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.

我真是一个性感性的爸爸。

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

           å¹¸ç¦çš„孩子爱唱歌

作词:黃靜雅
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.





Monday, July 16, 2018

Time, the essence of taste and life - 时间的味道

In my journey to obtain a deeper understanding of food, something I didn't used to value kept ringing in my head - time.

Time is in everything.

In marination, fermentation, ageing, curing, brining, freezing, braising, proofing and everything else you can think of. Even thawing frozen meat/fish is best achieved slowly over a day or two in the lower warmer echelons of the fridge.

The meal is ruined if you don't wait for the ingredient to warm up to room temperature before cooking, and precious cuts of meat will be completely wasted if you don't give it time to rest after grilling/roasting.

Fruits develop the right flavour given time to ripen naturally, animals/fish too, if given the luxury to take their own time according to what nature designed for them.

A good meal, in other words, is often the taste of time. Patience is therefore, the true test of one's dedication to achieving the best.

Delicious, unforgettable beef bourguignon, courtesy of @carolparismikki.

Take this pot of beef bourguignon for example, it had been on the stove for 2 full days before I had my 10 minutes of enjoyment devouring it. If the cook or the guest did not have enough patience, the entire dinner experience would have been completely different.

Isn't life the same?

Isn't life the gentle simmer that can be more effectively-understood only after one has gathered experience and maturity through the accumulation of time?

Time is the essence of everything.

To build up a company from nothing to a reliable entity in the marketplace.

To foster a strong relationship with people.

To have sufficient practice to master a skill.

To nurture your little ones into responsible adults.

To win hearts and prove your credibility.

And of course, to cook delicious pot of beef bourguignon to make friends and family really really happy.

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

在我找寻美食真谛的旅途里,通过视频,书籍,文章,跟厨师的交谈当中,有两个字一再被重复:时间。

时间有味道吗?尝得到吗?

时间彻底融入了食物的一切,从焖、炬、烤、腌制、发酵、冷冻, 都少不了对时间的掌控。连达到解冻最好的效果,都要通过在冰箱里低温长时间才能取得。耐心,也成为了烹饪最重要的品德。


就拿这碗简简单单的台湾肉燥饭来说吧,如果不是在炉灶上足足两天,采用最好的有机猪肉 (也就是说猪只有自由活动的空间和适当的时间来自然成长),这碗饭也达不到我想要的滋味。

人生不也一样吗?难道人生不是通过长时间累积的经验跟智慧,才能好像红葡萄酒一样越老越香醇吗?

时间穿透了生命的一切、是万事欠缺的东风。

把一间公司从一无所有培养成在商场上可靠的品牌。

把孩子教育成对社会负责任的一份子。

把婚姻,朋友,家庭、各种人际关系经营好。

把一个求生技能掌握得得心应手。

让自己赢得漂亮的诚信与口碑。

这样样都急不得,不能缺少耐心与时间的酝酿。

时间有味道吗?

有。

那就要看你有没有用心去品尝了。

Friday, July 6, 2018

Stranger in Bangkok: Phase 2

Many people like to ask me, "What do you do in Bangkok?" followed by, "What company do you work for?"

I usually do not know what to say, because I know the answer will not be an interesting one. Even though I work in the agricultural industry, one that is relevant to more than half the population in Thailand, to most, it's still considered a low-profile "niche" market.

The conversation gets even more awkward when I reluctantly tell them my company name.

So there you go.

I moved permanently to Bangkok mid-2010. It took us 8 years, to start from zero, to finally move into our own premises. Consider this a major milestone in our journey, but this is one decision that came with a story of its own.

The owner of the group of companies I work for has never visited our branch in Thailand before. The only time I saw him in my first 6 years, was at my wedding, where he shook my hand and offered his blessings. Otherwise, no matter how I encouraged him to come, his reply would be, "You young people need to fight the fight."

