September 17, 2015
Jowett Yu, the Taiwan-born, Canadian-trained, Hong Kong chef is a man of the world. Raised partly in rural Yilan province (where his grandmother grew her own rice, pickled her own vegetables and made her own wine), he was always fascinated by food. After getting a university degree in history, he followed his heart to culinary school in Vancouver and then flew off to Australia to work at Tetsuya's. His own Sydney restaurants followed before he moved on to Hong Kong where he's now executive chef at Ho Lee Fook.
For the past three nights, however, he's been in New York where Chef's Club by Food and Wine showcased his cooking. This is fascinating food, very much in the Sydney style and unlike anything being served in our city today.
The banquet started with those drunken clams at the top, marinated in a mixture of beer and Shaoxing with piercing notes of lemongrass and basil and exhilarating sparks of chile. I found these little morsels irresistible, and as I chewed on the delicious clams their texture reminded me how rarely the Chinese serve raw food.
Taiwan, on the other hand, was strongly influenced by the Japanese, who ruled the country between 1895 and 1945, and you often find sashimi on Taiwanese menus. But Yu has made raw fish his own, marinating kampachi in a plum and coriander vinaigrette and pairing it with pickled cucumbers that underlined the subtle richness of the fish. I have never tasted a more successful substitute for soy sauce.
Prawn toast okonomiyaki is another clever concept. The thick crisply fried squares of toast with their kewpie mayonaise, their salt, their seaweed and Bulldog tonkatsu sauce are almost stoner food – all big flavors and bold textures. Then you realize that those bonito flakes shivering on top are actually smoked cabbage shaved into tremblingly thin slices and you laugh out loud.
"Sixteen pleats!" breathed Francis Lam, sitting next to me, when these dumplings were plunked onto the table. "Sixteen pleats!" Not to mention the most delicate dumpling skins imaginable. Like butterfly wings wrapped around a hearty cabbage filling. I think I could have eaten them forever.
Black kingfish, steamed with pickled chiles, capers, and shallots in a white soy dressing. A really clean dish (love those greens!) and exactly what you want to eat at this point in the meal.
Fried cauliflower and brussels sprouts in a bacon maple chile jam were undeniably tasty. But after the intelligence and humor of the previous dishes this combination struck me as fairly pedestrian – the sort of vegetable dish turned out by achingly hip restaurants across America.
A huge hunk of short ribs glazed in soy, topped with scallions and served with green shallot kimchi (yes!) and a jalapeno puree. Both did an admirable job of tempering the richly seductive fattiness of the beef.
Horelicks ice cream. Cornflakes. Figs. Raspberries. Coffee crunch.
Cute. Funny. A little breakfast to send you off to bed. Maybe I'm being grumpy, but I really loved this meal, and at this point in the evening all I really wanted was a simple slice of fruit.
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