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Wine & Dine

Lobster for lunch, oysters for dinner

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A typical day at the World Gourmet Summit (WGS) in Singapore involved having lunch at a local restaurant, followed by sampling items demonstrated at a masterclass by a Michelin-starred chef and, before I could say foie gras, having a seven-course meal crafted by another top chef. If you thought Singapore was just about shopping, shopping and more shopping, pay a visit during the summit, when the city turns into a giant food court.

In its fourteenth edition, the WGS is organised by Peter Knipp Holdings, a company whose eponymous CEO used to be the executive chef at Singapore's famous Raffles hotel, and is supported by the Singapore Tourism Board. This year it took place in the fortnight of April 11-25, during which chefs and wine experts from across the world showed off their talents. The chefs conducted cooking demonstrations and later prepared special menus at restaurants across the city;there were themed meals spread across several courses, champagne dinners and, for the first time, a weekend of wine tasting called the Grandeur of Wine.
Some of the most special events were the masterclasses. These were interactive affairs in which chefs demonstrated three items before a small audience. The first one I attended was by Dieter Kaufmann, a 72-year-old German chef who has one Michelin star to his credit. He prepared scallop-and-tuna carpaccio with sherry jelly, salmon in sorrel sauce, a lovely contrast between the fish and the mildly bitter, pista green sauce, and foie gras truffles.

The last, a seemingly unlikely dish, was a pleasant surprise. Truffle-shaped rounds of foie gras were coated with cocoa, chopped pistachio and almonds. The result was a pleasing contrast in taste and texture, between the soft, buttery foie gras and the crunchy coat of nuts and bittersweetness of the cocoa, all of which was slightly soured by guilt at eating the liver of a goose that had been force fed. An expert on foie gras, Kaufmann said he serves around 73 dishes with the delicacy at Zur Traube, a restaurant he runs with his wife in Grevenbroich, Germany.

The other two masterclasses I attended were by Spanish chefs Dario Barrio and Juan Pablo Felipe. Both demonstrated their versions of gazpacho, a traditional Spanish cold tomato soup that, movie buffs will recall, played a leading role in Pedro Almodovar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Unlike traditional gazpacho, whose chief ingredient is pureed tomato, Felipe's version was a clear soup made from the watery liquid strained from tomato pulp. Without the heartiness of the peasant dish, Felipe's gazpacho had a more refined tartness. For Felipe, who spoke passionately about the history of Spanish cuisine, discovering the tastiness of the liquid separated from tomato pulp was a turning point in his career. "Until 1995, I made a lot of dishes, but I never made 'my' dish, " he said. "Gazpacho illuminated me. "

On the other hand, Barrio made a more traditional version of the soup, which he dressed up with a few culinary tricks. The chef garnished his gazpacho with cheese powder, a crunchy substance that he made by piping a mixture of molten cheese and water into the molecular gastronomist's favourite ingredient, liquid nitrogen. The nitrogen rapidly froze the cheese as it fumed attractively.

In the evenings, restaurants across Singapore would serve meals created by visiting chefs. Often, events were held at popular local restaurants whose chefs got a chance to display some sleight of hand. For instance, the Majestic was the venue for a European-style meal with oriental flavours created by in-house chef Yong Bing Ngen and London-based Alex Chow, one of the few Michelin-starred Chinese chefs in the world. We were served items such as salmon with a sambal of Parma ham and dried shrimp, lobster in a citrus-flavoured sauce with fried curry leaves and berries and oyster sorbet with yazu. The dinner was also a promotional event for Austrian wines as patrons got to sample some excellent sauvignons and pinots as well as wines made from typically Austrian grapes such as Grüner Veltliner and St Laurent. Wine promoter Michael Thurner pointed out that most Austrian wines are artisanal, as the grapes are hand-picked. Most of the wine produced is consumed within Austria and only around 30 per cent leaves its shores. As a result, the Austrian wines available abroad tend to be found in high-end restaurants. A few have made their way to India as well. "In India we have to educate wine drinkers, " Thurner said. "We have to compete against big companies to create a market for handcrafted wines. "

Another wonderfully endless dinner was at the Song of India, an Indian restaurant that frequently wins top food awards. It's run by chef Milind Sovani, who had designed a special menu based on zodiac signs. ishes included crab and young potato tikkis, chicken kebabs in pomegranate marinade and green tea kaju katli. Sovani does modern Indian cuisine;not to be mistaken with fusion. His is plated Indian food. That means Indian dishes presented on individual plates in the manner of fine Continental food, a concept that has begun to take baby steps at home in India.

pronoti. datta@timesgroup. com

Chronicles of Nonya

Singapore's hyper-modernity — all-chrome, glass exterior and impeccably manicured lawns — is usually the first impression visitors have of the city. The country's history is present only in a smattering of colonial architecture and areas like Chinatown and the Malay quarter that have quaint shop-houses in which families live above stores they run. But these are swamped by skyscrapers that have a newness to them. However, one can get a real sense of Singapore's history by tasting the authentically local Peranakan cuisine. Peranakan or Nonya food belongs to descendents of Chinese immigrants who travelled to Malaysia and Singapore and married ethnic Malays. Nonya is a term of respect for matriarchs who were often excellent cooks. The cuisine combines Chinese ingredients and cooking methods with Malay spices. The use of lemongrass, tamarind, coconut milk and galangal give Peranakan food a spicy, tangy flavour that's closer to its Malay version. Yet it's deliciously unique, with flavours that overwhelm the palate. Never mind the European gripe that the spices in Asian food drown the delicate flavours of meat and vegetables! I began a revelatory lunch at the Peranakan joint Blue Ginger with otak otak, a fish cake spiced with galangal, chilli and lime that leaves a trail of fire down your throat. I found that most dishes are sour, sweet and spicy in varying permutations. For instance, lime gives beef rendang a tartness and lemongrass gives it a kick. Sambal terong goreng— deep-fried brinjal with chilli paste and soya sauce — has a sweetness that's tempered with spice from the chilli. Ikan masak assam gulaiis a dish of mackerel in a sour, tamarind gravy that's sharpened with lemongrass. I rounded off my meal with chendol, a dessert made of red beans, pandan jelly (flavoured with extracts from the pandan leaf), coconut milk and gula melakaor palm sugar. The dessert is also served with durian, Singapore's national fruit, whose strong flavour is not for weak stomachs.

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