The old adage “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” may have well been written with Isadora Chai in mind. As one of the country’s elite brigade of top chefs, she is also famously outspoken, sharp as any of her designer knives and, naturally, suffers no fools. But love her or hate her, there is no doubt the meter of her culinary poetry is vast and varied, switching effortlessly from dactylic daintiness to iambic forthrightness in dishes like Ode to Newton, her clever tribute to the legendary physicist in the form of a gravity-defying two-part dessert, or a simple-but-sublime truffled coddled egg sprinkled with crouton dust and flecks of Fleur de Sel.
Edible Satire: French Cuisine with a Twist is a compendium of recipes from themed degustation dinners past. For those who have had the chance to experience one, it is not easily forgotten, to be sure. Written with liberal helpings of her famously wicked wit, the book recalls Kitchen Wars, a themed night that made fun of, while paying tribute, to fellow chefs in town, as seen in dishes like Cilantro — pie tee with unagi and shaven ice foie gras, which is her take on Takashi Kimura of Cilantro’s signature appetiser of braised unagi and foie gras.
Another is Frangipani, which remembers Chris Bauer’s and Eddie Chew’s former Changkat dining room and best-selling dish of tea-smoked salmon. Her interpretation involves Tasmanian king salmon siew mai with Guan Yin tea oil, roast potato lo mai kai and smoked crème fraîche. Her famous Manga degustation dinner is also featured, telling the tale of Raxicon, the chef’s own manga love story infused with the tentacled erotica of legendary Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika (of whom she is an ardent admirer), as well as last year’s GE13 Disgust-ation, crafted in the spirit of Malaysian coffeeshop talk and starring tongue-in-cheek, self-explanatory dishes like Janji Di Chapati and Ini Kari Lah.
On the seeds of Edible Satire: French Cuisine with a Twist, Chai says, “I wanted a record, a compendium... degustations come and go and are forgotten once they are done and dusted. I have always believed in cooking with humour, albeit dark humour.”
Although the recipes are complex, as expected, Chai encourages readers to try them out. “It may look complicated but as most are made up of multiple recipes, try approaching them one by one. Play with the components. And if the ingredients are hard to come by, feel free to experiment and adapt. For example, if you can’t make or find bottarga for the squid ink pasta, consider tobikko or even crispy hae bi, which could work. Or if you don’t like goat cheese for the toasted chapati dish, replace it with Brie or Camembert. Like I said, cooking and eating should be fun... an adventure.”
'Edible Satire: French Cuisine with a Twist', is already available at Kinokuniya Malaysia at RM223. An almanac of Isadora Chai’s past themed degustation dinners, the book comes with a set of experimental recipes from each of the tasting menus and promises to take you on a visually-appealing culinary adventure that is imbued with the chef’s trademark originality, innovation and wickedly sophisticated style.
This article first appeared in issue no 90, Winter 2018 of Haven.