LUCKYRICE Grand Feast 2012
Just off a plane from Bangkok, Michelin starred master of Thai cuisine David Thompson could not be found at his table at the LUCKYRICE Grand Feast held on May 4, 2012 at the Mandarin Oriental ballroom overlooking Central Park. After returning time and time again, hovering around his friendly sous-chefs, I felt like I was stalking the man. “I was checking out the other tables,” he told me after I finally spotted him standing over bites of cured amberjack.
And who could blame him? There were 25 of the country’s top Asian chefs bringing their A-game with dishes like edamame dumplings, Thai tacos and pig's blood popsicles. The last one really tastes much better than it sounds.
I caught up with many of the chefs, including Brad Farmerie, Jehangir Mehta, Susur Lee, Cedric Vongerichten, Ming Tsai and Masaharu Morimoto, to talk about travel, authenticity and just for kicks - their thoughts on fish sauce.
– Matt Rodbard
View from the Mandarin Oriental Ballroom
David Thompson for Bombay Sapphire
Nahm Cured Hamachi Amberjack with Lemongrass and Lime on Betel Leaf
How did last night go at Pok Pok? It was really easy. Andy [Ricker] is a master of organization, while I am not.
In terms of traveling, where do you like to go in Asia? When I’m not in Asia at the restaurant, I spend most of my time in London. And I like traveling through Europe better than Asia. But I think Yunnan and Szechuan are the two bubbling hot pots.
Nice metaphor there! Yunnan has that ham.
Theresa Lin Taiwan Tourism Bureau
Boiled Squid with Five-Flavor Sauce
You’ve been in New York City for a week. What restaurants have you eaten at? Mr. K, Beijing Duck House and Mulan, a good Chinese fusion place.
Ming Tsai for KYOCERA Advanced Ceramics
Blue Ginger Red Roast Duck with Lemon-Radish Salad, Spicy Sambal Purée, Red Roast Syrup and Crispy Rice
Describe your relationship with fish sauce… I use it almost as much as soy sauce. It’s the soy sauce of Southeast Asia. There are great fish sauces and nasty fish sauces. I prefer the Thai ones, which are sweeter. You have to use it in a dish and make sure people don’t know it’s in there.
What is nasty fish sauce like? It smells like the juice of a fish that has been rotting in the Southeast Asian sun.
Masaharu Morimoto Morimoto
Spicy King Crab
Describe your relationship with fish sauce… I cook with fish sauce sometimes and don’t mind it. But I can make it.
How do you make it? Not from scratch, but I make my own. I like the fish sauce from Japan. The ones made from squid.
Ian Kittichai Ember Room
"Kanom Buarng-Yarn" Thai Taco
So you are serving a taco tonight! We’re using cooked jasmine rice to create the shell. The inside is done with bean sprouts, fried shallots and barbecue chicken with a spicy hot sauce.
That’s like a spicy hot sauce injector you’re using. (Laughing). It does look like that. This dish dances in your mouth.
What do you think of the Asian taco trend? I like it because it’s fun and comforting. You can grab it for lunch. It’s snack food. It’s party food.
Aliya Leekong Junoon
Lotus Root 3 Ways plus Strawberry Lassi
What do you think the next big Asian food trend to hit the States will be? I think we are going to see more play with Malay, just because of the rising popularity. We have an Indian restaurant, and Indian cuisine is such a big influence there.
Have you traveled much through Asia? China, Thailand and Cambodia.
Describe your relationship with fish sauce… I think it’s fantastic. That funkiness reminds me of cheese and so many other aspects of Western food culture. I love working with it.
Brad Farmerie PUBLIC
Pig's Blood Popsicles and Smoked Coconut Laksa with Crab and Crustacean Oil
Describe your relationship with fish sauce… Oh, it’s love-hate. Most people hate the smell of it, but with most dishes from Southeast Asia, if it’s not in there it’s wrong. It’s necessary. Just don’t pour it over yourself.
Where do you like to travel in Asia? Thailand is pretty amazing. Vietnam for me is some of the best food I’ve had. It’s endless. I would go there any second.
