Eight-Hands Dinner Shows How Far Modern Asian Cuisine Has Come
The seats were sold out at the very last minute. Even as the chefs and their respective teams were preparing their mis-en-place at Flame Resturant’s open kitchen, napkins and cutleries are still being set on the bar area to accommodate late bookings. “I think it’s a Pinoy thing,” Angelo Comsti, organizer of the recently concluded Asian Culinary Exchange (ACE) 2018 shrugs at this cultural flaw, unperturbed regardless and satisfied that all the collaboration dinners connected with the event are sold out.
ACE 2018 was a two-day event, the first being a series of talks and conversations at SM Aura’s Samsung Hall about issues relevant to the food industry. The next day, though, is reserved for the much talked about collaborations between some of Asia’s best chefs and Philippine homegrown talents. With four dinners being held in different restaurants simultaneously, it was tough picking for many. However, the eight-hands dinner at Discovery Primea’s Flame undeniably offered serious star power with four popular chefs on deck- Luis Chikiamco (Flame), Margarita Fores (Grace Park), Vicky Cheng (VEA), and Woo Wai Long (Restaurant Ibid).
Chikiamco is the local hero and the ideal host. Discovery Primea marketing director Margaux Hontiveros admits that Chikiamco is so humble almost to a fault, which is probably why his hospitality is truly unparalleled. “When the foreign chefs and Margarita [Fores] arrived,” Hontiveros narrates, “Chef Luis was like, ‘I have four kitchens in the property. Please feel free to use them. My kitchen is yours.’”
This graciousness was not lost on the guest chefs, and Restaurant Ibid's Long, from Singapore, even had friendly tips to offer for Chikiamco’s foie gras sinigang. See, Long prepared a palate cleanser inspired by the humble Filipino street food taho, utilizing a sour lactic meringue to go with the soy milk sorbet and brown sugar sago. He felt that the lactic acid would have made for more well-rounded flavors as opposed to the biting acidity of tamarind. However, Filipinos used to the face-puckering sourness of sinigang will surely look for that contrast to the buttery foie. In that regard, Chikiamco surely delivered.
Long’s obsession with balance is clearly demonstrated in his black garlic custard, which utilized the black garlic skins which usually end up in the trash. The smooth, almost soupy texture was adorned with lobster tails, prized Jinhua ham, and caviar. Luxurious ingredients, definitely, but all serving their purpose in adding layers of flavor and texture to the sublime dish.
Both Fores and Cheng opted for bold flavors in their seafood appetizers. Fores admits to favoring rich crab fat as an ingredient and incorporated it into mayonnaise to be dabbed on the delicate, crisp, crepe-thin ukoy. The Hong Kong chef, though, opted for spicy Sichuan chili oil on local raw tuna topped with Hokkaido uni he hand-carried on the plane here. It is served with a crispy fish skin to give the dish the crunch it needs.
While the two chefs plate and exchange private jokes, their meat courses battle it out for best dish of the evening. Days after the dinner, people were still talking about Fores’s Laguna duck breast. “I heard it’s the duck breast to end all duck breasts,” one fan says. However, Cheng proves he is no slouch with his beautifully glazed beef charsiu that melted in our mouths. He also took heirloom grain adlai and made a block-shaped arancini that worked so well brushed against the earthy shiitake mousse. Let’s just say this was too close to call.
With the organizer and sponsors already talking about the next Asian Culinary Exchange, we will have this dinner as a lingering reminder of what the event brings. While the knowledge passed on during the talks are valuable enough, these collaboration dinners demonstrate what happens when this knowledge is freely shared and applied.