Posts tagged ExploringCover
The King's Cook
 
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Ajarn Srisamorn Kongphan is a cook, professor, nutritionist for the Thai Royal Family, and author of 22 bestsellers on Thai cuisine.

Some time ago I sat in a newly opened Thai restaurant. There I asked the owner, a somewhat older and very distinguished Thai, if he could tell me who the best cook of Thailand would be, as I was planning to travel to Thailand. I also wanted to learn more about Thai food culture. Actually I thought it might just be really nice to eat at the restaurant where Thailand's best cook was. A simple good restaurant tip would have been enough for me, but in the meantime, I was soon to find out that A. Thais have a different sense of humor, B. they can hardly say no, and C. will try, no matter how, to help you. The restaurant owner was apparently flattered with my question, he turned around and went to a small desk in the dining room. He wrote something on a piece of paper in a font (Thai) that I of course couldn't read, gave it to me and said: "You have to scan this paper first then write the following email" - he typed with his ballpoint pen on the only characters recognisable to me on the paper- attach the scan to the email and send it . "That's all. Let´s see what happens” he said.


Bangkok


"Let´s see what happens…” Six months later and for several reasons and coincidences still inexplicable to me, I entered the "Thai on 4" restaurant in Bangkok a little speechless. In front of me sat Ajarn Srisamorn Kongphan, head of the restaurant, professor, nutritionist for the Thai Royal Family and author of 22 bestsellers about Thai cuisine. She also had her own TV show and is probably one of the most renowned experts on Thai cuisine.


 
 

Ajarn Srisamorn Kongphan is a cook, professor, nutritionist for the Thai Royal Family, and author of 22 bestsellers on Thai cuisine.

We sat together at one table. I couldn't speak Thai, she couldn't speak English. Her assistant translated for us, or she tried. When asked what her own recipe developments were, the words "health" and "harmony" often appeared. Terms that are ubiquitous in Asian cuisine. However, it also gave me many new insights. For example, I asked her if there is actually a specific Royal Thai Cuisine. As I understood it, she said that basically, apart from the visual presentation (Thai carving is just one example), a certain ceremony, and the quality of the products used as far as recipes are concerned, there were no big differences to traditional Thai food except for a dish that was created especially for the kings at that time when there were no refrigerators: Thapthim krop (Crispy rubies).

 
 
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Thapthim krop

"Royal" could be understood as the following in this dish: The snow (or ice) was dragged from Mount Puncak Jaya (4,884 m) in distant Indonesia with elephants through tropical areas to Bangkok, which was also tropical. No one else in Thailand could afford such an extravagance other than the king. She said something to the assistant and promptly the dish was in a bowl in front of me, designed according to her instructions: Crispy Rubies: Water chestnuts in syrup on coconut milk and ice.

"Is this also the favourite dish of the present king? I asked

She smiled and I understood that as a no.

"Which dish is it then?" I wanted to know.

She smiled "That's a secret". she said.

 
 
 
 
 

How much "beauty" can food stand?


In Thailand ornamentation is not yet a crime.



Thai Carving… sorry? What sounds to Europeans like it could be the particularly exotic driving style of Thai skiers, is almost as popular for Thailand as a folk sport. Above all, however, "Kah sa Luk", as the locals call their artistic fruit and vegetable carving, is a highly respected craft with a long tradition going back several hundred years.

The art of carving reached its peak in the 19th century under King Rama II. (1808 - 1824), who even wrote his own treatises on the aesthetics of Thai carving. The thoughts and teachings he formulated, such as that the appearance of food is just as important as taste, have taken deep roots in Thai society.

In contrast to Chinese carving, however, all motifs in Thai carving are borrowed from nature and the individual parts are always made from one piece. In the Chinese, Vietnamese and other Asian cultures, however, the motifs of carving mostly originate from mythology and are often stuck or glued together.

What would Adolf Loos say?

