Sometimes it pays to know the right people. Okay, generally, it almost always pays to to know the right people. Variety might be the spice of life, but knowing the correct variety makes it even spicier. In this case, by virtue of knowing my culinary idol, Rohani Jelani, and her trusty sidekick, BabeIntheCity KL, I managed to score an invite to this very prestigious function, held at the residence of H.E. The Ambassador of the United States of America, Mr Paul Jones. His lovely wife, Catherine Jones (also a trained chef), had emailed me asking if I would like to attend a cooking demo, featuring Rohani, Amy Beh and Manju Saigal. Needless to say my fingers tripped over themselves in my haste to reply in the affirmative.
I quote excerpts from the program, because why reinvent the wheel, especially if it it's written by H.E. The Ambassador himself.
"This evening's Artistry of Spices program features a unique merging of art and food, Brookie Maxwell, a renowned New York artist, dreamed up the idea based on the theme: cook locally and spice globally. "
"Cooking and food became a major part of my life when I married Catherine. She was born in India and only half jokes that that is where her first olfactory memories were formed sparking her culinary career".
On the artistry aspect of it, "While collecting these goodies in Penang (a truckload of spices), Brookie painted scenes from the world of spices, using the spices, tumeric, cloves, cinnamon, chili and Chinese five spices as pigment".
- Ambassador Paul W Jones.
All the stress that I felt being stuck in diabolic traffic leading the the Ambassador's residence dissipated the moment we arrived, in the gorgeous residence in Langgak Golf, with sprawling gardens, and a cosy house that was elegant, yet not ostentatious. Of course, downing a glass of white wine pronto also relieved the stress almost instantly.
Bouquets of spice and herbs adorned the table as a centrepiece, replacing traditional flowers, and what a good idea it is too, for flowers are quite useless (unless you're a goat), whereas with a centrepiece like this, you can actually use the stuff afterwards, or guests can take them home if so inclined.
A traditional indian mouth freshener, this combination of spice emits a liquorice type flavour, probably from the aniseed, to cleanse the palate.
The night begins with the Ambassador saying a few words, Brookie Maxwell's introductory speech, and the Ambassador's wife introducing the chefs.
Manju Saigal, a native of Punjab, grew up in Mussoorie, at the foothills of the Himalayas. How thoroughly exotic. She first learned to cook from...get this, her grandfather, and her mother. She demonstrates how to cook Achari Sabzi, a pickled vegetable dish, Lemon Rice, Seekh Kebab, (seekh means skewer), and Kesari Murg (chicken with saffron). Saffron, as we know, is the most expensive spice in the world. I wonder if the spice referred to in Frank Herbert's DUNE series was saffron.
There we have it, our sampling platter of all the items mentioned above.
Next was Amy Beh, established food columnist in the Star, and probably a name even the least culinarily inclined would have heard of. Her name card even says, "Celebrity Chef". She demonstrated a Vegetarian Herbal Spiced Soup, (something like Bak Kut Teh but without the Bak Kut (pork ribs)... which she thinks she will rename Chai (vegetarian ) Kut Teh, but strictly speaking, that's wrong as well, since there's not "kut" (Bones). Considering it was devoid of meat, it was surprisingly flavourful, and probably quite healthy. The other soup, duck and salted mustard green (Kiam Chye Ark) was also tasty. Of the three, hers were probably the easiest, since for the soup, you literally just chuck everything into the pot.
The Ambassador gets a whiff of, not lemongrass.... but the other oaky spices that form the base for the vegetarian bak kut teh.
Steamed Spicy Fish Custard, or more commonly known as otak otak.
Next up, (Amy Beh's demo seemed to take a long time, waited soup never boils), was my idol, Rohani Jelani and her trusty sidekick, BabeinthecityKL. For those who have never heard of Rohani (and shame on you if you haven't), she is the owner of Bayan Indah Culinary Resort, and runs the most amazing cooking classes. Her name has been around since time immemorial (which is amazing, considering she's still very young)...
Rohani demonstrated Nasi Kunyit, Chicken Rendang (I can vouch for this recipe of hers, which I learnt in her class, and it not only works, but is delicious and is quite easy to prepare, and doesnt require laborious long hours of cooking and stirring that requires a body builders biceps), Masak Lemak Udang Dengan Nenas, (Prawns and Pineapple in Coconut Milk), and Onde Onde, those lovely green balls that squirt out gula melaka as you pop them in your mouth.
Rohani's sampling platter. Absolutely yummy.
Rohani rolling the onde onde balls..such an expert, she doesn't even need to look.
And finally, created and made by Catherine herself, the most amazing crumble I have ever had, together with Chocolate Pots with Garam Masala, and Curry Ice Cream. Yup, curry ice cream.
Actually this is called Apple Mincemeat Crisp, but is basically a crumble. Sooooo soooo good, cos it marries the tangy Granny Smith apples with the sweet and rich mincemeat, so reminiscent of a Christmas dish, and topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Sublime.
I wonder why no one has thought of this sooner, Curry Ice Cream, afterall, we have wasabi ice cream, and a whole host of other exotic flavours, yet this obvious choice ...I loved it. The subtle curry flavour, and the creaminess of the ice cream, it really should be a quintessential Malaysian dessert. I can imagine a dollop of durian cream to go with it. The ice cream was accompanied by oatmeal walnut raisin cookies with five spice, Chocolate Cinnamon Chilli. I must have been so enthralled by the ice cream and crumble, and totally forgot to take pictures of the Chocolate Pots with Garam Masala, which was also superb.
One for the album.
What a fabulous evening.
Special thanks to Catherine Jones and the Ambassador for hosting such a fascinating event, and thanks to Rohani & PS for submitting my name allowing me to be in the presence of such distinguished culinary glitterati.