Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Ter'ra X Kin: One Night Only in Kuching

Our perfect location.

5.30pm, 13th February 2018:

I arrived at Kin, half-expecting a frenzy. Michelle was tying up loose ends outside, sorting plates, cutlery, briefing the service staff. She exuded ice-cold calmness, something uncommon for a 23-year old. This was her show(she's from Kuching) - it was probably the only time her extended family could enjoy her talents in one place, and it was not fazing her at all.

Michelle giving her final instructions.

Top was nowhere to be seen. He's definitely sweating it out in the kitchen, out of my sight. The flash-frozen groupers, 'dying' clams, his high temperature. He must have found a solution for everything, or so I hope.

The selection of wine for the event.

6.30pm, 13th February 2018:

Finally, a glimpse of Top. Everything seemed under control. Adrenaline had taken over. He looked in perfect shape.

The #sexythaiboy displaying his usual antics.

Come, one nice shot before hell freezes over, oh, I mean before Ter'ra X Kin takes over.

7pm, 13th February 2018:

After turning a couple of walk-ins away, guests seemed to be finally arriving. It was also the time when Kin, the restaurant itself, transformed from the bright homey eatery in the day, into a classy dining insitution at night. The ambience was spot-on, especially the long wooden platform in front of the kitchen that allowed our chefs to finish off every dish in the clear view of all 40 guests. What a perfect place for the event.

Soon, a healthy elderly man strutted in.

"Are you a guest for the event?" I asked, trying to be as polite as possible.

"Michelle is my grand-daughter!" he bellowed back in pride.

I was taken aback, how was I to know? He proceeded to move forward to take pictures of his granddaughter with his mobile phone.

I looked at Justin and Sze-lyn, my fellow organisers for this event. Sh*t's really happening, here in Kuching, and to think that this was only the 3rd time we met since our 'accidental' meet-up in Bangkok at the end of December. By now, Michelle's entire clan was showering her with embrace and adoration. It was quite a sight, and even before a single dish was served, I knew the effort was worth it.

(From the corner of my eye, I caught Top playing with the wok in the kitchen, and I remembered him saying he had little to no experience with it.)

2 chefs based in Bangkok, 1 with high fever, taking over a kitchen in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.

100% local ingredients. Unfamiliar kitchen. Unfamiliar equipment. Unfamiliar restaurant team.

1.5 days of prep. 6 dishes. 40 guests. 1 night (aka 1 chance) only.

Let's do this.

Coriander Crackers| Crab| Rose Apple, an appetising starter to kick the night off.

Soft Seed| Bovril| Honey Butter, the absolute crowd pleaser, I don't think anyone expected the bread dish to be this spectacular. I believe most customers had at least 2, if not 3 of these soft rolls. This was a clear testament to Michelle's talent as a pastry chef.

Mango Sorbet| Fish Floss, back in Bangkok, this was a gamble. Customers either loved or hated Top's frozen mango + fish sauce combination. It was a winner here in Kuching. Everyone finished their lot, even my 7-year-old niece.

Black Rice| Pork Belly| Prawns, a congee dish that tasted more Asian than anything I had ever eaten from Top. It was a little salty at first, but every spoonful gave a different experience, especially after breaking the cured egg yolk hidden under the rolled pork belly charsiu. Many well-cooked elements put into 1 hearty bowl. I could eat this every other day.

Rock Grouper| Clams| Turmeric| Cabbage, I am not going to mince my words, I didn't enjoy this dish as much as I liked to. The dish had potential, but somehow I felt that with a bigger, fresher fish (which proved to be impossible during the Chinese New Year season in Kuching), served warmer, this dish would have been much much better.

Limau Kasturi| Tuak| Coconut, a play on uniquely-Kuching ingredients, but turned out to be possibly the most forgettable dish of the night. Mainly because we were all stuffed by then, and also that the Tuak (a wine commonly drank by Sarawak natives) and coconut didn't really come out.

And so, we pulled it off. There were hits and misses, but we pulled it off!

Such events, and food, are rare in Kuching, and it felt immensely satisfying to have finally made a small difference to this little city that I call home.

I hope everyone who has followed us in this journey will be inspired, even in a little way, by what a few passionate people have managed to achieve. Be creative, be brave. Share your ideas with your best friends, but ideas don't become things if no action's taken. If you find the right people in the right places and join the right dots together, anything is possible.

So thank you Justin, Sze-Lyn, Aaron, Top, Michelle, Jerome, everyone at Kin and all the diners that night. You made a dream come true.

PS. Read all about Ter'ra X Kin: The Making Of.... and follow #terraxkin on IG and Facebook to see all the precious pictures taken of the event.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Ter'ra X Kin: The Making Of...

21st December 2017:

The sparks between 2 total strangers started off with an Instagram post.

Someone actually took my instatories seriously? Anyway, it's definitely a relief he/she liked my recommendation.

Crying Thaiger was closing in a couple of days, so was #findthelockerroom (which has just re-opened at an equally-confidential location). Alone, unwell and a little freezing in the cold Bangkok winter, I made a lonely tour that night to say goodbye to a couple of places close to my heart.

I took a deep breath before sliding open the lockers at #findthelockerroom one final time, expecting a rowdy horde, aiming to find a vacant space to quietly show my support. Then someone raised his hand, as if he already knew me, and confirmed if I was @strangerinbangkok. It was Mr @fooddaytoyou, Justin! Even more incredibly, he's also from Kuching. What were the chances?!

22nd January 2018:

"Do you think he (Top) might want to do a simple tasting menu at a wine shop when he is around?"

