Culinary Debut! Snowcology x Monniker Cafe
Never thought that I would take up this culinary debut!
This has been Snowcology's biggest chapter till date since it was started in December 2014.
In early February, I received an email from Monniker Cafe. As usual, I was skeptical about collaborations especially when capital is involved. I wasn't a professional chef, nor a celebrity chef to begin with, just a passionate home cook. However, after looking at the presentation slides and financial model which they sent me, it looked pretty well done and doable!
Monniker Cafe engages home cooks, private chefs, professional chefs, and entrepreneurs-wannabe to head their kitchen during weekends. To kick start this concept, they roll out a 10 weeks line up of cooks / chefs starting 1 April.
So now, how am I gonna do this myself when the speed I churn out food is home scale?!?
2 persons immediately came to my mind to work on this.
Felix and Jonathan!
Felix was a Junior Sous Chef from a renown restaurant and Jonathan used to be from Shatec though he has been out of kitchen life for the past 12 years.
We accepted it under the theme: Snowcology.
Menu planning, research, trial and errors, food tasting were underway. Throughout the whole process, Jonathan has been very positive, playing the devil's advocate when Felix and I were too engrossed in our food research and recipes. I could feel the stress and pressure as I do not wish to tarnish the reputation of Snowcology and at the same time, wanting to prove that the creations are as good as it looks and live up to the name of "Pretty, good food".
I set out my objective clearly.
Snowcology is all out to impress, profit is not on the menu!
It wasn't easy thinking of the starters, 2 mains to choose from, and the dessert.
Intuitively I settled on doing a salmon for starter, pork belly and pasta as mains, and a baked dessert.
And that's how we came up with the preliminary menu.
Food tasting with Monniker in March went very well indeed, with no comments on the dishes we have prepared! We are truly glad!
We continued to further improve on the food recipes as we still had more than a month after the food tasting to the actual service weekend.
Now, for the actual details on how each dish was inspired, crafted and plated!
Snowy Citrus Ceviche
I remembered doing several ceviche dishes and curing and sousvide salmon has been my forte. I wanted something appetizing to the taste buds for starters. It had to be refreshing, wow, and something diners most likely have not eaten and experienced before. So salmon with something citrus would be fantastic. The type of salmon plays a part as well! I decided on using sashimi grade salmon trout as the flesh was firmer and more suitable for low temperature cooking! The color of the flesh was more vivid as well.
Felix proposed a dish "citrus minestrone". Cured sousvide salmon with citrus minestrone consisting of citrus juices. It tasted awesome, but we needed something which included more technique to it. I saw my whipping siphon. I added some stabilizer to the citrus juices, charge it up, and we have our citrus foam!! It looked pretty with the salmon too!
We fixed this and started to improve on the citrus taste. Yuzu essence (reallyyyy expensive stuff), Yuzu, orange, lime juice, moscato, peppermint herbs were some of the major ingredients, and of course, a special stabilizer which replaced the use of xanthan gum.
So now that we have a nice textured salmon, a fizzy citrus foam, we needed something crunchy or crispy! Felix proposed sago chip! It was a hit!
These chips were not easy to prepare. Sago has been cooked, dehydrated at 65°C for 24 hrs, puffed in oil, and finally seasoned with our own blend of Japanese spices.
We made a variant as well. Squid ink sago chip and this was served as one of the 3 Chef's Amuse for the 5 course dinner menu!
The final assembly consisted of salmon trout, topped with oranges, ikura (cured in shoyu, mirin and sake), fennel, frisée, microcress (to be talked about in details later), sago chip, and citrus foam garnished with herb oil.
A perfect dish in terms of visuals, colors, taste and texture!
Coco Pork Belly
Who doesn't love the traditional Hong Kong style roasted pork belly with crispy skin? But to serve this would make it no different from the others. I have made pork belly many times, from using sous vide, roasting, high pressure cooking etc, and sous vide gives it the perfect texture and consistency every single time. Then again, owning a sous vide machine doesn't make you a professional chef. The pre prep, brining solution, post sear are the most important steps to giving the best tasting pork belly. Sous vide is a kitchen tool, not a magic tool.
