A while ago my friend Lisa asked me if I had ever heard of this restaurant in Spain where they do crazy stuff with food. She was referring to molecular gastronomy by Ferran Adrià at his restaurant El Bulli, which is only open half the year. Ferran Adrià spends the rest of the year in his “lab” developing new recipes. She said it sounded really interesting and wondered if there was any place in Singapore where they serve up food that way. To be perfectly honest, I go through some pretty elaborate steps sometimes to make my desserts look pretty but I’ve always preferred my food to look like food. That said, being the open-minded person that I am (tee-hee), I’m always up to trying new things, especially when it comes to food. As luck would have it, there is a restaurant in Singapore called in Aurum that does this type of avant-grade food and Palate Sensations has convinced the executive chef to do a demonstration class. I thought seeing how the food was made would be a perfect way to get to know what the big fuss is all about, and I can make up my mind about the food after actually tasting it. I promptly signed us up for the class, and even though it was a month in advance, the class was almost full!
A month flew by quickly and today was the day of the demonstration. Even though I didn’t know where Aurum was in Clark Quay, the place was hard to miss. The reception area downstairs looks like a morgue, with a secret passageway that leads upstairs hidden behind one of the panel of stainless steel “body drawers.” After making my way up the narrow spiral staircase, I find myself inside a dark room fitted to look like a disco bar, except one side of the wall is a stainless steel lined kitchen space. The bar tables and stools are shaped like scored medine pills and the overhead lamps in the kitchen resemble surgical lamps in OR’s.
Being Singapore, even though the class was supposed to start at 10am, some particpants arrived fashionably late and it wasn’t until 10:30am that the lesson finally got on its way. Executive chef Edward Voon introduced his whole team to us at the beginning of the class. A lot of them have represented Singapore in international competitions and most came from large hotels. The team is young and energetic and you get a sense that these guys are all really passionate about the food they make and there is good comraderee among the team members.
The first item on the menu was Sicilian Green Olives, but of course there is a twist. The olives are blended to a thick emulsion with olive oils and calcium chloride. This is left to settle overnight and scooped up in rounded tablespoonfuls and dropped into a solution of sodium alginate, which is a seaweed extract and helps the liquid olive emulsion to solidify into spheres resembling olives. The “olives” are given a final rinse in clear water before being placed in a spoon to serve. Chef Edward warned us not to bite it open but to eat the whole thing and sure enough, as soon as you bite into one, the entire “olive” bursts open to release the intensely flavored olive emulsion inside. The experience was quite awe inspiring, especially after seeing how it was made right in front of our eyes.
The next item was Parmesan cheese on toast, except parmesan was parmesan water (paremesan cheese with the oily part taken out, cooked and piped out in a siphon). It was light as air in texture and had all the cheesy flavors without the heaviness.
The third item was carrot cotton candy. Carrots were blended in a thermomixer (which blends and heats up the mixture at the time, allowing some water to evaporate) into a thick paste. It was then rolled into a thin piece (think fruit roll-ups) between parchment paper and let out to dry over night. The carrot “paper” is then torn into small pieces, and threaded onto skewers. It was then to the cotton candy machine where they were coated in cotton candy. It brought back memories of carnivals and summer fairs and the carrot flavor combined surprisinly well with the sweet candy taste.
We moved onto the appetizer of Confit and Cured Atlantic Salmon, Broccoli Couscous Salad, Verjus Apple Emulsions and Mango Relish after the snacks. This was the dish that won Chef Edward a gold metal at an international competition and let me tell you it was well deserved. The salmon was cured in sugar and salt for two hours before being sealed in a vaccum bag with lemon peel, peppercorn, bay leaf, lemon thyme and olive oil. It was then poached in a 60C waterbath for 20 minutes. After tasting this, I’ve decided that this is how I am going to cook my salmon from now on. The texture was amazingly smooth and the flesh maintains the vibrant deep red color without ever turning into the yucky milky pink color that you normally associate with cooked salmon. This beautiful piece of fish is plated with Broccoli Couscous Salad, Verjus Apple Emulsions and Mango Relish.
The soup course followed and I have to admit that at this point all I could think about was how hungry I was getting watching all that cooking so I wasn’t paying as much attention to the cooking method. Luckily, the Pea Soup with lemon compote, spinach and nutty langoustine was pretty straight forward. The pea soup consists of peas only with only a little bit of water added to assist blending. The taste was pure and refreshing and played off so well with the slightly tart citrusy lemon compote and the fragrant langoustine. Another course that can be done at home, yay!
The main dish came next, which was a Crackling Suckling Pig with Citrus Puree, Ratte Potato Terrine, Gin & Juniper Sauce. The pig was cured in salt and juniper berries for one hour, poached in a vaccum bag for 14 hours, baked at 180C for half and hour, and then deep fried! Definitely not doing this at home! The surprise of this dish for me was the citrus puree. The pith part of the lemon peel was used, but because of the blanching process, which was repeated six times, and the overnight soaking in syrup, the resulting puree had none of the bitterness but all the fragrant citrus taste. I just might try this at home one of these days when I make lemonade and don’t want to waste all that lemon skin, maybe.
We finally make to the dessert dish: Vanilla Ice cream served with Nitro Green Tea & Olive Oil and raspberry petals. What’s raspberry petals you say? They are the individual segments of a raspberry. To separate them, liquid nitrogen was poured over raspberries in a tray. This has a similar effect of freeze drying the fruits, allowing the berries to be smashed into individual components withouth crushing them. The other topping was made by blending green tea powder into olive oil and whisking into a pool of liquid nitrogen. This process makes the mixture into little millet-sized particles. I first had my doubts about how a green tea olive oil concoction would go with vanilla ice cream but the resulting combo was surprisingly good.
I had to rush out at this point because I have scheduled a macaron class at home, but Chef Edward had one more surprise in store for us. It’s called “where’s my cappuccino.” The technique involved was apparently top secret as Chef Edward kept on blocking my field of version so I couldn’t see how it was made. The little cup was served upside down on a saucer. When you pick it up, you think there’s nothing inside, and you only see the foamy mixture after you flip over the cup. Whimsical? Yes! Creative? Definitely! Yummilicious? You bet!
Needless to say, Lisa and I are now converts and we are plotting to bring our husbands back for a degustation dinner.
Aurum, Block 3C, The Cannery, Clark Quay
** Aurum is moving at the end of July to another location within the Cannery, at which time it will be closed for two weeks.