(no pork served)
It is not easy, the adaptation of Asian Tastes and Sensibilities and combining it with Western Cooking Technique and presentation. A lot of people have attempted it, many have failed. You cannot hide bad cooking with heavy sauces and beautifully presented dishes, more so with Asian styled cooking, where the emphasis is on the natural taste and freshness on the ingredients and the masterful blending of ingredients.
Cheong Liew is the face behind the Grange and had been recently been honoured with a lifetime achievement award by Restaurant an Catering, SA in view of his contribution to the food and beverage industry in Southern Australia. Quite and achievement for a Kuala Lumpur boy. It would not be difficult to see why Australians love Asian inspired fusion cuisine, being a virtual cultural melting pot for so many different ethnic groups from all over the world. Accolades include one of the 10 hottest chefs alive from the American Food And Wine Magazine and Medal of the Order of Australia.
Clockwise from top left: 1. The amazingly energetic Cheong Liew explaining the dishes he created 2. Dominic Versace 3. Michael Elfwing 4. Cheong Liew
Cheong Liew was back in Malaysia recently for the Fifth Anniversary celebration of Senses Restaurant. He was both modest and affable and I had the pleasure to chat with him before and after dinner where he filled me with little anecdotes on his travels, the changes in KL and the Australian food scene plus about his childhood in Malaysia.
"For example, a mother’s job was traditionally not only to cook but to think about the family’s health – ‘my son has a cough, my husband is working hard, the sun is hot’. So she will come up with dishes that will fit each person’s needs. Whether Indian or Chinese, it’s part of the culture of Asia." - Chef Cheng Liew, interview with Sumptious.
It was a wine pairing dinner with Dominic Versace, but I would not be mentioning the wines much, as they failed to impress me. Typical South Australian Fruit bombs which can be very attractive and seductive if you are into that sort of wine. Unfortunately it lacks the complexity and the depth that I normally look for. Only 2 mentions, the 2009 Rossini Rosso is fresh and light and would be ideal as a picnic wine and this Rose is made from Sangiovesse. And the unvintaged Premium Sparkling Shiraz which would make a great party wine with lots of berries and cassis on the nose with moderate longevity on the palate. Better than the Lumbruscos.
Each time a new dish is served, Chef Cheong will come over to our table and explain the intricacies involved in creating the dish of which we can see his brilliance. De-boned chicken wings, stuffed with scallop and minced chicken meat and scattered with truffles, tofu smooth soya bean jelly, with shredded dried octopus inside and smoky Venison Consomme, cleared with lobster. A perfect blend of tastes, smokiness blended with the taste of ocean.
We’re always in search of experience. In the whole cuisine of Malaysia, not one dish is fixed in one culture. One dish can have Malay, Indian, Chinese influence, sometimes even Portuguese or Dutch influence. This is how original cuisines evolve. Even 600 years ago in Europe, Paris-style food evolved from a mix of many different cultures. - Cheong Liew, Interview with Sumptous.
However, the union of east and west is not perfect and may result in a discordant, jarring cadence. This dish is heavily influenced by Mediterranean Cuisine. Squid Ink coloured the sausage skin with fish paste, Spanish equivalent of Carnaroli Rice Risotto with Aioli somehow or another did not result in a harmonious transcendence that I was hoping for.
Farm grown Abalone was used and it was double boiled with scallops to give an illusion and taste of dried abalone. The duck was wrapped in a salt meringue before being baked, and although the skin was extremely salty, the resulting texture of the meat was perfectly tender and gamy, and tasted like smoke cured duck meat. Wakame seaweed was mixed with abalone blood to produce this rich tasting sauce and the accompanying broccoli and mushroom was tossed onto a bed of shredded dried scallops. Genius, I could hardly imagine that Cheong Liew started off his career as an Electrical Engineer.
The Wagyu beef rib was braised to perfection with some Chinese Cardamom, and the texture was perfect and tender. The Pumpkin ravioli was dressed in some heavy Parmesan cheese and sweetish. The plain grilled wagyu loin eased the satiety of this dish a little, but I found this dish to be slightly too heavy.
Dessert Platter was some Cinnamon Ice Cream, Green Apple + Lime Jelly and a Mixed Fruit Loaf with Sago. It was not particularly inspiring.
An old wedding custom dictates that the bride should wear:
Something Old, Something New,
Something Borrowed, Something Blue
And with this marriage of East and West, all the requirements of were met, except nobody was blue after the meal. The only blue we saw was while paying the bill where we parted with quite a few blue coloured bills. This may not the the perfect marriage, but as with any cross cultural relationship, there was a lot of effort made to understand each another, respecting the traditions of each other and not to dominate, but to co-exist in harmonious union.
It was certainly enlightening to be able to taste Cheong Liew's food and actually experience his ingenuity in the kitchen. Not only that, we had the pleasure of interacting with a very down to earth and friendly chef who actually lived up to the hype. The dinner was very intimate and we were awed by the hospitality and interaction from both Cheong Liew and Michael Elfwing. I had the opportunity to make some new friends and fellow foodies, and this was a great way to end the year 2009 and certainly one of the memorable meals this year.
The face behind "The Grange" will be leaving it and will be taking a sabbatical. I wish him all the best, and hope that he will be back to cook again in KL soon.
Merry Christmas, y'all, and Happy New Year 2010!