By Diana Hubbell
Though Bangkok is justifiably proud of its own culinary heritage, this increasingly cosmopolitan city also has a fierce appreciation for international fine dining. At no time is this more readily apparent than during the annual World Gourmet Festival at the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok. The event gives chefs from all over the world a chance to flaunt their skills and swap ideas, all for a good cause (a portion of the proceeds go to charity).
This year, a couple of us from Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia went behind the scenes to get a closer look at all the hard work that goes into bringing so many culinary superstars to one place. We took a sneak peek at the kitchens where the chefs chatted casually in a hodgepodge of languages while deftly chopping, stirring and frying some of the hundreds of dishes. Though we heard snippets of Thai, Italian, Spanish and English, no one seemed to have any difficulty communicating. After all, they all spoke at least one common language: food.
Back in the dining room, we had the chance to witness two live cooking demonstrations. Here’s our take on two very different dishes by two very different chefs.
Victor Quintillà Imbernón Lluerna, Barcelona, Spain
The dish: Hailing from Barcelona, the undisputed capital of molecular gastronomy, and with experience working under Ferran Adrià at the famed elBulli, it was no surprise that Chef Imbernón chose to prepare a somewhat unconventional dish. His deceptively simple-sounded zucchini curry turned out to be a clever East-meets-West creation.
The technique: The curry started, as many good things do, with copious amounts of butter and olive oil. Chef Imbernón gently sautéed diced onion, zucchini and spices until fragrant, then simmered everything with milk until the mixture reduced and was soft enough to force through an immersion blender.
Everything about the recipe seemed straightforward enough until this point. The fun began when Chef Imbernón topped the puree with sperified globs of coconut cream and yellow curry paste. These texturally curious orbs—each with a liquid interior held together by a thin exterior film—are made possible thanks to a seaweed-derived compound called sodium alginate, an oft-used ingredient in molecular gastronomy. The chef then garnished the final dish with peanuts, julienned apple, cilantro, olive oil and edible flowers.
The verdict: The curry was a lovely display of Chef Imbernón’s respect for Thai traditions, though with mostly European ingredients and techniques. The sperified coconut orbs added more than just an element of drama; they punctuated the otherwise mild puree with bursts of richness and flavor.
Igor Macchia La Credenza, Piedmont, Italy
The dish: While Barcelona may be known as one of the world’s most experimental food cities, Piedmont, the home of Chef Macchia’s Michelin-starred restaurant La Credenza, celebrates traditional cooking. Best known as the birthplace of the global Slow Food movement, this northern Italian region honors age-old techniques and high quality ingredients. Chef Macchia chose to showcase a northern Italian classic, risotto, with a contemporary presentation.
The technique: Risotto is a dish requiring patience and, in this case, the help of a couple of volunteers. Pichayanee, our Digital Media Manager stepped up to help the chef stir Arborio rice with stock. When the proper consistency had been achieved, Chef Macchia added roasted red pepper puree and generous handfuls of Parmigiano-Reggiano. He then plated the risotto and topped it with a vivid green spiral of parsley-emulsion and a dollop of anchovy-cream.
The verdict: The final dish was gorgeously presented and the pungent anchovy added a welcome contrast to the creamy risotto.
The 13th World Gourmet Festival will be held at the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok from September 3 through 9, 2012. For tickets and event information, go to worldgourmetfestivalbangkok.com.
Check out our exclusive footage of the event and get a sneak peek at the chefs in action.