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Second prize - Southern regional semi-final:

Flourish Vietnamese rustic dishes from the countryside

Wednesday, 10/26/2016 17:26
First time being at The Golden Spoon Award, Thang Loi 1 Restaurant (An Giang province) impressed the jury by fried Mắm (fermented fish) rolls. This year, in both preliminary and semi-final round, they really tickles the jury’s fancy with their bold, even risky creation when they wanted to flourish the rustic dishes from their hometown.

1. It was so memorable seeing the happiest moment of chef Vo Kim Sang when his team seized a ticket to the final round of The Golden Spoon 2016. He embraced his colleagues then ran onto the stage with un-hide-ably happy face. People who used to talk to this austere-faced chef might be able to understand his extreme reaction because just one year ago, when the announcement of final teams ended without his team, he disappointedly stood there with emotional abstinence.

In the semi-final round of The Golden Spoon 2015, chef Vo Kim Sang and his team arrived at Van Thanh Park (HCM city) at 4:00am although the contest would not be held in 3 more hours. They rather anxiously waited there than lying on bed. Chef Sang admitted that they had had no pressure from their leads but besides learning new knowledge, they also wanted to improve themselves and to fulfill their own mission - bringing all their regional specialties to diverse diners.

There was so pity not to go on the contest but that regretful moment quickly passed. Emphatically, chef Vo Kim Sang came to shake hands and congratulate winners.

This season, one more time, the same team had arrived at Ho Chi Minh city early, including chef Vo Kim Sang, Tran Quoc Tri, and Vuong Thien Toan. With high spirit and comfortable attitude, they carried their well-prepared regional products to the semi-final round, such as gamboge fruits, Ca Na fruits (Elaeocarpus), cassava, and duck. Thang Loi 1 Restaurant team has been persistently longing for flourishing their rustic dishes from home.

Season 2016, Thang Loi 1 Restaurant’s chefs were much more comfortable and confident with their well-prepared ingredients.

The team picked a risky combination, sour gamboge fruits and acrid Ca Na fruits. They wanted to use up seasonal products from their homeland. However, this combination can be really awkward if it was not skillfully processed. Food expert and professional judge Ly Sanh strictly paid attention to team no.2 when seeing Ca Na fruits in their kitchen. Following his own rules, judge Ly Sanh only asked and listened without further explanation. He had been waiting for the tasting part.

An Giang Gamboge fruits.

 Chef Kim Sang was confident cooking with special ingredients like Nang Hai fish and gamboge fruit sauce. Nang Hai fish is a type of bronze feather-back fish with black and white dots, living mostly in Me Kong river system. This fish has flavorful taste, tender yet chewy texture. After processed and seasoned, Nang Hai fish paste became a great crunchy and unique dish. Traditionally, the whole cleaned fish, flesh and bone, would be well chopped to retain more calcium but the chefs had to vary cooking method in order to bring it up to luxurious party table. In this case, chef Kim Sang must take all bone out before seasoning fish flesh.

Nang Hai fish or known as bronze feather-back fish.

Spices were another interesting highlight of team no.2. They performed southwestern generosity by bringing a whole gamboge branch and a basket full of fruits to decorate their kitchen shelf. Gamboge is a wild fruit with a nice scent and transparent sour taste. Gamboge shell is quite thick; the core is divided into segments; each segment has a big seed and thin flesh just like a mangosteen. Gamboge trees’ habitat is from the Middle to Southwest Vietnam but An Giang gamboge fruits have oval shape, which is totally different from Middle gamboge. Recently, scientists have known that gamboge fruits contain a supplement to help reducing weight. Thang Loi 1 Restaurant decided to give this sweet & sour fruit a try.

Sautéed Nang Hai fish paste in gamboge sauce.

Boneless Nang Hai fish would be kneaded with seasonings to become chewy paste then stuffed by a mixture of green onion, Chuc leaves, cilantro, and salted egg yolk. Gamboge fruits would be taken all seeds out, grinded, seasoned then cooked with a bit of flour to thicken the sauce. Deep-fried fish paste was served with impressive gamboge sauce.

2. The next dish was made from duck meat in floating season: duck breast and Ca Na fruits served with bread. In floating season, southwestern people have numerous games to play in generous Mother nature, such as fishing, net casting, catching tiny shrimps in fields, and swimming. Moreover, they also have interesting seasonal products, like Ca Na fruits. Ca Na grows on riverbanks and gets really fruity in season. People can make sweeten candies, pickled, or sweet and sour Ca Na but cooked Ca Na and duck breast is an exceptional.

Duck breast and Ca Na fruits served with bread.

According to chefs, Ca Na fruits have a sweet and sour taste and they’re generally good for health. Duck breast and Ca Na was am appealing healthy brand new food, which provides high nutrition to diners. The chefs took time to make it a perfect dish in which duck meat has retained its tender and juicy taste. After many times of trying, they have fluently memorized this recipe: Season duck meat with seasonings and Welsh onions in 15 minutes; Quickly stir-fry duck meat; Pour in broth and boil in 20 minutes then add Ca Na fruits and carrots, cook until duck meat well-done; Seasonings to taste then add in a bit flour to thicken. The most important steps are to soak Ca Na fruits in salt water, to drain out then to blanch them in boiling water again to eliminate the acridness.

Ngoc Ke and seaweed soup.

The appetizer is another bold choice in picking and mixing ingredients that called Ngoc Ke and seaweed soup. Ngoc Ke (chicken testicles) is a highly nutritious food, which contains protein, lipid, and hormones while seaweed is a healthy choice for body detoxing, cholesterol reducing, and skin protecting because of its vitamins and minerals.

It might seem irrelevant but the combination was totally intentional. With chicken eggs, shredded chicken, crabmeat, white fungus, and Enoki mushroom, the chefs created a super invigorating soup for both men and women. The process was quite simple: Bring chicken broth with Ngoc Ke, shredded chicken, white fungus, crabmeat, and Enoki mushroom to boil; Season to taste; Add seaweed in then add tapioca flour and scrambled eggs.

Southwest Cassava Cake.

Southwest Cassava cake was a purely casual dish and the chefs wanted to keep its rustic characteristic. This was a simple combination of cassava and green beans, condensed milk, coconut milk, butter, sugar, and Gac fruit (cochinchin gourd). Peeling raw cassava and grate the flesh; steam green beans and smash to make paste; ground pandan leaves to get juice; collect Gac flesh. After preparation, add grated cassava, green bean paste, sugar, condensed milk, coconut milk, and vanilla then knead the whole dough till blended. Press dough in cake mold then bake in 60 minutes or until golden brown.

Judge Ly Sanh just had a small technical comment that fish paste should be shifted to appetizer and the rest was a big “good” for each dish. Until that moment, judge Ly Sanh explained why he had throughout asked about Ca Na fruits “I had asked carefully because I was a bit worried about this dish. From my own experiences, if it’s not enough skillful, Ca Na fruit will remain the bitter and acrid taste and spoil the whole dish. But you guys did a good job.”

Chef Tran Quoc Tri particularly garnished his dish.

3. Seeing chef Vuong Thien Toan was so focused on making dessert that forgot the bustling crowd around, chef Tran Quoc Tri was strongly kneading fish paste but flexibly drawing Nang Hai fish by chili sauce on white dish, chef Kim Sang quickly finished step by step while directing his two colleagues, and finally three of them burst into tear when the team made top 15.

It was so easy to recognize where were passionate and enthusiastic chefs who wanted to flourish their rustic homeland dishes.

By The Golden Spoon Award

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