Thursday, February 21, 2019

A True Collaboration

We are always huge fans of Tong Chong Street Market, the Sunday farmer’s market started a few years ago by our friend J, which brings the best produce from local farms right to the backyard of our neighborhood. I love the idea of browsing around the stalls, learning more about all the wonderful stuff grown right here in Hong Kong and knowing the farmers who take good care of them – to me that’s where cooking starts. And last Sunday, the market went one step further, and together with the equally wonderful T.Dining team, hosted a one-night-only dinner event featuring the top local food and top local chefs.

Interestingly the dinner was held in one of the footbridges linking up the buildings in Taikoo Place, right above where the market is. We were impressed that the organizing team turned this ordinary bridge into an elegant dining room, with a makeshift open kitchen on one side then in the middle, a long dining table that could seat 50 guests. The menu was presented by 5 chefs, each presenting 2 courses, drawing inspirations from seasonal produce from local farms with almost all ingredients locally produced. With the close distance between the kitchen and our seats, everyone get the front row view of all the happenings in the preparation and plating, and how different chefs helped out one another in a true collaborative effort.

We began with a cold appetizer of geoduck clams 象拔蚌 with celtuce and pomelo, presented by Chef Barry Quak of Beet. Celtuce 萵筍 is not a common ingredient used in western cuisine, and it’s a variant of lettuce with crunchy stems. Here Chef Barry just cut and gave it a quick blanch along with the geoduck clams and bits of pomelos, the other ingredients commonly seen in local markets. The clams were rich in umami taste with a firm bite, giving some contrasts with the celtuce stems, and the pomelos added sweetness and acidity to the dish. Minimally seasoned but it was tasty.

Another cold appetizer came next, this time it’s tomatoes and basil by Chef Vicky Cheng of VEA. In the past I wasn’t fond of local tomatoes but in recent years, I have seen much improved versions showing up in farmer’s market, more plump and sweet and can rival that from the imported ones. Here what looked like a conventional tomato and mozzarella dish was in fact a more complex version with both tomatoes and basil turned into various forms, along with little meringues which replaced the mozzarella cheese and added a hint of sweetness. Chef Vicky also added juice of preserved mustard green, or ja choi 榨菜, a common ingredients used in local dishes, which gave this some savory flavor. It was beautifully done.

Four seafood courses followed, each in totally different styles. At least according to people around us at the table, Chef Vicky Lau’s (of Tate Dining Room) first course (named “Ode to Local Produce”) was by consensus our favorite dish of the evening. In the deep dish was atrina 沙插, or fan mussels that looked like scallops with the same firm texture but milder flavor (which Chef Vicky described as "poor men's scallops"), and “red rice” prawns 赤米蝦, a commonly found species during spring time in local waters known for its sweet umami taste. And they were accompanied by scores of other ingredients, all local, and that included white radish/daikon (poached), fennel (thinly sliced and pan-fried), salted kumquat and dried scallops (made into a Grenobloise-style sauce) and dill flower (as garnishes). It was a cumbersome dish to make and plate, but the end result was this harmonious set of flavor and texture captured in one single dish.

The cauliflower dish was an interesting one by Chef Eric Raty of Arbor. The set of ingredients looked simple enough – cauliflower, squid and XO sauce – but each was presented in its own creative way. The cauliflower floret was charred and topped with homemade XO sauce using dried shrimps, scallops and ham (which Chef Eric learned how to make from a local culinary expert), and on the side was finely-diced squids and cooked like risotto but with a much chewy texture. That’s combined with a dab of squid-ink sauce and onion cream sauce as garnishes.

I also loved the course by Chef Vicky Cheng, with him using local Threadfin fish fillet (or “Ma Yau” 馬友), pan-seared and served with a beurre blanc sauce with fermented cabbage, crispy rice and Sichuan chili oil, a dish he described as being inspired by the classic Sichuan dish “Fish with Pickled Vegetables” (酸菜魚). The cabbage reminded me of sauerkraut and his version was much toned down in terms of spiciness. The firm fish fillet worked perfectly well with the punchy sauce.

Chef Barry and Jacky Chan (of The Refinery) each presented a pork dish as our main courses, both using black pork breed raised in local farms. Chef Barry’s one was the more traditional, with loin and belly cut prepared in two different ways with contrasting texture and flavor, and on the side was seared burdock root, fermented cabbage and beet, fresh choi sum (mustard green vegetables) and meat jus. Chef Jacky’s one was much richer and unconventional, with the tenderloin cut into cubes and deep-fried (similar to the Chinese sweet and sour pork preparation), then served with a thick sauce made with black glutinous rice vinegar and dark soy sauce a la “Hangzhou-style”. It’s a tad bit too rich – I reckon it would be perfect with a side of steamed rice or noodles – nonetheless it was delicious.

At the end, a pair of desserts were served. Again, Chef Vicky Lau blew us away with her creation, with an unusual combination of local vegetables including beetroot (espuma), carrot (icecream), coriander and onion (fluid gel), plus chocolate mousse and citrus sponge. The espuma was filled inside a sugar dome made in the shape of beetroot for the wonderful presentation too. And in the final course, Chef Eric made use of one of my favorite local ingredients, the strawberries, and matched with roselle sorbet and shiso cream, for the refreshingly sweet taste. He also brought us the petit fours, which was sesame dacquoise with ginger cream. My favorite part was the candied ginger in between the mini meringues giving it a bit of the kick in the last bite.

Bravo to the chefs and the teams for putting all this together – this cannot be the only one. There are so much more one can explore in local produce.

More photos can be found in my Flickr album:

When? February 17 2019
Where The Great Farm Feast, Lincoln Bridge, Taikoo Place, Quarry Bay
Menu Highlights? Ode to Local Produice - Atrina and Prawns with aged kumquat Grenobloise-style sauce
Champagne Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV
2018 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
2017 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand
Tong Chong Street Market:
Honestly Green:
T.Dining by Hong Kong Tatler:

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