Friday, February 27, 2015

A Culinary Evening with Chef Susur Lee

Internationally acclaimed chef and restauranteur Susur Lee has built a reputation as a culinary genius with his innovative and inspiring cuisine that combines the complex food traditions of China with the classical techniques of refined French cuisine. Named one of the top 10 chefs of the millennium by Food & Wine magazine and hailed by Zagat as a culinary genius, we were fortunate to get into a special dinner with chef Lee through Toronto's 2015 Visa Infinite Dining Series event at his flagship restaurant Lee Lounge. A culinary chameleon and master of global cuisines and plating panache, Lee was to create 13 small dishes served with a series of wine, beer and sake pairings, for an exceptional evening of sensory and savoury pleasures.

Internationally acclaimed chef and restauranteur Susur Lee was in the kitchen and spoke about each dish as it was served during the evening

Born in Hong Kong and the youngest of four children, Lee knew he wanted to cook from a young age, serving his culinary apprenticeship at Hong Kong’s renowned Peninsula Hotel before emigrating to Canada in 1978, where he worked his way up the ranks to executive chef status at a number of restaurants in Toronto, opening his first restaurant Lotus, to great success. Hard work, perseverance and endless quest for the most elusive flavours have brought him where he is today, with restaurants in Toronto — Luckee, Lee and Bent — and Tunglok Heen in Singapore. "I was educated in food at a young age. My father would take me to dim sum — he would open up the newspaper and say, ‘Son, you order whatever you want,’ and by the time he closed the paper, ‘Oh my god, son, you ordered so much!’ I loved food as a little kid. Through eating, I could experience food culture; I could feel and imagine things and it satisfied me. It's like taking music apart, I can sense the flavour and I have a great memory of taste". As we did too, enjoying every one of the decadent appetizers and sensational dishes served over the course of the evening, with both chef Lee and master sommelier John Szabo charming guests with personal anecdotes on the culinary inspiration and oenological insights of this special menu, taking guests on a flavour-filled journey across the cuisines of the world.

The large central bar island at Lee, with staff pouring a battalion of glasses for arriving guests

Awash in a sea of red, the interior of Lee is elegant, refined and bustling with guests arriving for Susur Lee's special Visa Infinite dining event

A Jansz Premium Sparking Cuvée from Tasmania was served to guests as they arrived, to be enjoyed with chef Lee's delicious appetizers

Tempura Crab Cake Roll with nori, rice, wasabi & yuzu ponzu, miso mayo topped with spicy chorizo

Mini Cheeseburger Springroll Lettuce Wrap made with braised organic Angus sirloin, aged cheddar and pickled​ vegetables, rolled into white spring roll wrappers and fried in canola oil and served with baby cilantro leaves and smoky chipotle mayo

Mini Cheese Tart with handmade puff pastry, black olives, tomato, red pepper, eggplant, zucchini, jalapeño and tomatillo

Assam Shrimp and Pineapple on Skewer

The first wine pairing of the evening was a 2012 Weingut Sybille Kuntz Riesling from Mosel, Germany, designed to go with the Singapore-style Slaw and Tartare dishes

Susur’s Signature 19-ingredient stunning tower of Singapore-style Slaw with tuna sashimi and salted apricot dressing

Spicy Japanese Salmon Tartare with black sesame paste 'swoosh' and crispy taro chip

Black Pepper Charred White BC Tuna Sashimi with grapefruit ceviche

A Tengumai Dance of the Raven Gods Umajun Sake from Ishikawa Japan is served to accompany the next 3 courses

The Steamed Shrimp Siu Mai with Hong Kong XO sauce and sweet and sour glaze arrived layered in 2 cups: the sauce on top with the siu mai kept warm in a cup below

Steamed Shrimp Siu Mai 

The XO sauce with sweet and sour glaze which the Siu Mai is dipped into

Cold Pressed Vietnamese-style Octopus with calamansi citrus vinaigrette

Susur Lee's Bocuse-inspired Szechuan Hot and Soup Soup en croûte with superbly balanced broth, perfectly cooked chicken, vegetables and and thick cloud ear mushrooms

The next wine, a 2011 Californian Carmel Road Pinot Noir from Panorama Vineyards in Monterey

Szechuan-style Fried Chicken with Golden Sand and Choron Sauce — a hollandaise-style sauce with tomato purée — and satay of boneless quail with spiced tamarind glaze and oven dried pineapple

The Szechuan-style Fried Chicken with Golden Sand — Hong Kong-style spiced cracker crumbs — was inspired by a recipe of his Mom's

Lee's Choron Sauce — a pink tinted hollandaise with pureed fresh tomato

Satay of Boneless Quail with spiced tamarind glaze and oven dried pink peppercorn pineapple

Beet and Persimmon 'Salad' with Basil Seed Pods and Lemongrass Jelée

The 4th wine served, a 2011 Two Hands Lily's Garden Shiraz from the Barossa Valley in Australia

Plus, a Forked River Brewing "Catharsis" Big Red Barrel-Aged Belgian Beer from London was served at the same time!