Craig Koketsu Hurricane Club
Crispy Chinese Sausage Rice Cakes with Broken Chili Sauce
Describe your relationship with fish sauce… We use it in a lot of stuff. It’s all about balancing out sweetness and acidity. You can’t use it in the same way you use soy sauce. I use it mostly for uncooked stuff. I usually use fish sauce with chilies, sugar and lime juice. It’s like instant MSG. It makes anything taste better.
Where do you like to travel in Asia? I took a trip to Hong Kong earlier this year. The dim sum was really great.
Susur Lee LEE
Hong Kong Shrimp Taro Toast
Describe your relationship with fish sauce… Oh! Ha ha ha. They are very dead, that is one. It’s like a version if umami from the ocean. And you know what the funny thing is? If you splash a little bit of it on a hot pan, it smells like somebody took a big shit!
Cedric Vongerichten (center) Perry Street
Peekytoe Crab Dumplings with Market Peas, Spicy Ginger Carrot Broth
You’ve traveled through Asian a bit… I was actually born in Asia and worked in Hong Kong.
Where would you like to travel in Asia? I just got back from Bali and Singapore, which was a long time coming. So, back to Bangkok!
Brad Stewart Betel
Chicken Betel Leaf with Roasted Shallot Chili & Eggplant Relish
What does a betel leaf taste like? It’s got a nuttier taste to it and goes well with a number of fillings. We have our leaves flown from Hawaii each week.
How many do you go through? During a busy week, a few hundred. I have 600 for tonight, which were shipped in tonight.
Describe your relationship with fish sauce… In Southeast Asia it’s like salt. Once you understand it, it’s not that tough to cook with.
Simpson Wong WONG
Hakka Pork Belly with Taro Tater Tot
Where is the best street food in Asia? Penang in Malaysia.
Why?! Everything there is super authentic and homemade. The second one is Ho Chi Minh City.
What do you order on the streets in HCM? Anything that is grilled. You can get a suckling pig on the street for $12 and it’s really great. It’s so lean and fresh.
Hemant Mathur Tulsi
Bhel Puri with Grilled Mint Chicken
Describe your relationship with fish sauce… I never cook with it. We make our own sauces.
Have you ever tried? Not really.
Next big Asian food to blow up in the States? I think Indian (laughing).
OK, maybe we can move beyond that. Indian has had it’s time, no? Malaysian. I see a lot of Americans eating Malaysian.
Yang Huang Buddakan
Edamame Dumplings with a Shallot-Sauternes Broth
Describe your relationship with fish sauce… It depends on what I’m in the mood for. If I’m in the mood for Southeast Asian food, I’ll cook with it.
Where do you want to travel in Asia? Thailand and Vietnam. The food is different. It’s light. Clean. There’s lots of herbs and European influence.
Damien Herrgott Bosie Tea Parlor
Macarons: Caramel-miso, Rose-jasmine, Sesame, Wasabi, Chai-chocolate
You’re doing Asian-inspired macarons. Nice! We have caramel-miso, rose-jasmine, sesame-wasabi and chai chocolate.
Could you do one with fish sauce? We can be very creative when we want to.
Toni Robertson Asiate
Burmese Kauswer: Coconut Chicken Noodle Soup, Crisp Shallots, Cilantro
Describe your relationship with fish sauce… I’m from Burma, so everything we cook uses it. I’m born and raised eating and cooking it. The umami flavor that you are not getting with salt and pepper, somehow a dash of fish sauce will somehow make the dish. It is in my DNA.
What is Burmese cuisine like? We are in-between China and India, so many of the dishes are similar. A lot of curry. But not too spicy.
Jehangir Mehta Mehtaphor
Pork Dumpling Chaat
Describe your relationship with fish sauce… It’s not the best (laughing). Not because it’s something that I refuse to use, but I would say there are many ways that you can incorporate many flavors and you don’t need to use fish sauce as a thing to give you saltiness or that depth of flavor. But it’s not that I am adverse to using it. It’s not my first choice though.