It sounds like a television show challenge: four chefs, from diverse backgrounds, with very different personalities, who have never worked together, have to put together a four-course meal with hors d’oeuvres for 350 covers.
This is not amateur hour, though. The four chefs who are assembling the meal for the Unicef Children’s Ball on March 4 have been awarded Asia’s Best Female Chef by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants judges, on consecutive years starting 2013.
The Philippines’ Margarita Forés won the award last year; she’s in charge of the seafood-white marlin with burnt coconut cream.
Bo Songvisava from Thailand’s Bo.Lan will open the proceedings with a trio of appetizers (“Not too spicy! Or else no one will taste the rest of the meal,” she laughed).
Lanshu Chen of Taiwan’s Le Moût will be preparing the main course, an intriguing dish of wagyu beef with a sauce of congee and pickled vegetables.
And Vicky Lau will prepare a dessert inspired by a “very local” flavor of her childhood in Hong Kong, honey lemon candy.
All four chefs share similar creative approaches to food as well as concerns surrounding food: sustainability, supporting local farmers, and reducing waste.
They all received their culinary education with a Western foundation: French for both Lau and Chen; Italian for Fores; Songvisava trained in Australia and in London.
While Lay and Chen run restaurants that would be listed as French or continental, both are trying to bring a little of their own culture to the strict rigor and, it must be said, insularity of French cuisine.
“But I don’t like the word ‘fusion,’” says Chen. “It’s too vague, it means too many things.”
Lau, at the Tate Dining Room, makes three kinds of stock: the traditional French fond, the Chinese master stock, and a Japanese kombu stock.
Fores, known for making posh pasta accessible and catering to heads of state, among other things, has become an unlikely but highly effective knowledgeable ambassador for Philippine food. Though she is the owner of a number of successful restaurants around Manila, she lists Grace Park, her eclectic and experimental restaurant in Rockwell as her flagship.
And Bo.Lan is a restaurant very much in the vein of David Thompson’s Nahm, where Songvisava trained: “I do try to incorporate new ingredients and techniques, as Thai food has been doing with every new influence that comes. But I don’t feel I can do fusion food, because I haven’t mastered Thai food yet!”
All four chefs will be cooking food that they feel is representative of the menu at their restaurants, although Chen admits that, in her restaurant, the plate would have been even more built up: “But I have to be realistic, it’s 350 people. We do the same dish in my restaurant but using goose as the meat instead of beef, but the flavors are the same.”
Like all collaboration dinners, it will be a delicate dance of give and take among the four chefs. But these dinners are unique and interesting for this very reason. As for getting the full experience, none of these restaurants are more than four hours away by plane.
The Unicef Children’s Ball will be held on March 4 at The Peninsula Manila, corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues, Makati City. Tel. 887 2888