Despite all my good intentions to maintain this blog with regular updates I fell well short of this feat after a mere few weeks of my last post. Apologies to anyone that was waiting on bated breath for regular words. The reality is, updates will likely come sporadically rather than regularly. Although I do assure you valued readers that it is for noble reasons. When I last wrote I had stepped to the next level of my studies at Le Cordon Bleu, from Beginner to Intermediate, and I can now happily declare that I have stepped to the top and final level, Superior Cuisine. Unfortunately, it seems I gave myself very big shoes to fill from my first terms placing and this time around I wasn’t able to replicate such great heights. Well nearly, I came second in the year instead of first. There was an incident with a hollandaise that will forever taint the sauce in my mind. Note to self, must regain the crown at the end of Superior Cuisine.
Superior has been an exciting step up from Intermediate Cuisine. As budding chefs to be, we’re required to draw upon all the skills and experiences gained from the past six months studies, and then some. Dishes have been technical, complex and at times challenging. It’s great. In fact this week I have been learning about the world of molecular gastronomy and the modern kitchen. From sous vide cooking methods to creating flavoured foam emulsions and wacky powders, as well as the infamous spherification process, where you transform said liquid into a sphere that is able to hold its rigid shape while remaining liquid inside. Essentially, using science to create a thin membrane around the liquid, so when placed in the mouth and eaten it turns molten, releasing flavour and a liquid sauce consistency. The dish below showcases some of these newly learnt processes and techniques – côte de porc, sucrine braisée, raviole de poivron, écume de cardamome (sous vide pork chop, braised baby cos, red bell pepper spherification, cardamom foam emulsion, hazelnut snow. Bit of a mouthful (literally and figuratively).
Although it’s not all Le Cordon Bleu this time around to report on. In actual fact the reason I have dropped off the social media radar is due to work commitments. With the start of last term and based on my success at school, I took it upon myself to seek out a professional kitchen for hands on working experience and first bite at an actual full-swing service. Where else to start than one of the finest high-end French restaurants in town, Le Beaulieu. Famous in Bangkok and beyond for its elegant, high-end dining, exceptional classical French dishes and top quality produce. The kitchen is run by Chef Hervé Ferard, a native-born Frenchman who has worked in some of the finest kitchens in France, New York and Asia before opening Le Beaulieu. Not only this but Chef Hervé has also found himself serving as advisor to the Thai Royal Family for the past years and was pivotal in the rejuvenation of Northern Thailand’s farming industry with the forming of the Royal Project Foundation (an initiative that saw opium fields replaced with agriculture, allowing Thailand to grow sustainable, seasonal produce to supply the country). I’m still not really sure how I did it, but somehow I managed to talk my way into being given a part-time internship in Chef Hervé’s kitchen, and it was an eye-opening experience. Le Beaulieu is so highly regarded on the Bangkok dining scene that BK Magazine recently awarded it the #1 spot on their list of Top Tables for 2014 (not to mention having a number of other accolades around Thailand). Not too shabby for my first professional kitchen environment. Although as we all know, all good things must come to an end. Le Beaulieu was and still continues to be valued experience for me, but I found that my classical French background training at Le Cordon Bleu had prepared me relatively well for life in this style of professional kitchen and I was left craving something different, something unknown, something that would really push my buttons and stress levels to areas not yet know…
For that challenge I looked elsewhere in the Bangkok dining scene, to smaller, less established restaurants, that had been on the scene for a year or less. Some place fresh, some place doing something new for Bangkok, somewhere I could contribute my own blood, sweat and tears to help grow. That search brought me to Opposite Mess Hall, situated in a tiny side street in the bustling, hipster Sukhumvit-Thonglor area of Bangkok. Fairly impossible to find unless in ‘the know’, packed every night with a loyal following of high-society Thais and Western young professionals, and opened for just over six months. Opposite is furnished industrial-style (think New York loft meets Berlin warehouse) with a small 30-40 seat dining room, compact open kitchen and cocktail bar. This was exactly what I was looking for. Opposite is headed up by Chef Jess Barnes, a native-born Australian, covered head to toe in ink and known for his ability to prepare fresh, vibrant dishes from local, sustainable produce, as well his sometimes feisty personality in the kitchen. I had to work here. Upon meeting Jess it was clear we both shared the same vision on work ethic and direction of food and culture. So, as the saying goes ‘the rest is history’. I now work part-time in the kitchen at Opposite, preparing what we like to call ‘sharing plates’ using sustainable, seasonable and more importantly quality produce. I guess you could say our style of food is fusion, marrying Western cooking techniques and practices with European/International dishes, with a nod to our adopted Asian homeland.
