Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Swiss Visitng Chef

We honestly had not heard of Chef Andre Jaeger and his (former) hotel-restaurant in Switzerland when our friends A and R asked us to join them for dinner when the chef dropped by Hong Kong for a quick stint – it’s certainly our fault for being ignorant, as I learned afterwards that Chef Andre has quite a reputation being in the forefront of contemporary Asian-inspired cuisine out of his family’s property Fischerzunft in Schaffhausen since the 1980’s and remained a prominent figure in the Swiss culinary scene even after his retirement a few years ago.

The one-night-only dinner was hosted at a private social club at Mid-Levels. The club may not be known for its exquisite culinary offering (I have tried their food previously and they were not too shabby, I must say), but was certainly a perfect venue for an exclusive dining event such as this. And we managed to have a sip of wines and canapes at their lounge with our hosts before sitting down in the dining room next door.

It was a lovely evening with 7 food courses served with wine pairing. Chef Andre’s long career in hospitality stretched over multiple continents in and out of the kitchen, including time as the F&B Director at The Peninsula Hong Kong in the 70’s. Perhaps that is why many of the dishes had clear influence of Chinese cuisine but in chef’s unique interpretation. Right from the beginning a course named “Four Chinese Delicacies” were presented, which is a fun appetizer platter given the context with four different canapes served in stoneware plates. I felt like going back in times with dishes such as Lobster Toast with ginger and coriander garnishes served in a bed of egg noodles dressed in sesame sauce, or tea-smoked salmon served with cabbage, sesame and pickled ginger… items that I could imagine would appear on the menu of Gaddi’s during Chef Andre’s time at Peninsula.

The next course was curiously named “Dun Dun”, which I only realized he meant “Dun Dan” (Cantonese for double-boiled egg 燉蛋) when the dish arrived. In a glass bowl was the silky steamed egg custard served warm with thin slices of raw scallops and caviar on top. I could live with the egg custard a little cooler (otherwise the scallops appeared slightly cooked by the custard’s residual heat) but overall I love the combination of the aromatic egg custard with the ocean flavor from the caviar and scallops. Continued with the fusion theme was cod fillet “steamed Cantonese style”, with the fish perfectly cooked with the delicate texture with a simply beurre blanc sauce mixed with green beans and resina beans.

The risotto course was brilliant and my favorite of the evening. Chef Andre somehow managed to mix Cantonese black beans and lap cheong (cured pork sausage 臘腸) into the traditional risotto and turned that into something very enjoyable, with bits of sausage and black beans (known for its pungent flavor) mixed into the rice cooked with broth, cream and butter, and topped with more sausage (in slices).

Our main course of duck was another East-meet-west combination, with duck breast seared and served with Hoi-Sin orange glaze and a bloc of foie gras pan-fried and topped with a sweet and sour vinaigrette underneath crispy rice done Northern Chinese style (wo ba). The duck might be slightly over-cooked to my liking but overall it’s decent. And we ended the evening with a simple dessert, again with some Asian influence, with traditional Opera cake served with carpaccio of pineapples seasoned with Chinese five spices and a quenelle of Kirsch sherbet for a touch of Swiss.

We probably knew even less about Swiss wines than we did about Swiss chefs or restaurants, which is hardly surprising since most of the Swiss wines were produced for local consumption rather than exported elsewhere. So I thought it’s great we got to learn a bit more about Swiss wines throughout the evening with a few glasses poured to go with our dishes. All the wines came from Valais, a region along the upper Rhone Valley and produced by Provins, which was run as a co-operative and is the biggest Swiss wine producer.

We began with three different whites - Petite Arvine, Heida and then a blend of both, with Petite Arvine and Heida resembles Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc respectively in terms of varietals. To me they were fine as everyday wine, though I thought they tasted more like new world style with the racy acidity.

And I was more impressed with the few reds for the night, especially the 2011 Electus which is a complex blend of 7 different grapes, vinified separately and aged in oak barrels. A lot of ripe red fruit characters and a long finish. After the dessert, we were offered a glass of their sweet wine, dominant with honey on the palate and some apricot and good acidity. Something straight forward and always pleasing when served as digestif.

When? April 11 2019
Menu Highlights? Risotto with Black Beans and Lap Cheong
2015 Valais les Titans Petite Arvine AOC Valais
2017 Maitre de Chais Heida AOC Valais
2016 Valais Mundi Eclat AOC Valais
2015 Maitre de Chais Syrah AOC Valais
2011 Valais Mundi Electrus AOC Valais
2015 Valais Mundi Electrus AOC Valais
2013 Domaine Tourbillon AOC Valais

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