Chef Lau of The Reverie Saigon's The Royal Pavilion Shares Top 5 Tips in Curating World Flavours
Chef Lau Yam Chuen was originally born and grew up in Hong Kong, where he worked for a local two-star Michelin restaurant. He joined The Royal Pavilion Restaurant in Saigon, where he strikes to offer up his masterful knowledge and unique cooking style to create even more delightful and exquisite dishes.
Chef Lau’s must-try special recommendations include “Crispy Salted Chicken”, “Braised Whole Abalone with Rice”, and “Deep-fried Crab Claw with Black Truffle and Conpoy”, all of which are brilliantly and dedicatedly prepared in order to exhibit truly authentic and distinct Chinese cuisine for customers.
Chef Lau truly believes that home cooks can also create sophisticated dishes much like professional chefs. He shares with us some of his tips on how to elevate the dishes with local or world flavours:
The first rule to make a great flavourful dish is to truly understand the dish and the ingredients. In cooking, every ingredient is counted and needs precise consideration upon use. Sometimes, one small mistake during the flavouring process may result in an ultimate failure in taste of a dish. Also, we can always make use of local available materials to change the recipe flexibly and suitably instead of stiffly and desperately trying to find and follow what is listed in the original materials list, or sometimes there will things you are not able to get your hands on locally. For example: when I try to steam fish using fish sauce, I can mix into my sauce combination to create a new taste and scent suitable for the Vietnamese savoury taste preference, while still balancing the overall concept of the steamed fish dish. However, be aware of the amount used in the recipe since there is still some basic difference in core between the original versus replacement ingredients.
Let’s talk about the important of decoration of the dishes and how you can apply them in casa. Most of the time, dedicating great efforts to taking care of the presentation will breathe a new breeze of life into the dish itself. I mean, there must have been times when you have just been to a restaurant and got your eyes on some random dish pass by, and without really knowing what it was, you had already decided that you were going to order it. Why did it happen? It was because the dish surprisingly looked appetising and eye-catching to you let alone how it actually tasted. Often the visual appeal of a plate plays a critical role in the dining experience of the diner, as does the taste. If the presentation is worked, our diner will wake up the appetite.
Presenting a dish not only involves arranging the main ingredients such as vegetables, sauces, garnishes and other decorative elements, but also knowing how to play with the appropriate colour combinations of those elements and to match up with the crockery choice as well. For instance, the plate should be of a different colour than the food: white plates are the most used, since they generally go well with the vast majority of foods without creating contrast problems. Food should be the center of attention: the main ingredient should always be the protagonist and will be the center of the plating, and the rest of the ingredients will be arranged from the location of the main one. Colours on the plate: playing with the contrast of the coloirs enhances the plate more. We can play with these elements to make the presentation of our dishes more surprising and photographic.
3) The Smell Of The Dish
The smell of a dish is vital for a wonderful eating experience. Before tasting, both the visual appearance and scents of the dish are the ultimate elements that determine the first impression. Customers may still refuse to try something that does not smell “right” from the start despite of whatever expensive ingredients it is made up from. To further enhance the aroma of dish, we can use various spices, vinegars, oils, etc. to add incredible ﬂavours to vegetable dishes and tying together complementary ingredients. For example, whether you’re a spicy food fanatic or not, just a pinch of chili powder can really take your dish to the next level while also adding great colour to your dish. Balsamic vinegar and its dueling notes of sweet and sour allow it to blend different ﬂavours together wonderfully.
Try it with sautéed mushrooms, or marinated tofu and you will see. In Chinese pantry, both light and dark soy sauces are a must to get the right depth of flavour, colour and great scent of dishes. Besides, sesame oil is one of the more recognisable flavours of Chinese and Asian cooking. Adding a little to stir-fry dishes helps give your dish that familiar Asian flavour. But remember you can really kill a dish by adding too much sesame oil. It can quickly become overpowering, so use sesame oil sparingly – just enough to complement your other ingredients and spices and sauces. And, ginger, garlic, and scallions are the holy trinity of Chinese cooking. These aromatics are each essential to Chinese cooking, but not all dishes require all three. A dish like whole steamed fish is another must-try masterpiece that relies heavily on ginger and scallions.
4) Special Techniques
Have you ever heard of Chinese Chefs tossing the wok with one hand, and using the other to stir with a metal spatula? And, with both hands occupied, he uses his knee to nudge the gas stove's lever up and down to control the fire fan, dramatically emerging the wok in flames. That is the technique Chinese Chefs – especially Cantonese Chefs – use to create Wok Hei. Wok hei is not simply hot food. It's that elusive seared taste that only lasts for a minute or two. In other words, it's a combination of that steaming aroma you breathe in and the almost-burning sensation on your tongue that somehow enhances the flavours of the dish.
Let's forget not that using fresh ingredients and seasonal fruit for cooking is also one of the most important factors to brilliantly enhance the flavour of a dish. It’s a scientific fact that cooking with fresh ingredients makes your food taste better. Fresh ingredients reserve natural tastes and are healthier compared to those longer shelf-life canned foods, which are processed with preservatives and usually include unnecessary chemicals. When cooking with fresh ingredients, you will be able to get the most possible flavour from it and your food can retain a lot more nutrients compared to processed foods. In many cases, processed foods have been in contact with pesticides, or other artificial substances. To improve your health, always try your best to avoid processed food, and use fresh ingredients when possible.
5) Enjoy The Food From The Bottom Of Your Heart
Another tip to lift up your dining satisfaction to a whole new level is to enjoy the food from the bottle of your heart. I assume that we have all experienced emotional eating before, which is when people use food as a way to deal with feelings instead of to satisfy hunger. We turn to food for all kinds of reasons – such as boredom, stress, lonely, sad, anxiety, etc. instead of hunger and the honest desire to taste good foods. It seems that we treat foods as a way to deal with feelings without realising it. There is a saying that “Life is food”, which is a funny quote but suggests that the most important thing in someone’s life is the process of procuring, preparing and eating food.
In fact, food is necessary to maintain our bodies both physically and mentally. By learning how to make healthier and more mindful choices, you may be able to control compulsive eating, binging and weight gain. By taking charge of your appetite, you may also gain a feeling of calm, high energy levels and alertness from the foods you eat. Being to be able to enjoy foods in the most genuine way is much like a positive attitude of living. And, by doing so, you are showing the chefs, who have gone through all the troubles of preparing foods as excellent as they could in order to fulfill your need, your deepest appreciation and gratitude towards their hard work, rewarding them with satisfaction and giving them the additional encouragement to be willing to create more excellent masterpieces.
Images provided by Chef Lau.
About Chef Lau: thereveriesaigon.com
The Reverie Saigon
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