Monday, June 04, 2007

Inside the Kitchen--Treasures of Asia: Far East to West

Just a few weeks ago I ate dinner at Poleng Lounge. It's in an unlikely location near the Panhandle in San Francisco and while part of the restaurant is a nightclub, the food is definitely not an afterthought. Forget about "fusion" chef Tim Luym seeks out unusual ingredients and uses traditional techniques in an effort to stay true to the cultures of Asia. The menu has dishes that span the region from Hawaii to Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Bali, the Philippines, India, China and more. Little plates feature small plate portions of salads, dumplings, satays, and samosas to nibble and share.

So when I heard that the first of the Summer series Inside the Kitchen class at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay was going to be given by Tim Luym I jumped at the chance to attend. I was not disappointed. Inside the Kitchen classes are typically demonstration style in rooms with stunning views so you never forget where you are. Little tastes of every dish prepared are served and there is generally plenty of time to chat with the chef, ask questions, and get a close up look at various ingredients.

The dishes prepared during class were Curried Kaffir Lime Nuts, Ahi Kinilaw, Tamarind Chicken Lollipops and Shortibs with Enoki and Scallion. What did I learn from the two hour class? While I have used kaffir lime leaves before, it never occurred to me that they could be ground into a powder. The scent was lemony and intoxicating.

Ahi Kinilaw is a Filipino recipe much like a ceviche. It uses coconut milk and the chef explained that you should marinate the fish for five minutes before adding the coconut milk to give it time to cook in the acid. He also used calamansi limes which were tiny and juicy. I will definitely seek these out next time I'm at an Asian market.

Another ingredient I will look for is Pandan leaves. Also known as pandanus or screwpine, these long green leaves had a sweet vanilla like scent and can be used in cooking rice as well as a wrapper for meat.

For the tamarind chicken, the chef recommended using the 3 crab brand of fish sauce. Since I didn't actually bring any bottles back from Vietnam, I will keep this in mind when my supply runs low. Another brand name I heard was Yamasa, for a less salty and thinner style of soy sauce that the chef prefers.

As for techniques, the chef showed us how he used a mortar and pestle to grind shallots and explained that this brings out more flavor than just chopping them.

Each of the dishes were absolutely delicious and while I don't know which of them I will tackle first at home, the instruction booklet provided will keep me on track.

Upcoming classes feature a number of local chefs and bar chefs like Elizabeth Falkner, Chris Kronner, Greg Lingren, Scott Beattie and Gayle Pirie and John Clark. But if you want to check out something a little further afield, my choice would be the class given June 8th by Kevin Johnson who is known for his "low country" cuisine served up at Anson Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. The dishes he'll be preparing are Anson's famous Shrimp and Grits, Duo of South Carolina Quail (fried and bbq) West Coast oysters with Southern Flavors (raw, roasted and fried) and Strawberry Shortcake with Vanilla-roasted Strawberries, Strawberry ice cream and Pecan cake "French toast". Yum! To register visit Inside the Kitchen. Classes are typically around $85 and include a donation to Meals on Wheels San Francisco.