Saturday, 3 December 2011

Chef in Black Plays with his Food

What’s my idea of the ultimate eating experience at a restaurant? A chef given a free hand to cook the freshest ingredients available, in the best possible way, matched with the ideal glass of wine, in front of an appreciative table. It actually materialized a few nights ago.

There we were, six of us seated at the bar counter, as Chef Emmanuel Stroobant and his assistant whipped up a 15-course dinner in his so-called “playground”. But this was a culinary playground with a difference – there was no open-fire stove in this kitchen, instead a Miele steam oven stood off to the side. What others may see as a limitation or insurmountable challenge, Chef Emmanuel seemed to relish as he introduced one creative dish after another -- Japanese Tomato “fruit” with Parmesan gelation topped with Fleur de Sel, Japanese melon with Habujo, Salmon with Cep and Bacon…

The Oscietra Caviar, Egg Confit and Sour Dough were a match-made-in-heaven even for the jaded tongues at the table. This deceptively simple dish comes through in its complexity of flavors: the saltiness of world-class caviar, mixed with the slight sour taste of bread coated with a sous-vide cooked egg yolk.

Truffles were in season; and Chef Emmanuel teased our taste buds with white and black truffles in two separate creations -- Tartare of King Scallop with White Truffle, and Steamed Grenaille Potato with Black Truffle. With these two delicate creations, scallop and potato were like the supporting cast in a great movie, complementing the truffles with their quiet presence.
Traditionalists of French cooking would be surprised with the Sea Bass Bouillabaisse with Sea Urchin Crouton; the soup was delightfully light, and for a brief moment reminded me of miso soup. I could have done with a more generous dose of sea urchin on the crouton though. The Otoro, a couple of courses later, equally delighted me (how could Otoro ever fail to delight?). Skillfully sliced, torched, and baptized with wasabi oil, the fish was perfect!

There seems to be two opposing camps to the question of sous-vide cooking; I happen to belong to the skeptics. But Chef Emmanuel, who firmly affirms that this slow-cooking method is here to stay, very nearly converted me! He had dry aged Angus beef tenderloin and confit prepared at 54°C for three hours, yielding a blood red slice of meat, which he assured us, was well-cooked. My verdict? The full flavour of beef came across bloody strong (pardon the term) through the butter, shallot, and herbs. Whopping shiok!

The evening was buoyant and freewheeling, and quips flew between chef and guests. Everyone was cajoled into declaring likes and preferences, and even what we would like to see for the next course. But unanimously – and wisely, I might add -- we insisted on putting ourselves in Chef Emmanuel’s good hands.

Perhaps I was really full by the time dessert arrived, by they didn’t deliver the punch I was expecting. The flash-frozen Vietnamese Mint “After Eight” was a good break from the savoury dishes that went before it, but I felt the Gelatin-coated Fig was slightly overpowered by the saffron.

Admittedly, there were triumphs and near misses, but in all, it was a performance that lived up to its promise of playful creativity. We witnessed a chef at the height of his powers, trusting his instincts to make bold choices, and inventing in an almost improvisational manner. Exhilarating and memorable.

Limited to a party of 6 persons; priced at nine-course dinner at $250++ per person, 12-course at $350++ and 15-course at $450++ per person. Reservation is required.

Saint Pierre
#01-01 Central Mall
3 Magazine Road
Singapore 059570