This was a WhatsApp message sent to me by Justin out of the blue. Chef Top (Pongcharn Russell) from Freebird (Justin enjoyed the food there during his Bangkok trip in December) was visiting Kuching during the Chinese New Year period as his girlfriend Michelle Goh (pastry chef from Suhring) would be visiting back home (she's from Kuching too). An idea sprouted out of nowhere, and I was determined to make it work.

By the end of that very day, the chefs had given me a "yes" and the ball was back in Justin's court to find the right restaurant with all the equipment requested for the kitchen takeover.

23rd January 2018:

"We are on for 13Feb dinner," Justin.

"Yaaaaay," me.

"Venue will be at Kin. They have a full working kitchen and equipment."


24th January 2018:

A rough draft of the 6-course menu has been sent by Michelle. Being local, she selected only ingredients that can already be found easily in Kuching.

"There's no point going to Kuching to serve farmed salmon or Australian beef," Top added.

26th January 2018:

We received a market list of 48 items from the chefs. 48 items for 6 dishes!

2nd February 2018:

"Hey Top regarding the snapper, cannot guarantee supply. Boats are all docked. Both consumers and restaurant owners are already stocking up. The supplier we contacted is a major supplier of many restaurants in Kuching. Flash frozen fish." Message from Aaron, the owner of Kin, the restaurant hosting the event. He's been working out of his skin to source for the required ingredients.

Having the event during Chinese New Year was a blessing yet a curse. It was the only window everyone was available in Kuching, yet it was also the only time that Kuching's strength in wild-caught seafood becomes its weakness, when the bad weather and festive rush threatened to deprive us of our most important ingredients.

The final menu, beautifully put together by Sze Lyn, Mrs @fooddaytoyou.

11th February:

"The clams are starting to smell." Aaron.

Our clams were dying?

12th February:

"Good morning. Top is at Borneo Medical Centre now with fever," Michelle.

It was a day before the event, a few hours before our final briefing. The 2 chefs only had 1.5 days to prepare from touch-down till serving our first dish.

Top was burning with high fever.


To be continued........

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Slow Afternoon with the Family in Bangkok: Open House @ Central Embassy

Last Sunday was a special one.

My family spent an entire day in what was my least favourite mall in Bangkok barely a year ago - Central Embassy. When it just opened, I went once in anticipation and got sorely disappointed at a place that seemed to exist to automatically exclude 90% of the local population due to its over-luxurious positioning. "What's the point?" I wondered. It was nice, but a bit (actually a lot) too nice.

It obviously wasn't working very well, so Central Embassy sprang into action and created a whopping 6th floor called Open House, which has single-handedly transformed the mall into one of the most all-inclusive, kid-friendly, family-friendly location in town.

Not the best picture, but this is a snapshot of what Open House is all about.
I am not suggesting you spend an afternoon here and not spend a single cent (it's probably not possible too with all the good food choices), but this is not an indoor playground nor a restaurant, you don't have to pay to enter or be obliged to buy anything, and that makes the concept even more beautiful. It's a food court, cafe, playground, co-working space, restaurant, library, bookstore combined into 1.

The cool co-working space tucked in the corner of Open House. There are meeting rooms for rent too, to impress your staff.

I will now list down a few things a family can do here to chill the entire afternoon away.

1. Treat it like your own restaurant

As a food court, Open House is, to me, something like the the G-floor at The Commons (at Thong Lor Soi 17), just better. Many of the coolest names in town are there (Paris Mikki, Peppina, Lady Nara, Bao and Buns etc.). You can order from any 'stall' and eat anywhere.

Always attracted by the firewood used as the main display at Peppina, referring to their woodfire oven.
You can find every cuisine here, even live freshwater shrimp that can be cooked to your liking.
It always helps when my favourite Paris Mikki is around.

2. Treat it like your favourite cafe

There is more than 1 place to grab a top-notch coffee at Open House (3 in fact, I will let you locate them yourselves) which you can pair with the best pastry/ice-cream Bangkok has to offer.

Have a 'chill' afternoon while your kids can entertain themselves doodling away.
Noah's favourite secret elevated corner.
Baby E's enjoying herself too.

Noah's photography skills improving. We are just gonna pretend Baby E is not in the picture.

3. The most peculiar mini indoor Playground

There's something about that playground. It's small. It looks like a mish-mash of solid-coloured square cushions. Yes they recently added a slide that makes it all the more exciting, but you just can't put a finger to why, without any equipment that you will normally expect from a playground, kids just cannot get enough of it.

Right there, yes just that one in the corner with the slide, that small place is the playground.
They just can't get enough of it.
Kid-friendly dining area conveniently-located near the playground.
Remember to bring socks for your kids. If not you can buy socks from the counter at a good price too.

4. Treat it as your favourite library/bookstore

Some would think that Open House is actually a bookstore, just one that you can eat in. I won't really argue against that. You are free to grab a book, sit somewhere comfortable (there are nice quiet corners everywhere even though there are kids all over the place) and read your way through the afternoon, and have the choice of purchasing it too. Reading is one of our favourite activities here.

Books and dining areas fused into one.

Baby E happily reading.

5. Play a game

If you have run out of ideas, use a receipt to loan a game from the information counter to have some fun with the family. This is a brilliant new initiative by Open House which, at least to me, raises the fun level to great new heights.

Noah chose Bad Dog, which he didn't even dare to play. #COYS
Baby E was the braver one.
Big Brother was just hiding!

So, yeah, now you know where my new favourite place is.

And, no, this is not a sponsored post.

We'll be back soon.

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