3 chefs, 6 hands, a whole slew of new flavors
CULTURE VULTURE - Therese Jamora-Garceau (The Philippine Star) - April 13, 2016 - 10:00am

STAR columnist Cheryl Tiu’s events platform Cross Cultures staged two “Six Hands” collaboration dinners last weekend at the close of Madrid Fusion Manila 2016, and it was a palate-changing representation of what MFM and Cross Cultures are all about: dynamic culinary exchanges between extremely talented chefs, bridging cultures and bringing people together through the common language of delicious food.

Cheryl was kind enough to save me a seat at her sold-out second dinner on April 10, which was hosted by chef Chele Gonzalez at his experimental fine-dining space Gallery Vask and showcased dishes by chefs Jorge Vallejo of Quintonil restaurant in Mexico and Jung Sik Yim of Jungsik restaurant in South Korea.

Gonzalez is known for his “anthropological cuisine,” Vallejo for his “contemporary Mexican” and Jung Sik for his “New Korean,” but though the descriptors may vary, at heart the three chefs share one and the same purpose: to work with ingredients indigenous to their respective countries and to lovingly prepare them in modern ways.

Sixteen Courses

The 16-course tasting dinner started with a quartet of snacks from the trio of chefs.

Jung Sik’s amuse bouche was a gim cone, which harked back to his Madrid Fusion talk on gim, a seaweed product comparable to Japan’s nori. “If you ask a Korean, ‘What is Korean food?’ they will most likely tell you something about fermentation and stuff like kimchi,” he said. “They won’t say gim. But gim is something we Koreans eat daily. Its unique sea flavors represent much of our culture.”

Jung Sik’s passion for the ingredient was clear in his menu, in which all three dishes featured gim. He formed a cone from flat sheets of seaweed triple-fried to a chip-like crispiness, then filled it with beef tartar, egg-yolk sous vide and a soy sauce dressing.

Along with Gallery Vask’s ukoy and Quintonil’s crab tostada, another crispy chip on which you had to spoon fresh crabmeat dressed with habanero mayonnaise, seaweed powder and cilantro, all four snacks were savory, crispy, seafood-y heaven.

Next from Gallery Vask came a tiradito, the Peruvian term for ceviche. The pickled seaweed on top of the cured fish popped nicely in the mouth, releasing a lovely, briny saltiness.

Another winner was Vask’s 5.6 oyster, which takes its name from Region 5 — from whence the Bicol Express that inspired the oyster’s spicy white sauce came — and the fact that the dish uses six ingredients.

The next course was one of the highlights: chef Vallejo’s Eggs and Charred Avocado, in which the eggs turned out to be… ant eggs. According to my seatmate, Karime Lopez Moreno Tagle, a lady chef from Mexico who works with Virgilio Martinez at his restaurant Central in Peru, ant eggs are a delicacy in Mexico usually eaten on special occasions. Resembling large grains of white rice, the eggs had the texture of fish roe but tasted like the butter and garlic they were cooked in. The dish was also seasoned with epazote, a tea-like Mexican herb used to flavor bean dishes and quesadillas.

Seafood Standouts

Next came a series of seafood dishes, the standouts of which were a seared parrotfish from Jungsik and the intriguingly named Teardrop from Gallery Vask.

Another of my tablemates was chef Hideaki Sato of French-Japanese restaurant Ta Vie in Hong Kong, who, upon Chele’s invitation, had flown in with his wife just to attend the dinner! Sato said that the Japanese are very fond of Korean cuisine because the flavors are very similar and familiar, and indeed, Jungsik’s seared parrotfish could pass for a Japanese dish with its uni, tofu, powdered and roasted gim, and a clam broth given a nice chili kick by jalapeño oil. “I really like his seaweed infusions,” Cheryl commented, and I totally agreed.

Chele named his dish Teardrop because it’s the English term for Adlai rice, which he infused with Kalingag, or sassafras, an aromatic tree bark that smells like root beer. The chef topped the rice with gotu kola leaves and “steak,” which we later found out was actually tuna cheeks. These chefs definitely like springing their surprises.

The progressive dinner built up to Vallejo’s Short Rib with Salsa Borracha, a square of tender beef plated with fashionably color-blocked black and white sauces. The vegemite-like black sauce was derived from huitlacoche, or corn truffle (less glamorously known as a corn fungus that Mexicans consider a delicacy), while the white sauce had a completely new taste for me — the somewhat tart flavor of fermented cactus juice. For the diners, this dish was another of the night’s hits.

From Mexico To Manila

Dessert rolled around with one called “Manila-Mexico” from Vallejo, composed of diced mangoes from Manila and chocolate powder from Mexico, charred tortilla chips, sweet avocado purée, marshmallow, sweet orange liqueur and a true bridge ingredient: the sugary brown fruit chico, which both the Philippines and Mexico have, though they call theirs chico zapote.

My personal favorite was the Pintos from Gallery Vask, which also shows the Mexican influence on the Philippines — specifically, the introduction of the Mexican crop corn into our local cuisine. “Pintos” is Cebuano for white corn, and Chele grills corn kernels to release a toasty aroma, whips it into a mousse with egg-yolk cream, wraps it in a cornhusk to form tamales, and serves it with burnt-milk ice cream. I could have happily eaten another serving or two.

The Six Hands dinner ended with Gallery Vask’s Sungka, inspired by the Filipino game in which shells are dropped into a carved wooden boat, except instead of shells the boat contained bite-size Pinoy sweets like kundol, yema balls, champoy, and green mango dipped in chocolate.

Boasting a home-court advantage, Gallery Vask served the majority of the dishes — nine out of 16 — with three from Jungsik and four from Quintonil, but I couldn’t count the magnitude of what happened that night. A culinary exchange had taken place, excellent food had been savored and consumed, but most importantly, many cultures had been crossed and bridged.





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Follow me on Facebook (Therese Jamora-Garceau), Twitter @tjgarceau and Instagram @tj108_drummergirl.

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