Teacher May), and the addition of condiments like raw onion, pickle, lime, crispy fried noodles makes this a complex yet wholesome dish. I still cannot believe it that it was the first time she made this. You have talent, May, please pass the recipe to me when I open my restaurant. I will make it a star.

The gathering did not end with the glorious food. Unfortunately, I did not have the presence-of-mind to take a picture of what happened next. Wendy displayed her gameshow-hosting talents by guiding us through 2 (or was it 3) hugely entertaining games of Jeopardy. It was all good fun, and there were 3 interesting revelations from the gameshow:
  1. Everyone's tired of Thai politics, no one knew the name of the Thai PM before Abhisit took over!
  2. Eddie's knowledge of entertainment gossip is second to only Wendy, he could recognise Hollywood stars at a glance.
  3. Steve Jobs' salary was 1USD.
I am looking forward to more revelations on our next Jeopardy session Wendy, please start preparing!

Thank you ladies and gentlemen for gracing my humble house and spending such a wonderful time together

It was a fantastic first open-house. My guests really put my cooking skills to shame. Luckily I had my bottle of Rupert and Rothschild to save my blushes!

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Stranger in Bangkok starts to cook gourmet flood food: Creamed mushrooms with wilted baby rocket

Eddie's creamed mushrooms with wilted rocket

Just to give everyone a quick update. The flood waters will remain in Bangkok for another month yet, and is spreading everyday to more and more parts of Bangkok. But we are still lucky to be living and working in districts that have been spared temporarily. While waiting for the blue dolphins to make their arrival with their aggressive and poisonous reptilian friends, I have been starting to make what I consider as flood food. It sure doesn't look like flood food, but I have my reasons (though I am pushing it):

  1. When the floods come, there is a likelihood that the electrical supply will be cut. In this case, we will need to clear the fresh perishables out of our refrigerators as soon as possible. Bacon, fresh mushrooms, salad leaves and fresh cream fit nicely into this category.
  2. Once there's no electricity, people like us living in condominiums will be deprived of our electronic hot plates for cooking. With our small portable gas stoves (I hope you got one), it is important that we can cook something from start to finish in a single small pot/pan (bingo), and more importantly, in as little time as possible as gas is precious commodity!
Now that everyone is convinced that this is a dish that make your day after many consecutive meals of Mamak (instant noodles), I shall present the method of making it in a concise, pictorial presentation. The key to making fresh mushrooms (this dish does NOT work with canned or dried mushrooms) is to have a very very hot pan and only use enough mushrooms to at most cover the pan. If you use too much mushrooms in a small pan (worse if it's not hot), the water that comes out of the mushrooms will not evaporate fast enough and you will end up with a disgusting mushroom soup.

Lightly fry 2 slices of bacon, this is a delicious base to any dish

Once the bacon is slightly brown, add in as much sliced garlic as you want. If you  put in the garlic first, it would have burnt before the bacon turns crisp
Add in the mushrooms while the pan is searing hot, I use fresh Shiitake

And fresh Enoki, because it's cheap and easily available. You can use any fresh mushroom you like actually, it will work just as well even with truffle!
With a hot pan, your pan will look like this within 30 seconds, and it's time to add a nice pinch of salt and freshly-ground black pepper

You may skip this step, but I like to now drench the mushrooms with a swig of fresh cream

Right at the end, it's time to add in a handful of baby rocket. I think wild rocket, spinach or watercress will work just as well for this recipe. It looks like a lot of leaves now, just wait for 20 seconds

20 seconds and a toss will give you your finished product, less than 4 minutes from start to finish!

So here, Eddie's creamed mushrooms with baby rocket to solve your eating blues whether or not you are facing the threat of floods. I tell my wife it can be the perfect side-dish for any wastern main course (be it steak or pork chop), but we like to enjoy it as the star of our breakfast.

Mushroom sandwich, anyone?
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