Sunday, October 18, 2015

Discovering the World Through Cross Cultures

Published in Manila Bulletin Lifestyle on October 15, 2015

Discovering the World Through Cross Cultures
Chefs Gaggan Anand and Chele Gonzalez takes us on a journey across India, Japan, Bangkok, Spain and the Philippines

Chele Gonzalez and Gaggan Anand at the Gallery Vask Kitchen

Gaggan was my best meal in 2013. I still remember how a smiling Indian man walked up to me as I was taking photos of the beautiful restaurant. He offered to help me move the chair that was obstructing my view. Halfway through the exquisite meal, the same man walked up to our table and asked how everything was. The kind and friendly samaritan turned out to be the chef! When Gaggan Anand discovered we were visiting from Manila, he only had one question: Which do you think is better—Philippine mango or Indian Mango?

He found our reply rather unsatisfactory and sent us home with a bag of Indian mangoes after a personal tour of his kitchen, just to prove his point.

Fast forward to October 5, 2015, the same funny man was standing in the Gaggenau Kitchen in Makati, demonstrating how to make a dessert using a balloon , liquid nitrogen… and Philippine mangoes. (He was all praises for our local fruit, but insisted the one from his hometown was still best.) Gaggan was sharing techniques and cracking jokes in front of the Filipino audience, and on the next evening, cooking up a storm at Gallery Vask for the 50 diners who were lucky enough to score a reservation. All seats were sold-out in less than 24 hours!

Gaggan demonstrating how to make a mango dessert at the Gaggenau Kitchen

It felt so surreal. Gaggan of S. Pellegrino Best Restaurant in Asia and 10th Best Restaurant in the World, working alongside our very own pride, Jose Luis “Chele” Gonzalez of Gallery Vask, which was recently named one of the six inspirational restaurants in Australasia and Southeast Asia. This very special collaboration was made possible through Cross Cultures, my dear friend Cheryl Tiu’s newest baby.

Who's the happiest? :)

Gallery Vask Crew

Cheryl always amazes me. A world traveler, publisher, editor, and writer, this lady with a voracious appetite for life founded Cross Cultures with the mission to connect and integrate countries and continents, flavors, and cultures by building a global community through food.

Cheryl with one of the photos she took in Ethiopia

She traveled to Ethiopia in June, fell in love, and decided to bring the African country to Manila through photos and gastronomy, so that the rest of us can fall in love with it, too. And boy, she made it so easy for everyone. The stunning pictures that she took said a thousand words, and the delicious Ethiopian spread prepared by Helena Tesega of Eat Ethio had the guests wanting to book the next flight to Africa. Even before I could get over how fantastic the injera is (Did you know this Ethiopian bread contains zero calories?), I found myself again at the fourth floor of CLIPP Center, enjoying a most delectable 15-course meal with a little Indian lovin’ here and a little Filipino magic there.

Gaggan x Gallery Vask 15-Course Menu

With my tablemates who were as excited as I to eat - Claudine, Weh, Betts and Brian

Erika, Monette, Leslie, and the woman of the hour, Cheryl Tiu

Chefs Gaggan and Chele teased our palates with dish after dish of new, unexpected flavors, aromas, and textures. From Gaggan’s signature “Yogurt Explosion” that flooded my mouth with a velvety egg taste, followed by the “Chele Bomba,” a marriage between the Spanish chef’s trademark crispy pandesal shell and spiced cream filling that boasted all the precious flavors of India.

Yogurt Explosion
Gaggan's greatest hit since the day they opened

Chele Bomba
Gallery Vask cheese and rice puff with spiced herbed mousse

Crazy Nut 
Edible plastic bag with nuts from all over Asia

The packets of mixed Asian nuts were edible—yes, including the plastic! I saw bewildered faces break into smiles as people popped the little bags into their mouths. Crunchy tapioca pearls papadum was topped with vibrant tomato chutney while the bird’s nest was actually deep-fried potato strings that held a sweet dollop of dates chutney. I could eat about a hundred pieces of the brilliant Pinoy cookie covered in Bengali mustard, seaweed, and adobo powder.

I Am Indian
Tapioca pearls papadum and tomato chutney

Pinoy Cookie
Bengali mustard, seaweed, adobo flakes

Bird's Nest
A fantasy about fries and chutney

Gaggan threw in some local tuna into his spicy Indian marinade, and voilà a ceviche was born! To tame down the heat was a dish inspired by his travels to Fukuoka—a refreshing uni bowl with melon strips and yuzu.

Local tuna, corn and avocados in a spicy Indian marmalade

Japanese Connection
Fresh uni and melon inspired from Fukuoka

The magic mushroom was one of my absolute favorites. Kashmiri morels and truffles were served side by side with Philippine mushrooms and spices to create different layers of earthiness that flirted heavily with my taste buds. Then, there was the maya maya charcoal tempura, a 16-hour slow-cooked local pork with vindaloo curry, lobster done South Indian-style, and the most raved about dish of the night - swimmer crab in an arrestingly delicious spicy curry sauce mixed with coconut milk and served with fluffy Indian rice. Everyone at our table wanted seconds. You’d never guess, but this sensational dish was inspired by none other than our humble palabok!

Magic Mushroom
Kashmiri morels and truffles growing on the wood as a log

Maya maya in charcoal batter tempura

BAA… boy
Baa means mad in Thai language and boy means man enough to eat this spicy dish

Catch of the Day
Lobster in South Indian style with curry leaves and pepper

Soul Food
Swimmer crab in curry, coconut milk, and Indian rice

The night ended on a sweet note with Philippine mangoes cured with vanilla miso and ice cream flavored with sake kasu.

Cross Cultures
Gallery Vask's incredible dessert with yuzu sorbet and Gaggan spices

Happy Ending
Philippine mango cured with vanilla miso, and sake kasu ice cream

It was Gaggan’s first time in Manila and also his first time to work with Chele, but it felt like they have been friends for a long time. Gaggan brought to us not only India, but also Thailand and Japan, and I am certain he took home with him a piece of Spain and the Philippines. In fact, he proudly admitted to stealing a few of Chele’s secrets! Haha! What a darling!

This funny man! :D

On my way out, I walked past the kitchen and saw Cheryl with the two chefs and their teams celebrating the evening’s success, just being silly boys and girls, laughing and having fun. It was such a heartwarming sight that pretty summed up what Cross Cultures is all about—sharing, learning, loving, connecting, and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Kitchen crew celebrating the evening's success

With Menashki, Cheryl, Chele, and Gaggan

Congratulations to the Cross Cultures, Gaggan, and Gallery Vask teams!

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