Penang with Chef Michael Han – Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows Gastronomy Dinner

Barely 48 hours after 6 days of driving over 1500km for the Malaysia Tourism Hunt 2012, I threw out my stinky tees from the very same luggage bag, threw in a gold dress and was whisked to the Pearl of the Orient for a night of luxury; a night where the golden elixir of Hennessy flow continuously and the humble hawker food of Penang Island were given a new interpretation.
I was told to expect Penang fare, but deconstructed and matched with cognac. If that didn’t set my digestive fluids into overdrive, I’m not sure what else will.

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What is exactly is deconstructed food?
In simple terms it means taking apart a dish or an ingredient, separating the individual components and in the process producing a new usage/dish. The components should be recognizable by themselves but when eaten together should bring about the idea of the original dish – meaning still recognizable in taste; whether it resembles the original version in appearance or otherwise.

I learnt this from my stint at the Singapore’s World Gourmet Summit 2012 from Chef Andre Chiang and Chef Dani Garcia.

Below: Chef Andre deconstructing his lemon.

Citibank Gastronomic Jam Session 2012 (20)

And here’s Chef Andre Chiang’s final deconstructed lemon – all parts of the original were used and “put back together“. The gelatin skin for the “lemon” was made from the original lemon rind, the pulp within was made from the original lemon pulp. Trust me, it was mind-f***  mind-blowing and I barely blinked throughout the demo.

Citibank Gastronomic Jam Session 2012 (23)

Chef Dani Garcia took apart a tomato and put it back together to its red rosy self. I was absolutely amazed with the transformation.
The same principles applies here; all components  dissected, cooked in numerous manner and came back together again as its original ingredient. While Chef Andre’s lemon didn’t resemble its original, Chef Dani’s bright red deconstructed tomato was breathtakingly gorgeous!

Citibank Gastronomic Jam Session 2012 (44)

Chef Dani Garcia from Calima Restaurante, Marbella , Spain. (right)

Citibank Gastronomic Jam Session 2012 (45)
So when I was told my dinner is Penang’s hawker fare “deconstructed”, pardon me if my imagination ran a bit wild. Ingredients deconstructed I have seen, but dishes deconstructed? How so?
And thus my culinary “journey” with Chef Michael Han begun.

He was in Penang a few weeks prior to this evening to savour and roam the gastronomic streets of my hometown. It would have been interesting to mingle with him when he wasn’t as exhausted and off the glaring limelight. It was challenging to pinpoint how’s Michael is like but from the brief interview and via observation of him (on and off the stage), his body language suggested much discomfort and awkwardness that may be interpreted as aloof or just plain shy.

Penang with Chef Michael Han - Hennessy X.O Appreciation interview

But he does have a rather melting smile when he spared us some! 🙂

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The classy people behind Moet Hennessy Diageo sure knows how to throw a party and its always a pleasure to be on their list of invited guests. Beautiful trishaws lined up at the front of G Hotel to bring us in Penang style to our dinner venue barely 50 meters away.

rebecca saw - michael han - hennessy XO appreciation grows 2012

BELOW: The new striking Gurney Paragon was the venue for our dinner.

Penang with Chef Michael Han - Hennessy X.O Appreciation dinner

Trademark colours of gold and black of Hennessy XO – we matched pretty well don’t you think? :DD

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Then we were ushered into the St. Joseph’s Novitiate, a heritage building restored back into its splendour. St Jo’s is one of Penang’s most beautiful historical buildings with colonial architecture and will now house stylish restaurants and contemporary cafes, besides being part of the new Gurney Paragon mall.

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At the end of the red carpet lies the customary photo area in front of the Hennessy XO wall. After 2 hours and RMXX in the salon for that hair, I took the opportunity to take as many pictures as possible. Well, that’s till they had to ‘remove” me from the wall so other could take their pictures too. *I jest*

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This time we managed to grab a group shot as well.

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The free-flow Hennessy begun; while gorgeously attired ladies (not all mind you) and men mingle and got warmed up for the night.

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An unexpected but appreciated Penang touch – cone wrapped nuts were offered together with our Hennessy. Not just any cheap nuts, but pistachios and the likes.

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The menu was kept under wraps till the night itself. When we were finally ushered into the dining hall I grabbed my menu the moment I took my seat.

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I got a few guesses right; Penang laksa and ais kacang were on the menu. The rest were unexpected, especially the nasi kandar. Nasi Kandar – such a messy dish, how is Micheal going to deconstruct it I wondered..

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Anyhow, with a glass of Hennessy XO on rocks that was perpetually filled throughout the night, I took on the task of savouring Chef Michael Han’s efforts in deconstructing my hometown’s food.

As each dish was announced, the doors opened to let in a long line of smartly dressed wait staff sweeping in bringing with them Michael’s carefully plated creations.

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The first to be set upon me was Pie Tee, given a twist in its entirety with marinated tuna belly and eggs on top. The humble radish was no-where to be seen. A dot of herb mayonnaise at its side got everyone’s attention that evening; an original concoction from Micheal made from a mixture of dill, chives, chervil and taragon, among other herbs.

michael han - hennessy XO appreciation grows 2012

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The Penang Rojak waltzed in next, pretty as a picture. If Michael objective of “deconstructed” here to to turn a rather unphotogenic dish to its opposite, he definitely succeeded . The scattering of flowers in a riot of colors and the neatly rolled thin slivers of vegetables (carrots, cucumber, daikon) and fruits, all exactly 30 pieces of them standing in attention over a drizzle of our authentic Rojak sauce was refined Rojak at its best.