(*) Adolf Loos: Austrian and Czech architect. His essay Ornament and Crime advocated smooth and clear surfaces in contrast to the lavish decorations of the fin de siècle, as well as the more modern aesthetic principles of the Vienna Secession

 
 
Fight for your Food
 
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Justin Bonello is a South African television star, filmmaker, author and chef. He is famous for his outdoor cooking skills. The king of bush cooking, so to say. From juicy steaks to rat-like small animals he finds in the wild, there is nothing in South Africa to eat that Justin Bonello has not already grilled.

"Today I thought up something very special for you" he says to me as we get into the car. He turns to me and adds seriously, "I don't eat anything that I didn't kill myself. Otherwise I would find it immoral and you will have to earn your own food today! There is no morality in nature. Life, food and death belong together!

I don't eat anything that I didn't kill myself. Otherwise I would find it immoral and you will have to earn your own food today! There is no morality in nature. Life, food and death belong together!



I remain in silence and thoughtful during the trip to our still unknown destination. Pictures go through my head that I have seen in his documentaries, and some were not exactly pleasant. Leaning in my back seat, but not particularly relaxed, I wonder what will await me today.

 
 
 
 


We drive with his assistant from Cape Town, the R44 road along the coast. With every bend it becomes more beautiful and wilder. After some time the car stops. In front of us a huge, lonely, breathtaking beach.

I look to the left, I look to the right... "And what is there to eat here?"

I look to the left, I look to the right... "And what is there to eat here?" I ask Justin, a little surprised. "Take off your shoes and come with me." he says. Justin goes a few steps ahead, towards the water. Suddenly he stops at ankle level in the water and starts a kind of "Let´s Twist again as we did last Summer" dance. "Do the same!" he screams. "You have to drill yourself into it and if you feel something like a stone between your feet, it's a shell! he screams even louder. Yes, let´s twist again as we did last summer... but real summer feelings don't come up with me. The surf is strong and the water is so cold that I after a few minutes I can't really feel my feet anymore.
After one hour, that feels like 3 or 4, I come out of the water trembling with a handful of shells. Justin's, his assistant's and my shells - the catch of the day - all come together in a potjie pot, a three-legged cast iron pot. Justin prepares a kind of wonderfully fragrant Mussel Chowder with butter, basil, garlic and chili. We drink a Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, just chilled in the Atlantic (iced would be more accurate). Although, being honest, at that moment I would prefer a hot cup of tea much more. It's shortly after two. Food will be ready soon. The sun is burning and I put my feet deep into the warm sand. The world is fine again and everything tastes fantastic.

 
 
Confused with Confucius
 
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Kong Zhong, a.k.a. Richard Hung, a.k.a. Richard Kong, is a descendant of the 78th generation of Master Kong, a.k.a. "Kong Fuzi" or "K'ung-fu-tzu", also known as Kong Zi, or Kong Qiu.

A little confused? Simply put: Richard Kong is a direct descendant of Confucius, the world-famous philosopher and politician who lived in China in the 5th century BC.

I met Mr. Richard Kong, who is also a successful entrepreneur who controls several pharmaceutical, film, and media companies, and is president of the International Society for Descendants of Confucius, in a (very) fine and (very) expensive restaurant right on the Bund in Shanghai.

Richard Kong is a direct descendant of Confucius, the world-famous philosopher and politician who lived in China in the 5th century BC.

Fortunately, I was invited. The restaurant is the "Family Li Imperial Cuisine Restaurant" and accordingly the feel is somewhat "Imperial" too. Despite his countless interests and activities, he has a great passion that we share. Food and wine. For this reason, but above all thanks to a mutual acquaintance, I had the pleasure of meeting him.schaft, die ich mit ihm teile. Essen und Wein. Aus diesem Grund, aber vor allem dank einer gemeinsamen Bekanntschaft, bin ich auf ihn gekommen.

