On such a night I was invited over to the Cape Sienna Phuket Hotel, Kamala. With an increasingly tempestuous backdrop, distinguished guests plus little ol’ me were being presented with a pairing dinner from the Executive Chef, Francesco Greco, Treasury Wine Estates and the Independent Wine and Spirit company.
The plan had been to sit outside on the terrace, with the hotel’s beautiful views across Kamala and the surrounding Andaman sea. But Typhoon Manghut had other ideas, and Giuseppe Viva, the Food and Beverage Manager, seamlessly moved the medley of proceedings and servings inside.
So we gathered in the cosy Plum Prime Steakhouse restaurant, and were seated for the evening’s tales. But these were not oratory stories, but rather rich narratives played out for different senses.
Chef Francesco Greco had created a culinary tale to introduce each of the seven courses. Whilst being an entertaining and playful approach to imagining the meal, it also provided an intriguing backdrop to the chef’s craft and the complexity behind each dish.
“I have a visual mind, and design menus by picture,” explains Francesco. “All food has a history. There is a story to each drama. For tonight, this menu is inspired by scenes of 1930s Havana, there are Cuban themes and imagery across each dish.”
Are we sitting comfortably? Then the Chef shall begin.
Prologue: A French Marriage
Fine De Claire No. 3 oysters were brought on for the opening scene, accompanied with the unusual choice of a bubbly drinking partner. A smart opener, with the more delicate oyster chosen to ensure it did not outshine it’s sidekick. Canapés were also brought around for the gathering crowd, including Yellowfin Tuna.
Preface: The sea and the rising sun
As the guests were seated for the main acts, the narrator’s team brought out a cold smoked blue crab quenelle, sitting on a celeriac julienne surrounded by a moat of tomato water. The Alaskan crab, which was smoked over applewood, provided the flavour of the sea, the celeriac added a crispy texture, whilst the clear, pristine tomato water brought a burst of the sunlit vine.
Chapter One: The wild goose, the Apple of Discord and the blackbird
Now the scene was set, we were all ready to tuck in to a meaty tale. A double-smoked goose breast was served on an apple salad with raspberry dressing. The salad, crisp and acidic to compensate the sealed-in fatty goodness from the breast meat. The paired beverage’s name in French translates as the blackbird.
Chapter Two: The shepherd of Jerusalem and the President
The big gun flavours now roll into the story, with a 120 days grain fed Australian wagyu sirloin, served with a mash of Jerusalem artichoke to compliment the beef, and finished with black truffle warm espuma to take on the ‘President’, a big complex red in the accompanying glass. An interesting aside from Francesco informed us all that the Jerusalem artichoke is not related to its namesake, but is in fact a species of sunflower, whose make up as a root vegetable enables it to be served comfortably with the hard-hitting beverage.
Chapter Three: Max flies to Piedmont and finds the goose
The mid section was completed with a Castelmagno cheese risotto, flavoured with a hand crafted goose sausage and topped with a crispy fried leek. The Castelmagno was described by the chef as “parmesan on steroids”, and this rare cheese from the Piedmont region certainly packs a punch. ‘Max’ refers to the name of the full-bodied paired red.
Chapter Four: The hunter, the safari and the flowers
The end-game was reserved for a red deer filet mignon’s fight with the big boss of red beverages. The hunt was on. Fortunately the venison was accompanied for the duel with a chocolate and Riviera Dei Fiori emulsion, Ethiopian timiz pepper and black carrot sous-vide. Enough to distract the hunter from each bout with its juicy prey. The timiz pepper is dried beside the fire in the Ethiopian desert, and this long pepper is not spicy, but has citrus flavours that balance with the game. The chocolate emulsion makes this a complex conflict, but their skills are matched, and ultimately the flavours win through.
Chapter Five: The wolf, the shepherdess and the beekeeper
After the storm, quite literally, peace was restored with the delicate Beppino Occelli’s Tuma Dla Paja. It’s an ending with a surprise, because whilst this warmed, soft cheese has a strong and pungent smell, the taste is a butter and milky cream affair. This was accompanied with honey and salish, which is an intensely sweet and smokey salt originating from the state of Washington, in the Pacific Northwest.
But the story was not yet over, as the Australian ‘wolf’ loitered in the background to give a lifting finish, with its pale straw eyes and elegant pose.
All-in-all an intense drama full of complex characters and global backdrops, and Executive Chef Francesco Greco and his sparring partners prove themselves to be master storytellers.