Playing favorites with the stars of Madrid Fusion Manila.
INTERVIEW POLA ESGUERRA DEL MONTE
Crazy as their schedules were, four of the most sought-after chefs at this year’s edition of Madrid Fusion Manila found time to sit down with High Life to talk about their favorite dishes and ingredients.
Korean restaurants and karaoke bars abound in New York, but not Korean fine dining places — a concept that is new even in Korea itself. Jungsik Yim put his country on the map of New York haute cuisine when he opened the eponymous restaurant Jungsik, which has since received two Michelin stars and earned 10th place on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Favorite ingredient: Gim
“I use a lot of gim (seaweed dried into sheets, similar to Japan’s nori). I’m more of a seafood person, but I also like pork belly and noodles. The United States has a good seafood supply system, and they get good imports. Gim is very sensitive, so I use tweezers when I put it on the dish. Jungsik is a fine dining Korean restaurants where we serve in small portions, so the same way that a lot of fine dining chefs also use tweezers all the time, so do we use them for the small details.”
Leah Cohen, who was catapulted into the spotlight after being a contender in Top Chef, is the chef-owner of Pig and Khao, a restaurant that specializes in Southeast Asian food but might as well be known for excellent Filipino dishes — thanks to her Filipina mother who took her to boisterous potluck parties throughout her childhood. After studying at the Culinary Institute of America, she earned her spurs in the kitchens of Eleven Madison Park and Centro Vinoteca. She opened Pig and Khao in 2012 and introduced the Lower East Side to the gloriousness of crispy pata and sizzling sisig.
Favorite dish: Sinigang
“It is something that my mother used to make for me when I was sick growing up: sinigang. It remains comforting for me because anytime I eat that, it always reminds me of the time that my mom was taking care of me. Basically it’s the equivalent of chicken soup when you’re in America.”
“There are many ways to accomplish your goals as a chef, but one of the things that you also need to address is how you stay true to your roots.” — Enrique Olvera
Pujol is a Mexican restaurant in Mexico that caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal (which is based in New York). Perhaps it could be attributed to its chef Enrique Olvera’s training ground: New York’s Culinary Institute of America, where he learned to be exactingly attentive to detail. After reinventing traditional Mexican cuisine into fine dining fare, he began experimenting with products from what he calls “the extraordinary universe of Mexico’s bounty.” In 2013, he landed a spot in the list of best restaurants in the world according to Restaurant magazine.
Favorite ingredient: Market-bought products
“In my cooking, I want to elevate poor people’s food into fine dining. There are many ways to accomplish your goals as a chef, but one of the things that you also need to address is how you stay true to your roots, especially if you translate them into a different context. There is no one item — there are many ways of doing this. But what is important is you know where to stop. In fine dining, you tend to produce recipes. But street food by nature is simple. It’s not that fine dining is difficult, but if you go to a restaurant that ‘reinterprets’ an otherwise simple food item, sometimes it loses its beauty. I think you should make decisions always based on flavor. Sometimes fine dining focuses on plating or technique. If you want to be creative, flavor is a good place to start.”
Jordi Butrón, who has worked at three-star restaurants Pierre Gagnaire and elBulli, is such a sweet tooth that he created a menu with nothing but desserts. His restaurant Espaisucre, which, in Catalan means “sugar area,” serves “restaurant-style pastry,” wherein Mr. Butrón combines sweet and savory in a multi-course tasting menu.
Favorite dish: His mother’s home-cooked meals
“Memory is very treacherous. When my mother died a couple of years ago, I would be looking for the dishes she would make, but I couldn’t find the exact same taste. The flavors in my memory are altered by the emotions… the love.”