 
 
 
 

The extremely friendly and humorous Richard Kong is a passionate wine connoisseur. That's the first surprise for me. Wine and Asia … do they really go together? And wine with Asian food? How is that supposed to work? The second surprise: a waiter approached me and asked me if the Kobe beef fillet would be okay for me and how I would like to have it. But before the main course, a series of traditional and less traditional Chinese starters and the finest wine pairings had been planned. Planned by Richard Kong of course, who was such a generous host. "I hope I can try it all," I said, smiling with gratitude and admiration. “You must soon come to us for a 100-course banquet at the family headquarters in Quofu, Shandong. You'll be able to really appreciate what Chinese cuisine culture is," Kong replied.

Then came the third surprise: "I have chosen something very special for the Kobe beef," says Richard Kong, grinning mischievously. The waiter came one step closer and pointed to a bottle of wine. It's a 1995 Mouton Rothschild. I was standing before the most expensive sip of liquid of my life. But before I could taste the wine, mineral water was served. Two ladies came and stood next to me spreading a large cloth in front of my face, so that the tiny droplets of the bubbling water, which was carefully served by a third lady, did not catch me. The food arrived, small and large culinary experiences followed, each wonderfully paired with wine.

 
 
Richard Kong (right), his assistant (left), and me.

Richard Kong (right), his assistant (left), and me.

 
 

I asked him if he knows what Confucius said about food. "For Confucius, food was very important and much of it is abundantly documented. There is a saying of his: “Appetite for food and the other gender are two of man's greatest desires," Richard Kong explained amusedly.

“Appetite for food and the other gender are two of man's greatest desires"

"But did he really say it in this order: Appetite for Food and for the other Gender, and not the other way round?" I asked ironically.

In my previous research I learned that there are about 2 million people in the world who can boast about being descendants of the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius. (Confucius was probably a little confused when he formulated this sentence. Maybe he meant it the other way round). "I don't think so," said Kong, "but one way or another, everything in life is due to the appetite food and for the other gender. The necessity for food stands for daily survival from birth, and the desire for the other gender means to achieve reproduction and thus, in the broadest sense, immortality and infinity. Between these two aspects, is where life, culture, - simply everything else - happens."

There isn't much of Richard Kong's work on the Internet in English, but I found it in the Italian VOGUE (link)

 
 
 
 
A Mini Road Trip Movie with Topsi Venter

Exploring | Cape Winelands, South Africa 

 
 
 
 

Topsi Venter was the Grand Dame of South African cuisine. Topsi, whose real name was Pauline Venter, was a living legend among her chef colleagues. No matter who you asked, all roads in South African cuisine seem to lead to her.

 

I wasn't even aware of her when I met her for the first time in her restaurant. I had just visited Margot Janse in the award-winning Tasting Room in the Quartier Francais when she said that I just had to go to see Topsi since she only lived a few houses further down on the same street. Sometimes when you go through a door you have no idea that something important is about to happen. Awaiting me that afternoon was a high-speed journey into the past, the present and the future of South African cuisine.

A few days before, I found out that Topsi was an old woman who, due to an operation, could barely walk and talk... yet it turned out that this was only partly the truth. When I entered the house, Topsi was stood right in front of me on her crutches. Margot Janse had apparently just been on the phone to her and so she knew that I was on my way. "So, young man", she said "you’re interested in South African cuisine? Where are you from?" "Actually," I answered, "I’m half from Spain, half from Austria, and..." "Spain...?" She didn't let me finish my sentence " a famous Spanish chef spent a few weeks in South Africa. How was he called?... Oh yes, Ferran Adria, and I cooked something for him – he was quite nice and just as curious as any child. But follow me, let me show you something." She went limping into the kitchen. "Oh, my knee hurts! she said," I’ve just had an operation"

"...a famous Spanish chef spent a few weeks in South Africa. How was he called?... Oh yes, Ferran Adria, and I cooked something for him – he was quite nice and just as curious as any child...