Opposite Mess Hall has and continues to be a great environment for me to work, learn and grow as a chef. Space is small, turnover is fast and on the weekends our tiny kitchen gets slammed with orders (around eight by five foot in size – where we cram a single oven, four gas burners, salamander grill, deep-fryer and waffle machine, as well as a whole service/plating area). It’s hard work but the rewards far outweigh any kind of negatives. Our menu features such dishes as Duck Waffle (traditional savoury waffle topped with duck liver parfait, confits duck leg, Piccadilly relish, crispy chicken skin and chives), Steamed Buns (Korean style buns filled with crispy pork belly, shrimp mayonnaise and pickles, or for the vegetarians, fried soybean cake, smoked gouda cheese, siracha chilli mayonnaise and kimchi pickle), and an array of delicious salads (a favourite of mine being the crab, cucumber, pickled grapes, mint, ajo blanco and chorizo oil). We also run a number of blackboard specials every night depending on what’s seasonal and fresh at market. I’ve been fortunate enough to get my dish on the specials board on a few occasions, and it’s always a proud moment. We also recently ranked in the BK Magazine Top Tables for 2014 at #7 (great moment), so if you’re in town or live in Bangkok come down on the weekend and say hello. Always happy to meet new folks and cook for new customers. Oh and we serve the cocktails large and strong, what else could you ask for?
Aside from working in the kitchen at Opposite Mess Hall, I’ve also somehow stumbled into the role of contributing food and drink writer at 2Magazine, a Bangkok based lifestyle magazine aimed at the youthful, the beautiful and the influential. It’s actually an exciting time as my first two articles are due to be published in the May issue of the magazine, and will be hitting shelves next week. In the upcoming issue I take to the streets and dining rooms of Bangkok in search of the best, most authentic and incredibly delicious pizza on offer. I’ll tell you now, that fortnight made me feel like I was going to turn into a pizza by the end of it! As well as this, I cast light on a particular dish and restaurant in Bangkok that is proving to kick up quite a storm in the modern Thai cuisine culture. Be sure to pick up a copy, and I’ll be posting the online articles here next week for y’all back home to have a read. Needless to say this new found position has allowed me to network and meet with people all around Bangkok I would never have though possible, particularly chefs. Only this week I was sitting down with Dylan Jones (Bo.lan – Asia Top 50 ranking #28) to discuss the topic of sustainable fishing practises. I was also fortunate enough last month to meet a great idle of mine, only the great David Thompson (nahm – World Top 50 ranking #13, Asia Top 50 ranking #1). In case you don’t know Chef David’s background I’ll quickly fill you in. Australian native who travelled to Thailand and feel in love with the culture, people and country. The Australian chef took it upon himself to imbed himself within Thailand’s culture, by living with families in small villages all around the country, unearthing ancient, traditional recipes and learning the Thai language. With this knowledge he opened his restaurant nahm, the first Thai restaurant in the world to be awarded a coveted michelin star, quite an achievement considering David’s not a Thai. The man is a legend and is now considered the authority for Thai cuisine not only amongst the Western World but also here in Asia.
Lastly, you may remember me mentioning that I had been writing reviews for the upcoming Thailand Tatler Best Restaurants 2014 publication. Well as of last month the book was released and can be found in shops all over Thailand. It’s nice to know that I helped shape the book and hopefully some of you out there will find my reviews and comments useful when making informed restaurant choices in Bangkok. It was fun to get out and about when I was first settling into Bangkok and these reviews took me to restaurants I wouldn’t have necessarily found myself or visited, so thanks for that Tatler.
So as you can see it’s been somewhat of a busy few months for this inspiring chef. At times it’s been very tough. The long hours, demanding work schedule and even longer weeks begin to take their toll, especially when coupled with the notorious after hours, alcohol fuelled nights that the chef community are notoriously known for! I’ve partaken in my fair share of after service adventures around Bangkok, rolling home at 8am for a few hours shut-eye, before waking up to do it all again. I try not to let it happen too much. The hangovers can be life shattering… So that’s it for now. Stay tuned next week for my 2Magazine articles. Promise to report back sooner rather than later.