Humans differ from animals in many ways, and one of the differentiating factor is our ability to understand that our time here on earth is not permanent. One day, somehow, despite our bests efforts to prolong our stay here in this material world, we will encounter the implacable condition known as death. The desire to prolong our stay in this temporal world is constantly at the back of our minds, reflected by our daily activities. Exercising to stay healthy, working hard in order to save up for old age, applying inches of cream on our faces at night. Anything to delay the ravages that the march of time brings onto our body and with it decay and ultimately, death.
Even the rituals that we etch into our daily routine, for some, it is the consolation of prayers or abstinence from certain food as a preparation for death, a resolute self affirmation that life exists beyond death. Rituals that we follow for a non altruistic purpose of being rewarded by a happier existence after death. For other who do not believe in a Supernatural being, we plough books on Philosophy and Science and arm ourselves with enough ammunition in order to intellectualize the inevitable.
Despite living in conscious fear of impending finality, the subject of Death is always kept a Taboo, as if by not speaking or discussing about it, we can avoid it.
I am not sure if any of you read Kafka's "The Trial". The novel describes a gentleman, Joseph K., who was arrested on unspecified charges, put on trial which was presided by a Judge who had a zero percent acquital rate. Joseph K. was subjected to a ridiculous and farcical trial process which finally ended with Joseph executed on the last day of his 30th year, still not knowing what the charges against him were. It was a disconcerting read that left me troubled for a few days, but I couldn't help thinking about how well the absurdity of human existence being was described in it's essence in a tiny little unfinished novel. I last read it more than 15 years ago, and as much as I loved it, I could not bring myself to read it again and confront the frustrations and the despondency of being human entails.
It does make sense however, that some form of escapism offered by Art is welcome, to distract us from the anxiety of facing the inevitable unknown. Art, for non philosophers could defined as an artifact that evokes a sensori-emotional response. This would be a gross over simplification of the definition of Art. In Malaysia, the closest encounters with anything that can be defined as Art would be Movies, Books and Food.
I have audaciously included Food as Art, because to me, it is the most accessible form of art. It does evoke very strong emotional responses from the sensory stimulation. A good meal stimulates gasps, smiles of approval and even laughter and a strong desire to prolong the intense sensory pleasures that good food provokes. Food is Art on a plate, right from the preparation to plating. Extraordinary food not only stimulates the visual, gustatory, olfactory and tactile senses, it stimulates the intellect as well.
Art has been described as a process of destruction, or more precisely, the destruction of similarity of things or the sameness of things. Sameness sells, it comes with the comfort of conformity to what the market requires or the set opinion of the masses and historical verification of the response of the market. It takes gut and vision to escape from the blandness of being similar. If total disbandment of similarity is a characteristic of great Art, then Chef Frankie from Gu Yue Tien had created a couple of Masterpieces from his set menu.
Double Boiled Pig Stomach Soup with Gold Coin Shark's Fin. I am not fond of Pig Stomach, but am pretty sure fans will find comfort in this soup.
The first thing that you notice about the destruction of similarity in his food is actually in the plating, which is decidedly Western. Although his cold starters of Iberico Ham wrapped in rock melon and his Smoked Salmon and Onion Crab Roll although visually appealing and full of the right flavours, it does not hit me as particularly ground breaking. It was just some western dishes in a chinese restaurant.
The Momo Duck Roll however, was a wonderful gustatory experience of biting into a piece of smoked duck, pickled cucumber, sourish mango, spring onion rolled into a flour crepe with some savoury and smokey duck sauce and Mustard. The resulting Melange of flavours and textural contrasts is nothing short of amazing.
Chef Frankie's break from conventionality not only lies in the plating of the food, but also in his deconstruction of certain ingredients associated traditionally with Western Cuisine. His Gu Yue Tien Soft Boiled Egg with Foie Gras is a revelation. Adding some Foie to a perfectly boiled Egg was something so simple and yet effective. The resulting decadent emulsion is a deluge of rich flavours that flooded the palate and left a satisfied smile on my face.
The meal was not without fault. The Shark's Fins used were small and inferior, perhaps due to the pricing of the Degustation Menu which was set at RM99. The Ching Hua Ham which was used to salt the double boiled broth was too conspicuous and resolute and over powered the subtle soup. Again, there was also an over zealous glazing of the Cod which resulted in the delicate flavours of the Cod being lost.
The Soft Shell Crab was perfectly fried with minimal traces of Oil, that almost had me popping open a champagne in joy as it is usually mushy and bogged with oil elsewhere. The beef had been sampled in a previous review of GYT.
Being not a big fan of Pork, I was taken back with the delicious flavours that greeted me from the Confit of Pork Ribs. The meat was crumbling off the bone and had a very delicate flavour of Chinese Herbs that went deliciously well with the Hoi Seen sauce. It was astounding as I found the pork to be absolutely delicious which is a rarity.
Desserts were not heart stopping impressive, just some amazingly good Almond Tea that was grounded in house and some Chilled Mango and Pomelo.
In most other Art forms (with the possible exception of paintings), Tragedies are the ones that makes a lasting impression on our minds. Heart breaking songs, tear jerking movies and books about the horrid ravages that the human condition inflict on us are the ones that get the most attention from us. Humans are usually abnormally fixated on Tragedy, especially when it involves others and not us.
Fortunately, good food evokes the other spectrum of emotions. That makes us all thankful that there are people like Chef Frankie to excite us, to tantalize us and make us ogle at his dishes, his little pieces of art on plates. Even his little degustation menu offers a glimpse of our short journey of life, from creation (the use of roe and eggs) to old age (meat cured in herbs) and the disappointment and monotony of the less inspiring dishes, the tedium of life that invariably plagues all of us at some point or another.
One may detect some slight complacency such as his use of Pumpkin Mousseline/Puree in his dishes, and the menu may not be rotated as frequently as it should be. His culinary creations may lack the intellectual depth of Blumenthal, but the sheer vivacity of the kaleidoscope of flavours and textures of his culinary creation and his brazen yet admirably effective disregard for what defines and and yet confines Chinese Cuisine demands some attention.
Gu Yue Tien
Lot 5A, Chulan Square
Jalan Raja Chulan
Kuala Lumpur 50200