My favourite dish of the night, Susur Lee's Fresh Ground Red Curry Braised Beef with Coconut Sweet Rice Biryani served in a martini glass — outstanding! It was so tender it was eaten with a spoon

Caribbean Jerk Spiced Lamb Loin with mango purée and habanero sauce served with a banana fritter

Banana Fritter

A 2005 Vinsanto Santorini from Greece was served with the cheese and dessert courses

The Cheese Course: A Blue d'Elizabeth semi-soft blue cheese from Quebec; An Avaonlea Clothbound Cheddar from PEI; and a 14 Arpents square-shaped soft cheese from Quebec

Tong Yuen, a sweet rice dumpling stuffed with bittersweet chocolate ganache in crème anglais

Mango & Passionfruit Panna Cotta with passionfruit & pineapple granitée, coconut tapioca, palm syrup with sweet rice tuile

Watermelon Salad Appetizer
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy chef Susur Lee

6 1-inch cubes of watermelon
1/2 cup feta, in chunks
1 bunch fresh mint
Celery leaves
Anaheim chili, chopped
2 black olives, chopped
Olive oil

1/2 cup brunoise shallots
1 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 tbsp crushed black peppercorns
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup Chinese aged black vinegar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar

Combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate overnight. To serve, arrange the the watermelon in a bowl, sprinkle with feta, pour 1/2 cup of vinaigrette over top and garnish with fresh mint, celery leaves, chopped chili and chopped olives to taste. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and serve.

Winter Squash Soup with Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Serves 10-12
Recipe courtesy chef Susur Lee

4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 cup dry white wine
1 quart chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 quart water
4 lb kabocha or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salted roasted pumpkin seeds, honey and diced cucumber, for garnish

In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and simmer for 3 minutes. Add the stock and water and bring to a boil. Add the squash, cover partially and simmer over moderately low heat until tender, about 30 minutes. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return the soup to the pot, bring to a simmer and season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Garnish with the pumpkin seeds, a drizzle of honey and the cucumber. Note: The soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat before serving.

Singapore Slaw
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy chef Susur Lee

2 green onions, both white and green parts, julienned
2 oz rice vermicelli, broken into 3 pieces
3 oz taro root, julienned
1 large English cucumber, julienned
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned
1 small jicama, peeled and julienned
1 cup daikon, peeled and julienned
2 large Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
4 tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp pickled ginger
6 tsp crushed roasted peanuts
4 tsp edible flower petals
4 tsp fennel seedlings
4 tsp purple basil seedlings
4 tsp coriander seedlings
4 tsp daikon sprouts
4 tsp fried shallots

Pickled Red Onion:
1 red onion
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black peppercorns
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme

Salted Plum Dressing:
1 cup salted preserved plums, pitted
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp Dashi Japanese cooking stock
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1/4 tsp sea salt

For the pickled red onion, peel and julienne the red onion and set aside in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar and water to a boil. Season with salt, peppercorns, fennel seeds, bay leaf and thyme; continue boiling for another 5 minutes. Pour mixture over onion while hot and let sit for 1 hour.

For the plum dressing, combine the plum paste, vinegar, mirin, Dashi, onion oil, sugar, ginger and salt in a blender and purée until smooth, then set aside.

Soak the green onion in very cold water to keep crisp. Meanwhile, heat a large pot of oil. When temperature reaches 400°F, deep fry the julienned taro root, half the amount at a time, for 2 minutes until crisp and light gold in colour.
Remove the slices from the oil, place on paper towel and lightly salt.

At the same temperature, quickly deep fry the vermicelli, half at a time, for 2 seconds, or until they curl. Remove the vermicelli from the oil, place on paper towel and lightly salt.

Remove the julienned green onion from bowl and drain. Divide the vermicelli equally between 4 plates and arrange the green onion, cucumber, carrot, jicama, daikon, tomatoes and pickled red onion around the noodles and top with a tall mound of fried taro root.

Sprinkle toasted sesame seeds and crushed peanuts over each salad. In a small bowl, combine the edible flower petals, seedlings, sprouts and fried shallots. Sprinkle the flower-sprout-shallot mixture on each salad and serve with salted plum dressing alongside.

Susur Lee's Chinese Barbecued Pork
Serves 4-6
Recipe courtesy chef Susur Lee

1 1/2 lb pork tenderloin, about 2 to 3 tenderloins
1 rib celery, medium sized, finely chopped
1 carrot, medium sized, finely chopped
1 onion medium sized, finely chopped 
1 tbsp ginger, minced fresh
5 strips orange or tangerine zest, fresh, or tangerine zest (each 2 x 1/2 inches removed with a vegetable peeler)
2/3 cup rice cooking wine 
1/3 cup soy sauce 
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil

Trim the tenderloins of any excess fat or sinew. Combine the celery, carrot, onion, ginger, tangerine zest, sherry, soy sauce, maple syrup, and 1 tablespoon of the sesame oil in a nonreactive baking dish and stir to mix. Add the tenderloins, turning to coat. Cover and let marinate, in the refrigerator, for 24 to 48 hours, turning occasionally.

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Remove the tenderloins from the marinade and blot dry with paper towels. Strain the marinade into a small nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil the marinade until thick and syrupy, 5 to 8 minutes.

When ready to cook, brush the tenderloins with the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Arrange the tenderloins on the hot grate and grill, turning with tongs, until the pork is browned on all sides and cooked through, 16 to 20 minutes in all. Start brushing the tenderloins with the reduced marinade after 10 minutes. When tested with an instant-read meat thermometer, the temperature should register at least 160°F when the pork is done.

Transfer the tenderloins to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes. Cut each tenderloin on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices. Fan the slices out on plates or a platter and serve with any remaining marinade.

Susur Lee Braised Beef
Recipe courtesy chef Susur Lee

1 lb beef cheeks
Flour for dredging
Cooking oil
1 1/2 litres dark beef stock
1/2 litre canned tomato purée
200 g chili bean paste
1/2 cup oyster sauce
2 bunches fresh cilantro, with roots attached
300 ml Chinese cooking wine
2 pieces dried licorice
3 pieces star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup Chinese cilantro

Preheat oven to 250°F. Trim the excess fat from the beef cheeks, but don't remove the membrane (silver skin). Dredge in flour and pat to remove any excess, then brown on all sides in 1/4-inch of oil. Combine all the remaining ingredients and braise the beef for 6 hours until fork tender. Remove the beef and strain the braising liquid.