Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Justin Quek - Inspired Tastes & Culinary Passion

Justin Quek, a heavyweight name in our local culinary scene and a growing influence in Taiwan and perhaps soon the rest of Asia. I quickly read through his book, Passion & Inspiration, last night and it put everything in context. Now established, this man lives life with passion for what he does. His culinary passion pushed him to London and then to Europe, where his passion landed him his job and the experiences that refined his skills and opened his palate. His techniques today are refined and precise and his taste is still evolving. His dinner on the 13th Oct showcased how he had incorporated local Taiwanese and traditional French Rolls-Royce ingredients to create his own form of cuisine.

I can’t speak much for Justin’s food because I never dined at Les Amis when he was behind the stove. His return and his dinner tonight was, I believe, a showcase of how he has evolved in Taiwan. Showcasing Taiwanese produce and bringing his whole kitchen and service staff with him, he tried to re-create a petite piece of La Petite Cuisine at Snappers. That night’s food was interesting; unlike his days at Les Amis, (according to foodies I dined with) the style was still Justin, but the produce that he was working with tonight were different. The plates were presented with grace and masterfully combined rich textures and light flavours.

The menu was as follows: Canapés of Tuna Tartare with Lemon Zest, Langoustine Cracker and Baby Potato Wrapped with Bacon, Smoked Cobia Parfait with “Avruga” Caviar, Seared Romaine Lettuce & King Oyster Mushroom with Autumn dressing, Duo Cooking of Maine Lobster with Ceps, Tagliatelle with Salted “Natural” Pork and Fresh Autumn Truffles, Demi-Tasse of Herbal Duck Consommé and Foie Gras Dumpling, Grilled Smoked Cote de Beouf, Autumn Vegetables, Bordeaux Sauce or Pan-roasted Ocean Sou Mei with Lobster Essence, Avant Dessert, Duo of Chef’s Dessert—Egg surprise and Jasmine Tea Jelly with Pomelo and Lemon Sorbet and Petit Fours.

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Seared Romaine Lettuce & King Oyster Mushroom with Autumn dressing

To start off, the lemon zest that garnished the raw fish was like a burst of sunshine in my mouth that what my appetite and the langoustine cracker was an intriguing paper thin crisp with a heady shrimp like taste and the caviar was luxurious paired with a rectangle of a soft smoky tasting cream. Following that was an exciting and light combination of crunchy and squishy textures that was lightly perfumed with a truffle dressing and topped with a truffle shaving, then more delicious mushrooms that accompanied lobster.

Next up was the pasta course that was light and heavy at the same time. The ribbons of pasta were coated with a gloss of oil, which I can only imagine it to be fat rendered from the crispy roasted pork that was sweet and crunchy. After the relatively subtle flavoured courses, we moved on to the more full-on flavoured foie gras dumpling that, as the service staff advised, should be chased by the herbal duck consommé. The foie gras dumpling was butter and fatty as expected, but the duck consommé was wow. The consommé was intense and simultaneously familiar to the Malaysian version of Bak Kut Teh.

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Duck Consommé and Foie Gras Dumpling

After the “appetisers”, main courses and the sweet offerings were a bit of a hit and miss. The smoked beef, a Justin Quek signature dish in la petite cuisine was gorgeous and excellent with the baby potatoes, but the fish had a really odd sauce that I could not quite appreciate. As for the duo of desserts, the first was an egg surprise, which a cutely perched egg on a bed of sesame seeds, which was contents tasted of a melted Ferraro Rocher, delicious and a product of 17 or 18 trials before they got their final product. The second of the desserts featured a jasmine tea jelly, with pomelo and a lime sorbet, was rather odd and dumbfounded our table. The jelly tasted mild on the first bite that closely follows with a bitter punch was a wonderful experience, but the aftertaste of the whole dessert was a weird sappy feeling in our mouths, unfortunately, was quite horrible.

Be thankful for petit fours, because it helped to partially erase some memory of the jelly experience. “As with tradition in Bordeaux”, as the maitre d' explained, “caneles are always served at the end of the meal”. And this recipe is one that Justin Quek had brought back from France, has tweaked it a little for the Asian taste buds, but adheres closely to the French traditional method of baking it in the copper moulds to create its signature caramelised coat.

To be honest, I was slightly disappointed. I expected to be in shock and awe for at least half the courses, but that feeling only surfaced on two occasions—duck consommé and seared romaine lettuce. At the end of dinner, I was well-fed, entertained by my company and educated on a few new food matters. Dinner was very good but lacked a magic stroke that I was hoping would take the meal to the level of sublime.


Blogger Tender at the Bone said...

How old is Justin,do you know? Many young chefs allow their creative urges to run wild without allowing for time to perfect their dishes. Slaves to the new. The menu sounded very French, as an American with an adventurous palate, I'd rather eat Thai food. I enjoy your writing by the way, thanks for sharing.

3:11 PM  

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