Traditionally roasted pork belly had the taste of 5 spices, generally on the bottom section of the meat but not evenly distributed within the meat itself. It tasted good because of the sauces and the thick layer of fats.
I wanted the pork belly to have a taste of spices and a touch of saltiness evenly distributed throughout the meat. The brine was a challenge. Heston Blumenthal has a good pork brine, but needs some modification to suit Asian taste buds. Although coriander seeds are the main spice together with cloves, star anise, juniper berries, all spice berries, I have added other spices such as white peppercorn, Sze chuan pepper, etc. Toasting these dry spices before blending them into powder to form satchets improved the flavor of these spices.
Brown sugar and molasses were added to give the pork a subtle sweetness and nicer color when seared. Citrus zest, herbs like bay leaves, rosemary and thyme were added as well.
Whilst the above seems easy, brining 25 kg of pork belly, sous vide, chill and portion is no easy feat when done at a home scale level. Brining takes 12 hrs, sous vide another 36hrs at 60°C, and final ice bath, flattening in the fridge before portioning and vacuum packing. Every piece of pork belly's rind was carefully sliced criss - cross to achieve the beautiful checkered sear.
Fridge space was a MAJOR concern, and this did not include the other ingredients and food prep demanding the same limited fridge space. I had to use my mum's fridge as well.
So how was the crispy pork skin retained? We removed the pork skin prior to brining and sous vide. Skin was separately cooked, and dehydrated at 75°C for 24 hours. The result is a leathery brittle piece of skin, which when puffed in oil, expands to about 5-6 times its size. Finally seasoned in smoked paprika, bonito and other spices before broken into shards. Serving this way, we ensured that the diners still had the crispy pork skin, but prepared by a totally different technique.
Deciding on the condiments was quite a challenge. Felix reminded me of a good point! Pork belly goes well with acidic condiments. So we came up with green apples vacuum packed in lemon purée vinaigrette, assam balsamic reduction and our secret acid purée. Remember eating hotdog buns topped with pickled cabbages? Our acid purée is made up of german sauerkraut, green apples and rendered bacon oil. You would need a good blender to purée these as it's extremely fibrous.
What about the carbs? We wanted to serve potatoes, but with an in depth flavor. So they were cooked till just tender and smoked with apple wood chips, and chilled to allow the smoke flavor to develop by diffusion.
Balsamic reduction was relatively an ease to prepare. We added assam to it for an Asian flavor. Reducing it to about one third remaining was the consistency that we were looking for. Viscous enough to reduce the spread but thin enough to be squeezed through a bottle.
The final assembly consisted of a beautifully crusted, evenly flavored and tender pork belly, green apple cubes, acid purée, smoked potatoes, assam balsamic reduction sauce, cress and crispy pork skin shards.
Traditional prawn aglio olio is tossed in olive oil, garlic broth, white wine and red chili.
We wanted something different, something more pronounced, something which could hardly be found out there.
We made our own rendered prawn oil! Lots of prawn heads and shells, spring onions, garlic and canola oil. Rendered at a low temperature for about 6 hours. The resulting oil was extremely flavorful (prawn-y if you call it), nice red and clear.
We made our own chicken stock as well, not from bullion cubes. Lots of chicken backs and necks, fennel, celeriac root, celery, yellow onions, white peppercorn, and carrots are some of the main ingredients. The stock was reduced to about half the original volume for a concentrated flavor.
Last but not least, the garlic and shallot confit. Done with a mix of espelette pepper and smoked paprika. This gave the dish a tinge but not overpowering spiciness, and the smoked taste of the paprika gave a little kick to the dish.
These were the 3 key ingredients on top of the common items such as white wine etc to our delicious prawn aglio olio. Finally, the rest depended on how the dish was cooked and prepared, the amount of heat for each ingredient etc.
As for the doneness of the pasta, we decided on pleasing the majority of taste buds, that is, slightly beyond al dente.
Again, we needed to add texture to the dish. It needed a crispy touch to it. Garlic chips as recommended by Felix. Thinly shaved, blanched and shallow fried to a thin and crispy chip. Sprinkled with some icing powder to eliminate the bitter after taste of garlic.
