Monday, March 11, 2013

10-course dinner composed by Chef Hiroaki Takeda

UPDATE (2013-April): See the chef's own blog about his behind-the-scenes experience putting this even together. Includes some really beautiful pictures of the menu.

Chef Hiroaki Takeda returned to his culinary roots at Johnston Heights Secondary School to present a "culinary experience" of fine dining. I was lucky enough to hear about it and put myself in for a ticket right away.
Tickets were easy enough to get: Fine dining? In Surrey? And in a high school? Sort of a bleak-sounding setting for fine dining, but the free venue combined with a lot of volunteer help from students (including four servers per table of eight, plus live music) let them sell tickets at just $40 per person (no taxes added on top of that, but gratuity not included) for a 10-course using locally sourced ingredients, and to cover the cost of renting tables and chairs so guests didn't have to sit on those foldable high school cafeteria tables.
A 10-course at a restaurant might be $55, and that's a half-price Groupon offer. And somehow, that high school kitchen did turn out some really interesting and beautiful plates. Easily done under the seasoned direction of Chef Takeda, who regularly composes the same for his catering business, YOSHIcatering.

Cocktail:
Virgin Mojito
Cinnamon, Ginger

Cold App:
“Atarashii” Nicoise Salad (picture)
Confit Fingerling Potatoes, Seared Tuna, Arugula, Watercress, Beets
Miso, Soy and Sesame Dressing

Soup:
Spring Pea Soup Cappuccino (picture)
Matcha foam

Hot App:
Truffled Wild Mushroom Risotto (picture)
Burnt lemon, Leek Purée, Leek Oil

Fish:
Pan Seared Scallop (picture)
Fennel and Orange Salad, Fennel Fronds, Orange Segments, Pickled Beets

Meat:
Fraser Valley Duck Duo (picture)
Pan-Roasted Breast, Duck Leg Press
Crispy fruit and cinnamon bread pudding
Local Baby Carrots

Palate Cleanser:
Watermelon Consommé (picture)
Balsamic pearls

Savoury Cheese:
Chévre Cheese Cake
Apricot Gel, Fig Chutney

Chocolate Dessert:
Chocolate Ganache Tart (picture)
Smoked Walnuts, Raspberry Purée

Frozen Dessert: (Served on Ice Plate)
Straberry Peppercorn Ice Cream
Strawberry Moscato Granite, Honey Tuile, Basil

Overall I was very happy with the dinner, especially considering how much it cost, so let's get the criticisms out of the way first:
  • When I first saw the menu, I thought, "no way a mojito counts as one course". And I still think that was sort of a cheat. The school isn't licensed for alcohol, but they didn't have coffee or tea either. It was water, and the one mojito that looked like the sort of slightly yellowed silty water that comes out of your tap when the city flushes the water mains. Fortunately, things picked up a lot after that.
  • Drinks were the weakest part of the dinner. Interesting sounding, plainly presented, but sadly not that tasty. Matcha may be good for you, but it still smells and tastes like grass. Bleah. Watermelon Consommé (isn't that essentially watermelon juice strained of pulp?) tastes like, whoa, watermelon.
    • That said, the "balsamic pearls" were intriguing. Basically they were little pellets of balsamic vinegar. Which made the Watermelon Consommé a sort of bubble tea, except instead of chewy "bubbles", you got balsamic vinegar. Hmm... Was this meant to poke fun at bubble tea?
Okay, on to the good stuff!
  • The plates were superbly composed.
    • A variety of flavours, especially a pairing of fruity and savoury, to ward off the sort of monotony that can come from too much of one thing.
    • To this was added vibrantly coloured sauces and vegetable garnishes splashed on using the whole plate, all the way to the edge, as a canvas -- each plate felt like a little painting.
    • Plus the food was tasty, of course. Overall, top marks for taste and presentation.
  • If you dissect your plate, the components are not individually anything special -- for example, pan seared scallops are pan seared scallops. It's the combination and presentation that makes your two measly scallops look like a $20 plate from MARKET or Hawksworth. If you want sheer food value for your money -- if you're counting scallops -- you're looking in the wrong place. This sort of plate is a "culinary experience" and you're paying for the artistry as well.
The final dessert was a token scoop of ice cream on an ice carving plate: A solid plate of ice about a half inch thick, maybe eight inches wide, and carved with an Inuit eagle head. I don't know why I was so blasé about it, but it really was a very neat touch to end the evening. I'm pretty sure they were from Cool Creations as someone mentioned Chef Takeda's father was an ice carver, but I'll have to check on that.

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