We went briefly into the kitchen, greeted her daughter Danielle, who was just cooking a Bootie -a South African national dish with Malaysian origins - and then we went right on through into the next room. It was a library. The room was filled with shelves stacked high with cookbooks, cookbooks and even more cookbooks. As if she could read my mind, she knew that this was something quite extraordinary for me.  "This is my treasure trove!", said the trained architect and art historian, which is where her love for eating turned into a love for cooking.

She showed me the books, many of which were beautifully illustrated. I was fascinated and intrigued. She took yet another one from the shelf read it to me.  "This is by C. Louis Leipoldt, a South African poet... listen to this: and there is the art of cooking, which is one the greatest expressions of culture and civilisation, because it converts food from a mere necessity into a social delight and rejoicing in being alive, however cold the day and dark the night...." She took a long pause and looked at me and said: "What I thought now, is that we should go to Renata! Come on, get your things. I’ll fetch the car keys!" She limped quickly towards the desk. Somewhat shocked I thought, "Oh my, are we really taking the car? Seriously? If she can barely get around, how on earth can she drive?".

Approaching the desk with difficulty, she carefully opened a drawer and suddenly a parrot appeared, "Can I introduce you to Miss Oscar Wilde?" said Topsi "I think he's gay.

Approaching the desk with difficulty, she carefully opened a drawer and suddenly a parrot appeared, "Can I introduce you to Miss Oscar Wilde?" said Topsi "I think he's gay. Now where the hell are those car keys?" she cursed loudly.  We got in to an old, rusty brown Mercedes.  "You’ll have to keep hold of the door while we’re driving – it sometimes flies open", said Topsi. "Where are we going? And who is this Renata?" I asked.  "To the past and into the future!!!" Topsi replied. Renata Coetzee – as Topsi told me while driving at full throttle through the Winelands – was a food historian, also 80 years of age, who knew ten times as much about South African cuisine as any other person. Her area of research was the oldest cuisine in the world, the thousand-year-old cuisine of San and the Khoikhoin people. It had become her life mission. She had even documented the plants and herbs of this original cuisine - Fynbos vegetation. "Then we could drive down to see Shoeman", Topsi said. "Guys like him embody the culinary future of our country. He cooks with these completely unknown plants and herbs in the Fyndraai Restaurant. It will open up a completely new universe of tastes and smells. You'll see". "I hope so!" I think, as I regard the rickety door of the Mercedes with something approaching panic.

 
 
 
 
 
Topsi Venter in her old Mercedes Benz

Topsi Venter in her old Mercedes Benz

 
 

"Where are we going Topsi? And who is this Renata?" I asked.  "To the past and into the future!!!" Topsi replied. Renata Coetzee – as Topsi told me while driving at full throttle through the Winelands – was a food historian, also 80 years of age, who knew ten times as much about South African cuisine as any other person.

 
 
 
 
 
Indigenous herbs: Koekemakranka, or Kroekemakrank or also known as Gethyllis was a plant used in one of the most ancient kitchens of the world: the one of the Khoisan people, who live in the south-west coastal strips of Africa (actual Southafrica and Namibia). The may once have comprised the majority of living humans on the planet, for much of the past 150,000 years. Today, The ripe fruit is sometimes used to impart its special aroma to brandy.

Indigenous herbs: Koekemakranka, or Kroekemakrank or also known as Gethyllis was a plant used in one of the most ancient kitchens of the world: the one of the Khoisan people, who live in the south-west coastal strips of Africa (actual Southafrica and Namibia). The may once have comprised the majority of living humans on the planet, for much of the past 150,000 years. Today, The ripe fruit is sometimes used to impart its special aroma to brandy.

 

"...Guys like Shoeman embody the culinary future of our country. He cooks with these completely unknown plants and herbs..." 

Topsi Venter

 
 
 
 
 
In memorian: Topsi Venter passed 2016 away at the age of 85.

In memorian: Topsi Venter passed 2016 away at the age of 85.