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Below: Perfect cylinders rolled using a straw.

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Fishy aftertaste from the shrimp paste (he ko)? Wash it down with Hennessy on the rocks.
*press photo

02 Rojak

My eyes popped when I saw the size of the scallops in the Michael’s deconstructed Laksa. It made me wondered if Michael’s deconstruction of Laksa equals serving us laksa minus the soup till I spotted the rather unique “medicine” bottle set at the side of the bowl.

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The situation that night was like a mind game between the chef and the 60+ guest. I daresay everyone was speculating on the appearance of the next dish and whether it would taste like its original. That probably keep everyone on the edge and thrilled the whole night, other than the continuous flow of Hennessy of course.

For me, I was wondering and asking myself during each course “how was this dish deconstructed”? From the first course til then, each dish has been refined, changed from its original form, given a twist but not necessarily deconstructed per se.  Bear in mind that I’m not an expert on the subject and Micheal’s interpretation of “deconstruction” could be different from what I experienced before.

Coming back to the laksa, I proceeded to unscrew the cap rather cautiously and as it was released, I caught a waft of familiar pungent stock. The laksa consomme was lukewarm on purpose, based on samplings done by Michael who found that to be the optimum temperature for the dish to be paired with Hennessy.

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As the liquid filled the bowl, puddles of green liquid floated to the top. I’m guessing it’s mint oil, from the taste and  knowing the ingredients normally present in Laksa. However, the mint pungency wasn’t as sharp and I suspected there was more than just mint. I queried Micheal the next day during the interview and he said he had added chives as well.

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As as I have mentioned in my previous post, the Mathusalem made its appearance again. I made sure to snap a picture of myself as I extracted some into my own glass. 🙂

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Below: Our kind hosts – Mr Matthew, MD of Moet Hennessy Diago Malaysia and Singapore (left) and (right) Ms. Karen Ong, Marketing Director of MHD Malaysia.

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I love my Penang Or Chien and Michael’s reinterpretation of it got me dumbstruck-ed for a while. It was rather “Western”, I had thought. The oysters were poached in butter milk and the “wok hei” (smokiness from the heat) of the original oh chien dish was replicated with the addition of smoked oil by hay.

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All that topping on top? Deep fried bread crumbs of the Japanese variety – PankoChives oil plus Japanese seaweed contributed to the green you see here. 

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The strong scent of seashell filled the room the moment the doors opened. Next, the famed Penang Hokkien Mee; “deconstructed” via the use of angelhair (and in true Chinese fashion, the pasta was not al-dente at all), concentrated prawn stock and sakura ebi (Japanese shrimps) cooked with XO.

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Toppings aside, dug further in for the aromatic shrimp “paste” at bottom, together with a layer of prawn and crab oil.

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Toss it. The “paste” did an admirable job of flavouring the otherwise rather plain dish. Think of this as your dried (kon lou) version of Penang Hokkien Mee. Somehow, it didn’t work for me.

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Finally my question was answered. So this is how Michael’s deconstructed Nasi Kandar is like!

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Wagyu beef cheeks, marinated for 3 days and braised for 38 hours to produce a melt-in-mouth texture befitting of wagyu, with a sprinkle of puffed rice and sunflower seeds for ermm.. crunch?

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Still, the wonderfully rich, aromatics rendang sauce warrants a thumbs up from me. This was another dish that I liked that night; besides the Laksa. Low carbs eaters, this is the perfect Nasi Kandar for you! 🙂

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After 7 courses, I was relieved to finally be served my dessert.

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The final dish to end the evening on a high note (if you are not yet high on Hennessy) – Michael’s wonderful icy ais kacang with refreshing coconut jelly; a pleasant variation of the original due to its contents but not necessarily deconstructed.

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Then Chef Michael came on stage to take his bow. He graciously invited his team up as well; the hard working force that plated every dish (they must be cursing the cylinders of fruits and vegetables on the Rojak dish) and made our meal possible.

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The moment he stepped down from the stage he was mobbed by the appreciative guests. I waited a while to grab a shot with him.

michael han and rebecca saw

In conclusion it was a rather intriguing night made interesting with the suspense and second-guessing of how Michael would have deconstructed each dish on the menu. Taste-wise I liked the Laksa, the Nasi Kandar and the Ais Kacang, the last made even better with a dash of Hennessy XO from my glass. 😛
I certainly appreciated the opportunity to be present at this exclusive-by-invite only dinner which I wouldn’t have the chance to taste even if I were to visit FiftyThree in Singapore. It was a night of valuable education for me, however re-interpreted or deconstructed the menu may or may not be.

So what is next for Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows Gastronomy we ask Karen Ong, the Marketing Director of MHD Malaysia. Her reply; Let me rest first can?
No, I jest. Of course she didn’t.

Karen faithfully remarked that we can expect future Hennessy XO Appreciation Grows dinners to be in line with its objective of injecting new and exciting concepts into food and fine dining, where creative menus are crafted and complemented with Hennessy XO.
2012 has be an iconic year for it’s the year the new Hennessy XO decanter is launched. Moving forward, we can certainly look forward to more intriguing dinners and events; details to be released when the right moment comes.

Yes Karen, we will be waiting for that moment. Cheers! 🙂

More on my experiences with Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows Gastronomy Dinners:

Hennessy X.O Appreciation Grows begun with Chef Susur Lee – November 2011.
Hennessy X.O. Appreciation Grow with Chef Edward Lee – April 2012

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