Match made in HEAVEN

Match made in HEAVEN

When chef Jeff Ramsey came by the table to ask about the food, I told him I had a complaint. He heaved a sigh and said, “OK, let’s hear it.”

“There’s not enough of the food as it’s so good and I want more,” I said cheekily, to which he grinned and replied in relief, “Well, that’s one thing I can’t help you with!”

Frankly, I can’t wrap my head around how these brilliant chefs toil for hours in the kitchen to come up with such beautiful creations that would be finished in one bite. Therein lies the difference between a professional chef who views his work as art pieces and a home cook whose idea of happiness is when her huge pot of stuff is polished off with relish.

It was a privilege to be present for Perrier-Jouët’s second edition of its Four Hands Dinner Series, a collaboration between chef Ramsey and chef Kenichiro Yamauchi. The 12-course specially curated menu was a celebration of fine champagne and wines, and experimential food held at Babe by Jeff Ramsey, Kuala Lumpur.

Flanked by chef Jeff Ramsey (left) and chef Kenichiro Yamauchi (right).

The first non-Japanese to be bestowed the title Master Sushi Chef, chef Ramsey has 22 years of experience under his belt, and his style of modernist cooking earned the Tapas Molecular Bar in Mandarin Oriental Tokyo Hotel, Japan, a Michelin star rating which he maintained until he left.

Chef Kenichiro, with 17 years experience in French cuisine, heads his eponymous Restau K. Yamauchi in Nagoya, Japan, and consistently comes up with new recipes and new menus.

For the Four Hands Dinner series, paving the way was a welcome flute of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut. Dinner began with three exquisite starters, paired with a pleasant floral French Gerard Bertrand Rose 2018.

Kabocha Trevally Flower, chef K’s creation, won prettiest dish of the night. It had a delicate Japanese pumpkin cup with a coriander meringue heart that popped to nothing in the mouth, sitting on top of a piece of Trevally (fish). You would never have guessed that there’s a dash of tempoyak somewhere in there.

Chef R picked up the pace with a 1,000 year-old Cedar Smoked Kan Buri Nigiri that had the scent wafting through the air as soon as the lid was lifted. In his element, sushi never tasted better, with the fish so fresh and the grain holding its form.

Third starter was Heart Beet Truffle Dango by chef K that was literally one pop and gone too soon, but a lovely one at that – it was hard to describe the textures though – a bit like like a contained cotton candy, if you can imagine so.

The next set of three starters was paired with Henschke Tilly’s Vineyard 2016, a light and cheery summer wine with citrusy notes. If earlier the flavours were subtle, things got even better and rowdier, with chef R’s Shirako Brandade – black Konbu Flatbread, crispy potato bits and Yuzu Kimizu revving up the flavours. Creamy textures of the shirako (cod milt) dip juxtaposed against the crusty biscuit and crispy potato, brought to the fore by layers of savoriness. This was one of my personal favourites.

Caramelised Ankimo with Passionfruit Ponzu Granita by chef R was somewhat familiar – torchon of light buttery monkfish liver – as I had tasted a similar dish in an earlier menu of his. Decadent, buttery, calorie-laden, balanced by the cold granita that gave a slight stab to the tongue and the refreshing sourness of the passionfruit.

Foie Gras, Miso Cornet offered persimmon jam, koji marinated foie gras, tamari lees powder by chef K, a roll stuffed with cream that was reminiscent of a cheese roll, except this was a lot classier.

The Australian white wine from Adelaide Hills doesn’t particularly have highly rated reviews, but for this evening, it paired well with this course.

Main Course was kicked off by Takiawase, which was Japanese vegetables in different preparations by chef R. If greens tasted like this all the time, there would not be any kids (or adults) who don’t eat their veggies.

Reminiscent of squid ink pasta, this was Sea Urchin, Squid, Squid Ink Sauce with Arugula by chef K, lightly tinged with subtle chrysantemum fragrance. Uni is an acquired taste as it has a certain fishiness that doesn’t go down with everyone. But I love urchin, as do I squid ink, even if it means looking so-not-glam with blackened teeth after that, chewing on the slices of squid and kangkong.

I’m already biased to begin with so it’s not altogether an accurate review because I love, love Unagi so chef R’s creation, braised and grilled, with sunchoke puree and chips was my favourite of the night. Melt-in-your-mouth unagi – giving off a dash of saltiness edged with a touch of sweetness – and together in tiny dish it’s soft, crunchy and creamy at the same time, baffles me how something seemingly so simple can be so remarkable. This was my food heaven.

Pie, did someone mention pie? I love pie! A little surprising how something a basic as beef pie can end up in this dinner, but wait, this is no ordinary pie. Plated within a “nest”, the top crust is delicately removed to reveal the still reddish meat within.

It all came together when finally served – deconstructed – really tender, nicely pink on the inside and still moist Wagyu tenderloin given the Japanese treatment with Nori, Leek, Smoked Dijon Mustard and Kinome sauce by chef K. I stand by what I said. I love pie!

The main courses were paired with a highly rated French red Manuel Olivier pinot noir 2015, sumptuous with a dash of berries, a perfect accompaniment to both the seafood and meats.

All good things must come to an end, and so too this lovely evening. Dessert was paired with non too sweet a Michele Chiarlo Moscato 2017 from Italy.

Chef K ended his collaboration with a Hamma Natto Chestnut Mousse, Passionfuit and white chocolate.

When asked what was his personal favourite among the 12 dishes, chef Ramsey thought for a bit and said Candy Apple, revealing his leaning towards the sweet. Usually not a dessert person, I was lured by the fragrant Brown Butter Ice Cream. Looked like an apple but was not – it was a hand-blown sugar shell made to resemble an apple. Butterscotch caramel sauce was drizzled upon the kinako apple mousse hidden within, giving it a slight salty edge, which I liked. I must ruefully say I finished every last drop.

At La Grande Table Kitamura, the restaurant at full capacity could seat 100 people. Despite being sous chef, Kenichiro said he answered to the chef who was responsible for everything. But there was a decent sized team of staff, so relatively speaking it was not so stressful, he says.

“I contributed ideas, of course, but I felt less pressure compared to now as a chef-owner truthfully. Customer satisfaction is my top priority so I’ll be frustrated if I noticed my employees are not being attentive and focused on creating a memorable experience for the guests. As a team, we should be going in the same direction and be focused on our guests,” he adds.

It was an interesting experience for him especially as Ramsey took him out to several Malaysian restaurants to get an idea of what the palate is like here.

“Our tastebuds are used to stronger flavours and I had to encourage Kenichiro, ‘More, more’ and up the taste quotient,” laughs Jeff

Generally, chef Kenichiro’s food had more subtle underlying layers of flavours, while chef Ramsey’s was heavier handed, with more apparent taste notes. Being Malaysians who have a penchant for more robust, stronger flavours, chef Ramsey’s creations resonated more on our palates which have been accustomed to being assaulted by everything from sweet, sour to salty and spicy, sometimes all one shot. (And yes, I’m trying to get on chef R’s good side to get invited again … hahahaha!)