Four Asian Chefs, Eight Courses, And One Memorable Culinary Experience
Four “rock star” chefs—one from Hong Kong, another from Singapore, and two from the Philippines—recently joined hands at Discovery Primea’s Flame to create a truly unforgettable degustation experience that had its roots in Philippine cuisine and ingredients. Called an Eight Hands Collaboration, this one-night-only dinner featured Margarita Forés of Grace Park in Makati, Vicky Cheng of one Michelin-starred VEA in Hong Kong, MasterChef Asia’s Woo Wai Leong of Ibid in Singapore, and Flame’s own Luis Chikiamco.
The dinner was part of the Asian Culinary Exchange—a two-day forum organized by Angelo Comsti for Asian chefs to get together and share industry insights. Beyond the series of talks held at SM Aura on the first day, one of the major highlights of the whirlwind visit of these Asian chefs had to be the four chefs’ degustation dinner at Flame.
No matter how many courses a degustation (or tasting) menu may have, it’s all about taking a culinary journey, one of discovery. And mind you, this journey can be one marked by familiarity, by surprise, and by a slow steady start, leading to wilder kitchen imaginings as the experience progresses.
For me, this is the essence of how to make the most of the degustation—to see it as an adventure where textures, flavors, ingredients merge sublimely, clash beautifully, and where there is a succession of the culinary equivalent of “pulling rabbits out of the top hat.” In this sense, this exploration of flavors that have some connection to Philippine cuisine was an unqualified success.
Among the eight courses served that night, and if you ask me to pick out my favorites from each of the chefs, the list would look like this:
From Singapore’s Woo Wai Leong, it would be his Black Garlic Custard, as this one found a way to combine lobster, ham, and fish roe within a custard preparation that took on the consistency of a hearty soup, but with exotic flavors!
Luis Chikiamco’s Foie Gras Sinigang had the temerity to be both comfort food and fine dining, via the sinigang broth and, surprise of the night, a slab of foie gras floating in the soup.
As for Vicky Cheng, while his Sichuan Tuna was the spicy delight of the night, his Beef Char Siu which employed adlai, was a traditional dish given a whole new dimension and bearing—my absolute favorite that night.
And Margarita Forés gave our traditional Ukoy a brand new sheen, thanks to the crab fat mayonnaise that was served alongside the Ukoy, giving the dish a new, exciting twist.
Conversing with Vicky and Wai, I appreciated hearing them wax rhapsodic about this Manila visit. They had a great time at Bank Bar after the forum of the first day. They joked about how they were ready to surrender to la dolce vita of Manila and call off the Flame dinner. If anything, they were regretting having to leave the next day to fly back to their respective countries.
For the ones lucky enough to have made it to this dinner, it was obvious that VEA and Ibid would definitely be on our list of restaurants to go to when in Hong Kong and Singapore. With these Asian chefs, there may be competition at one level, but overriding this is the camaraderie and genuine friendship that make these collaborations such occasions of celebration and joy (of cooking). It’s a delicious exchange of culture, and a way of making this world smaller in a good way.
Flame Restaurant, 16/F Discovery Primea, 6749 Ayala Avenue, Makati City, www.discoveryprimea.com