The final assembly consisted of a cocoon-shaped twirled pasta (apologies as I only managed to twirl about 70% of the pastas due to rushed demands), flashed seared prawns, spring onion, tobiko and rumpfish roe, garlic chips, rock chives, cress and drizzled with some warm prawn oil to finish! A pasta dish like no others!
Orange Liqueur Dark Lava Cake
I knew this was going to be a huge challenge given that it had to be freshly baked. Timing, temperature and consistency were crucial for this dessert. We used 73% dark Belgium chocolate.
Initially, panna cotte was in the plan but I felt it lacked the effort and wow factor put into it. The dessert was the finale and had to be equally impressive where skills and techniques must be involved.
A traditional chocolate lava cake is monotone. We wanted to create one that was visually stunning. It needed to be a combination of colors. Easier said than done. Whilst orange liqueur had already been added to the batter, it struck us to introduce an orange liqueur cream to produce a stark color contrast when the cake was cut.
We used white chocolates, cream, orange liqueur and adjusted the ratio of yellow to orange colorings to achieve the natural orange fruit color. The viscosity of the liquid was tested at various temperature to ensure that it was as close as possible to the molten lava consistency. We made another batch of less viscous orange liqueur white chocolate cream to be used in the pipette. Too viscous and the pipette would not be able to suck up the liquid. Lots of chemistry involved here.
Texture again. We needed some crunch. Chocolate soil and dehydrated chocolate shards came to mind. Chocolate soil is relatively easy to make. Cocoa powder, butter, some almond flour, plain flour, sugar is all you need to make these delicious soil. They can be kept long in an air tight container and used with breakfast granola or cornflakes.
Dehydrated chocolate shards was done by drying chocolate mousse at 68°C for 18 hrs. The mousse was then thinly spread over a silicon mat, sprinkled with caramelized hazelnuts, and dried in a dehydrator. The finished shards was then frozen till needed.
The final assembly of the dessert was where the challenging steps came in. The cake was baked, cooled and inverted onto a serving plate. The orange liqueur white chocolate cream (high viscosity) was then injected into the center of the cake where the lava was. Chocolate soil was used to cover the injected hole and act as a insulated layer between the warm cake and the ice cream. It also gave the cake a crunchy texture when eaten together. The ice cream was quenelled a day before so as to speed up the serving process. The quenelle was placed on the soil, and finally decorated with chocolate shards and a pipette of orange liqueur white chocolate cream (Low viscosity).
Lastly, the most important thing that made this dish so special and unique!
The paw prints!! These are what makes up Snowcology!
While Snowy, Coco and Codi could not be here at the cafe, I wanted them to be part of this project, which was why the menu is named after them and the 3 paw prints represent each of them! These were done via an improvised stencil and was done on the plate prior and standing-by for plating!
There you have it! All the fine details and inspiration to the dishes that we have created!
We hope you have enjoyed our creations and the little cookie that was given as a compliment to the coffee!
Thank you to all our relatives, IG followers, friends, friends of friends, and walk-ins for taking the time to support Snowcology's culinary debut. We had a total of 163 diners (140 brunch and one full seating for the 5 course dinner)!
We were truly humbled by the good reviews and praises that were given to us, yet we remained confident of the dishes we served. It was crazily busy I must say and definitely an unforgettable experience.
Special thanks to Felix, Jonathan, and our 2 pretty dishwashers Ivy, and Serene, without whom, this would not have been a success. It did took us some time to get the momentum going, and by Sunday, everything was silk-smooth! We foresee and preamp what was needed, every hand signals were clearly understood, and the movement of food preparation and plating was crisp and precise! Not a single moment of frustration.
So..... will Snowcology be making another appearance?
I certainly hope there will be a next time, with more interesting concepts and creations!
Additonal info: Microcress and Edible Flowers
Something so small, but yet absolutely essential when it comes to visual and taste. Every single leaf and stem was packed with the most intense flavor you could ever imagine and they are extremely nutritious as well!
Some of the cress we have used include rock chives, marigold, coriander, red vein sorrel, red mustard, oxalis, fine yellow frisee etc. Every cress was carefully trimmed to the correct serving length!