The Desaru Coast Gourmet Series is widely known for its mission of highlighting local flavours that are presented by acclaimed culinary experts from the world over. After a successful first instalment in May this year, the gastronomic event returned to welcome chef Kim Hock Su of Au Jardin, who was joined by chef Johnson Wong of gēn and Communal Table as well as Valerio Pachetti, executive chef at One&Only, Desaru Coast, in Johor.
Held at One&Only’s Ambara and Ember Beach Club for dinner and brunch respectively, the affair themed Ode to Nature started off strong with Au Jardin’s fluffy Signature Bread, made using fermented rice and lentils (evocative of thosai) and served with rich and savoury Tomato Chutney Butter. The latter left quite an impression, sparking conversations among diners about its flavourful taste with most agreeing that it offered the perfect balance of spicy and salty. Suffice to say, it was an easy crowd favourite.
“At my restaurant, we don’t really have signature dishes because we try to refresh our menu every now and then. Having a fixed one feels like we are holding ourselves back from experimenting with new things,” Su said, adding that some items are kept on the menu if there is demand for them.
Showcasing his adventurous soul, the one Michelin-starred chef brought some of Au Jardin’s current offerings to the Gourmet Series but with a significant twist. One of them was Cured Snapper, which was complemented by other unique ingredients such as longan gelée, nashi pear and Szechuan pepper emulsion for a hint of spice.
He was especially delighted to prepare Hand Dived Scallops, beautifully served on the half shell and filled with brassica purée and alyssum scallop roe bisque. “We aren’t using ingredients we haven’t used before, but we are introducing a sauce that’s made of scallop roe, which we have not incorporated in many of our dishes because they are very limited. This time around, coincidentally, we are using lots of scallops in other dishes, so we are able to collect enough of the roe. We have never done such a thing before.”
Su credited Wong and Pachetti for taking on the challenge to come up with a menu that showcased their contrasting styles while still harmonising with each other. “Chef Johnson’s dish is really interesting because he uses ulam-ulaman (side dishes) that are not normally presented in this manner, and chef Valerio has also taken the step to experiment with local flavours.”
In essence, this six-hands experience was a melting pot of different culinary backgrounds and approaches, featuring three chefs with very distinctive characters and identities, especially in the kitchen. When building the menu, all of them agreed on protein first, before moving on to the rest of the ingredients.
“The initial draft of the menu is always what protein to use and from there, we see how to work with it. A lot of the dishes are seafood because that’s the best we can do to celebrate the local produce surrounding Desaru Coast and Penang. We did have some concerns that people would think the spread was too seafood-driven, so we took a step back to balance the menu and flavour profiles by introducing some plant-based [dishes] and a bit of meat.”
The clever use of the plant and meat combination could be seen in another star dish, which was the tenderly cooked oxtail that came together with a decent scoop of Assam Pedas Barley topped with Kacang Botol Gremolata and ulam raja, a local herb with a distinctive taste not unlike green mangoes.
While Pachetti may be less familiar with local cooking culture and ingredients compared with Su and Wong, he has spent the last 15 years of his career working across Asia in countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and India. However, there is always room to learn new things, he shared.
“It’s more of a discovery than a challenge for me. The idea of eating is usually about the taste, texture and feeling you get from food. My interpretation of taste may be different from everyone else. This experience also gives my staff the opportunity to work next to Kim and Johnson and their teams. It is really about the collaboration, in which we are learning from one another,” said Pachetti, who was born in Colombia to an Italian father and German mother.
“For me, the most important thing is for my team to learn because they’re all very young. I told them, ‘We have invited these two gentlemen who are really amazing, not only as chefs, but as people. These guys are recognised by Michelin and they are super cool. We can ask them questions.’ So, there is mutual respect between the chefs and our teams.”
The last platter of the night was presented by Pachetti. The mouth-watering Chocolate Concierge featured layers of cocoa goodness, packed with single origin Kota Marudu chocolate crémeux and decorated with passion yuzu jelly and almond snap. Meanwhile, the complementary lychee and rose sorbet was the perfect last touch to the gratifying dinner that celebrated a variety of talents, ingredients and culinary methods.
The next Gourmet Series will be held at the Big Easy Bar & Grill, Els Club Desaru Coast from Nov 17 to 19. For reservations, contact Desaru Coast Concierge at (019) 791 2217 or (07) 838 3180.
This article first appeared on Oct 23, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.