Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tempting Thai cooking tastes of innovation

By Nancy T. Lu

Bringing chef Tammasak Chootong from the Banyan Tree Group to The Sherwood Taipei for a gourmet celebration means introducing the exquisite culinary innovation in the fascinating Thai kitchen. An ongoing buffet at The Sherwood Taipei’s B-One says it all.

The partnership involving two members of the Leading Hotels of the World makes possible an enticing first step through the palate into an exotic setting associated with the Banyan Tree.

The Banyan Tree as a successful brand name stands today for romance, tranquility and rejuvenation. The group with the 52-year-old Ho Kwon Ping or K.P. Ho as founder boasts today no less than 34 luxury hotels and resorts as well as 64 spas worldwide. The first Banyan Tree property opened in Phuket, Thailand, in 1995.

“My Thai cooking is traditional,” stressed the Thai chef, who originally trained in western cuisine in Germany and is now responsible for creating menus for the Saffron Restaurants of the Banyan Tree Group. “But my technique is part of my innovation. And my presentation is innovative, too.”

Asked how much of the ingredients did he have to bring in from Thailand, he replied: “Eighty percent I would say. But many of the ingredients of the Thai recipes can be sourced locally.”

Geographical factors tend to define dishes in Thailand. The coastline, the central plains, and the dry uplands in the east not to mention the mountains in the west and north have different specialties. The Banyan Tree Thai Gourmet Festival opening on June 1 and running until June 28 features a fairly general coverage of the Thai culinary map. The buffet highlights an interplay of flavors from sour to salty, from sweet to powerfully hot.

A pleasant preview of the Banyan Tree Thai Gourmet Festival at The Sherwood Taipei kicked off with a serving of Som Tum Satay Gai or Spicy Green Papaya Salad, Grilled Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce. As demonstrated by the chef, grated papaya and carrot had to be pounded and crushed with a wooden pestle. Lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and chopped chillies spiced up the typical Thai salad.

Lemon grass, often used in fish cookery and curry dishes, went into the preparation of a drink to go with the Thai meal. Ginger flavored the drink, too.

Yum Makhue Phao Nhue Poo or Grilled Eggplant Salad, Mud Crab Meat, and Roasted Chilli Dressing came next. The smoking of the eggplant could not be rushed to get it right, according to the chef. Thus, the dish took a little more time to prepare.

Tom Yum Goong or Hot and Sour Prawn Soup with Thai Herbs was appetizing. The traditional recipe required lemon grass stalks, fish sauce, galanga root, kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, chillies, cut coriander leaves and spring onions, among others. A requested serving of white rice enhanced its appreciation.

The time came for the tasting of Khao Soi Salmon or Steamed Salmon Wrapped in Fresh Rice Noodle Sheet and Yellow Curry Sauce. The flavor was very mild compared to the previous dish. Drops of chilli sauce were introduced perhaps to prevent it from tasting too bland. The western style of food presentation was quite attractive.

The sweet and yummy finale was Khaow Niew Mamhuang or Mango Sticky Rice with Coconut Milk. The crispy, the sticky and the soft all came together on the dessert plate. Forms and shapes were creatively combined to visually delight the diner approaching the end of a memorable lunch.

Watermelon, pandan leaf, lemon grass and turmeric are taking turns in lending aroma to Hom Mali Thai rice during the food festival. Guests are free to add red, green or yellow curry to the steamed rice.

Noodles lovers have four choices: rice noodles, egg noodles, Chinese vermicelli and noodles cut from fresh rice sheet. Ingredients to add to the noodles include: shrimps, fish balls, beef balls, pork wonton, mushrooms, tomatoes and so forth.

Buffet costs NT$800 per person for lunch and NT$950 per cover for dinner. There is a 10 percent service charge. Call tel. (02)2718-1188 ext. 3006 to make reservations.

Khao Soi Salmon calls for wrapping a fish slice with fresh rice noodle sheet and then steaming it for 10 minutes.

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