When it comes to food and food reviews, it is important for a foodie like me to get to know the food that I'm eating, to understand its history and to hear the chef's story. There's nothing better than hearing the passion of an artist ring true through his work and chefs are definitely artists in the kitchen.
So when INTI's culinary school invited FVSW to watch their executive chef, chef Eliezer Lopez from Mexico, go head to head with a visiting guest chef Christopher Koetke from USA, I was excited to see what our local schools are teaching our future chefs.
Both chefs demonstrated highly skilled cooking through dishes chosen from each of their locales. They also demonstrate patience and passion in teaching their student chef.
Chef Chris prepared some mind-blowing shrimp and grits as well as a planked seabass with chow chow. All these terms were foreign to me on the day of the demonstration but after tasting them, the memory of them will be forever seared in my mind.
In this photo, Chef Chris is plating the grits. Grits is a staple food for the people of South Carolina. According to him, this dish is as common as rice and noodles to the Asian - basically something we would consume at every meal. Grits used to be what people would consider to be the poor person's meal, quite similar to porridge. But in today's F&B industry, grits is making a comeback and making its way into even fine dining establishments as reimagined dishes.
Its preparation is easy. Mix the grits with some clam juice, water, butter, salt and pepper. But it is the cooking time that takes a while. Really, just like our porridge.
However, it was really the planked sea bass that caught my attention. First, Chef Chris threw the cedar wood planks into the oven. The earthy aroma that filled the kitchen as the planks heated up is unlike anything I had ever smelled before. Then once the planks are heated up to a desirable temperature, the fish is gently placed on top and it is returned into the oven for cooking. The aroma of the planks then shroud the fish in its earthiness and the fish comes out in a soft, amazing texture and taste.
Chef Eliezer, in turn, takes two of his home dishes, Camarones al Ajillo (shrimp with chilli oil) and a fish taco, and puts his own spin on it. He demonstrated how, when prepared properly, chillies don't necessarily have to be spicy. The art of extracting or suppressing the spiciness in chili, is an art.
But truly, his deconstructed modernised fish taco, fit for a fine dining restaurant was something to be admired. The Siakap al Pastor was prepared perfectly and plated so gorgeously.
It was an amazing experience to have both these chefs with decades of culinary expertise under their belts come to a local campus to demonstrate their cooking skills to the public as well as give us a great idea of what students at INTI would be learning. Kudos to INTI, as well, for organizing this event for the media to take a more in-depth look into our local education system.
I definitely left the session feeling a lot more knowledgeable on food and how it is prepared. A friend of mine in the local F&B industry once lamented that Malaysians take too little time to appreciate the art of preparing food and we don't bother asking waiters/chefs how our meals are being prepared. But this is a culture that is widely practised in Westernised countries. I do believe that in everything, we must continue learning. For us to do so, asking questions is the way. Glad to see that there are little steps being taken to educate the public on food. It isn't always about taste or presentation, but the overall effort put into a meal.