Friday, April 4, 2014

A Luncheon with Rockstar Chef Todd English

When living in the Philippines, Middle Eastern food can be hard to come by. Really, really good Mediterranean restaurants are few and far between. As far as restaurants in that region goes, I like to head over to Al Batra in Makati when I need an Arabic fix and there is always Black Olive in Capital Commons for when I want something a little more Mediterranean. I have yet to try Greek Kouzina, but I've been hearing some nice things about them, too.

So, with that empty part of my life tummy to fill, you could imagine how pleased I was when I got to sit down to lunch with rockstar chef Todd English at the Raffles' Long Bar one afternoon. He had just opened Todd English Food Hall and is adding a little something special to Spectrum's buffet line up this month, so the kind folks at Fairmont Makati rounded up a few people to say hello to Todd and give it a go. This is actually very apt, as Todd English's Food Hall in New York is at historic landmark, The Plaza, which happens to be managed by Fairmont.

Todd English is known for his Mediterranean-influenced cuisine, which was why I was so giddy with anticipation. Here was a spectacular chef, cooking using my favorite cuisine that I got to try. Holy shiz, how crazy was that? I met up with a few friends (and made new ones) at the Long Bar at Raffles in Makati and took a quick peek to see the chef in action in the kitchen. He had huge slabs of steaks marinating in a tray and huge truffles he had brought in from New York, courtesy of The Truffle Lady. This was definitely a sign of jaw-dropping things to come.

Lunch started with two mezédhes: a rather Arabic Carrot Hummus that was brought to life with tahini and zatar spice, and a Warm Feta and Spinach spread, which was very Mediterranean. Both mezédhes were simply plated, and didn't really need anything more but some good bread, really. And maybe a pot of sweet Moroccan tea?

Fairmont did not fail us in the bread department, as there were baguette, foccacia, and ciabatta slices as well as paper-thin Lavosh for everyone to savor with the Mediterranean spreads.

We were served a 2012 Penfold's Koonunga Hill Chardonnay for our next course, and this was light and crisp with a lemony aftertaste which was a nice interlude for the three flatbreads we would be tasting later on, most of which could be found in Todd English's Food Hall.

My favorite flatbread combination was the Fig and Prosciutto with Roquefort and a drizzle of aged balsamic for contrast. This has just the right balance of sweet and salty, with the aftertaste of the Roquefort that makes your tongue just beg for one more bite. One more. Just one more? Five more!

For the vegetarians, Todd prepared Portobello, Fontina and Scallions flatbread. I found this to be deceivingly filling, as the meaty mushrooms tricked me into thinking I was eating ground beef. This was pretty good, "But not as good as the prosciutto and figs combination," the carnivore in me whispered softly.

The T.E. Signature Flatbread for Spectrum tasted very Spanish, with tomato, chorizo, caramelized onions, Manchego, and scallions  on top of the chewy bread. This was hearty, heavy, and so good, no wonder there were chunks missing when I went to take a picture of it.

The Shaved Fennel, Roasted Bell Pepper Salad tasted predominantly of arugula, with the fennel and roasted bell peppers sweetening the bitter greens. This was then finished off with slivers of roasted almonds as well as generous shavings of Parmesan. I didn't expect too much from a salad, but this was one was really nice!

Todd and his son work very closely together, so it was really nice to get to chat with Oliver Todd English as well as the Managing Director of Fairmont Makati, David Batchelor, over an array of topics that mostly revolved around food. Haha! What else do you expect when a bunch of foodies come together?

Margaux Salcedo and I both went batshit crazy over the Fonduta Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce and Fresh Black Truffles. Todd came out to personally shave the black truffle on each of the plates before we proceeded to take as many pictures as we could to save this moment for posterity's sake, and then sunk our teeth into the resplendently cheesy, creamy deliciousness of the ravioli. Imagine gooey cheese wrapped in pasta pockets, with just the right amount of brown butter sauce and a peppering of fresh, earthy shaven truffles. It was orgasmic. I was afraid Margaux would bite the server when he came to take away the plate. Fortunately, she didn't see him do it. Ninja server! She still suffered from ravioli separation anxiety afterward.

I had probably gone through a few glasses of Chardonnay by the time the Tuna with Tamari Shoyu Glaze and Olive Relish came out. The perfectly rectangular slabs of fish was seared 'til white on the outside yet a lovely dark pink on the inside, lazily topped with braised cabbage, Shiitake, chopped olives, and bacon. It was an awesome Mediterranean-meets-East concept that worked out deliciously. Somebody should be taking notes.

I was too full up on meze and flatbread that I skipped the Whole Roasted Cauliflower and Mama’s Zucchini. I knew what was coming up next and I wanted to save some room in my tummy for the rest of the dishes. Well that, and I'm not the biggest zucchini fan.

What I couldn't say no to was the Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta - a simple cornmeal porridge with the consistency of mashed potato, but grittier. This had soft chunks of goat's cheese on top, making the polenta consistency creamy, with the goat cheese aftertaste lingering on your tongue.

For the rest of our mains, we enjoyed a 2010 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz - Cabernet Sauvignon. Bold, robust, and a little acidic. This paired nicely against the flavorful meat platters of pure happiness that were coming up.

Keeping to the Mediterranean-themed dinner, a Slow Roast Rack of Lamb Port Wine Reduction and Guava Gelee was served. Folding in the soft roasted garlic with my polenta with the Saffron Potato Gnocchi on the side, this complimented my lamb nicely, which had a nice ratio of melt-in-your-mouth fat and tender meat. The gamey taste is something that is somewhat of an acquired taste in Asia, but totally normal in the Middle East and Mediterranean, so them flavors were strong!

The Short Rib Terrine was fantastic! Todd brought in slabs of Grilled Snake River Farm Rib Eye Wagyu Gold from New York, seared it 'til it was rare to show off that beautiful shade of red, and served it with a curried braised beef sauce and foie gras foam. This is probably one of the most tender pieces of meat I will ever have in my entire life. You can probably cut a piece with a spoon - it was so tender! The steaks were marinating in a mixture of soy and some other ingredients and herbs, so it really didn't need anything else, but the curried sauce and foie gras foam just took the whole platter to a whole new level of awesome.

Todd finally joined us all after he was done in the kitchen, and the Fairmont chefs took over dessert, presenting us with a beautiful Tartine Philippine. Moist slices of pandan cake were surrounded by generous dots of yema, marshmallows, and coconut ice cream. This was once very sexy dessert that left even Todd impressed.

I was more drawn to the Manila Mess, their take on an English classic. This mess was piled high with cream, meringue, and chunks of our sweet Philippine mangoes in lieu of strawberries. Daresay, I think this tastes even better than the Eton version. Sorry, lads!

I had such a wonderful afternoon, I swear, I didn't want to leave! Before saying goodbye, I got a nice candid shot of Todd and our resident celebrity chef, Sharwin Tee of Curiosity Got the Chef, sharing stories of how they don't do line cooking and getting their hands dirty in the kitchen enough anymore. #CelebrityChefProblems

When mucking around Makati and wanting to get a taste of Chef Todd English's Mediterranean flavors, fill that sad void in your soul tummy and head over to Spectrum at Fairmont Makati from April 20 to May 20, 2014 and try the T.E. Signature Flatbread being served at both the lunch and dinner buffets. This is a treat your really don't want to miss.

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Fairmont Makati
 +63 2 555 9888
1 Raffles Drive, Makati Avenue,