As I go through all the paper in my office in preparation for the move, in my bid to save every piece of reusable paper or clip, I recalled all the things I did to build this up. I had to do every damn thing, cos there was just me. All the late nights. The lonely evenings I spoke with the neighborhood dog. The systems I set up to make sure I did everything necessary. The talking to passers by to help me unload thousands of boxes of goods, which had to be done regardless of weather or time. The betrayals. The helplessness. All precious precious memories, good or bad. I realized my survival instinct forced me to block out the process to focus on achieving acceptable results, resulting in me forgetting much of the journey. I wonder whether that's a good thing. Or maybe I am just getting old. #workinginthailand #strangerinbangkok
A post shared by Eddie Yii (@strangerinbangkok) on


Fast forward to September 2016. A special training event organised by our principle brought me back to my head office in Bintulu, Sarawak. As usual, big boss shook my hand. This time, he spoke, "It's time to find our own place."

He had finally given me an instruction! My one and only royal edict. I sprung into action.

It took nearly 2 years, and here we are.

In our own place. Bigger, better, and more importantly, gives us a sense of belonging and a platform to propel us into greater heights. Whether that happens though, is an unknown.

What I know is, behind this sense of achievement, is the fact that we have never been tighter in cash, and never been more in debt.

Stranger in Bangkok: Phase 2, starts, now.



Friday, June 15, 2018

Great Wall of China with kids: 慕田峪 Mutianyu is the choice

Songkran is the best time to stay in Bangkok. Not because of the festivities and watergun battles (ok, maybe that too), but because everyone who is not from Bangkok would have gone back to their respective hometowns and work comes to a standstill, resulting in a less-crowded city with little or no traffic jams. However, for some reason, this year, I swapped a staycation in downtown Bangkok for an incredible 6D5N trip to Beijing involving 2 families, 4 adults and 4 kids (aged 3 to 7).


I contemplated discussing in detail my entire itinerary like I did in the past for Hua Hin and Khao Yai, but no, because nothing in Beijing matters more than leaving our footprints on the Great Wall of China. It was personally, my 3rd time on the Great Wall, though the 1st 2 times were literally decades ago and obviously without the kids. So, with this post, I hope to give you as many tips as I can, to make a trip with kids to the Great Wall an unforgettable one.

The little one taking a breather.


1. Choose Mutianyu

There are 3 popular entrances into the Great Wall, with Badaling (closest to Beijing city) being the most popular of them all. Having experienced it myself, I would personally endorse taking a longer drive and go to Mutianyu instead.

Firstly, it is much much less crowded, which makes a hell of a difference especially during peak seasons, be it for comfort or photo-taking purposes (see the first picture above).

In the cable car.
Secondly, I recommend taking cable car up to Tower 14, followed by a leisurely stroll down to Tower 6 before taking the really fun and relatively-long Toboggan ride (no pictures allowed there) back down to the entrance area. It will give you a chance to take in the grandeur of the Great Wall during the stroll through many watch towers.

Stroll on the Great Wall

2. Timing

April usually isn't the most popular time to visit. It's approaching spring, but not quite spring yet. It can also get a little cold and windy high up on the Great Wall. But after this visit, I feel that it could be the perfect time to visit. It is less crowded, and even if the trees are not at their colourful best, the leaves and flowers are beginning to sprout, so it's not total gloom.

Spring is around the corner.
It's also good to note that we shot right down to Mutianyu from the airport at 7am right after disembarkation from a red-eye flight. Some might see this as a risk, given we have so many kids in tow, I feel that arriving at Mutianyu before 10am felt like a good decision, as the crowds have yet to build up and we could avoid the scorching afternoon sun.


3. Prep the kids before the trip

Thanks to my genius wife, my kids were shown documentaries and songs about the Great Wall of China (and other famous sites in Beijing) before the trip, so much so that by the time the trip came, they could already sing songs about the Great Wall and understood its significance.

Snacking in one of the watch towers.
Even though my little girl is only 3, and required me to carry her up and down uneven steps for long distances during our stroll, it's still more than surreal for me to see them actually running and playing on this monumental construction, one that means so much to our pride as Chinese. I wouldn't change the experience for anything.

Picture of my struggles, but we survived! I call this father-daughter bonding, haha.
So there you go, my tips and tricks for conquering the Great Wall as a family with small children. For those who are worried, I hope by doing it and sharing my experience, you will be encouraged to go ahead with your trip too!


Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below and I will gladly answer them if I can.


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