Every night of inebriation needs some sustenance to soak it up. But, more recently, whisky and cuisine pairings have become popular — with chefs marrying the energy of those two main characters.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
And so it is for the Vietnam Whisky & Cocktail Festival 2023. The organizers have invited some of the country’s hottest young chefs to pair bites with whiskies, albeit more informally, from all over the world “to elevate the entire experience of the Vietnam Whisky Festival this year” that features 8 whiskey masterclasses, and features whiskies from Kaibutsu, Bushmills, Bruichladdich and many more.
Introducing Vietnam Whisky & Cocktail Festival 2023’s Chefs
There’s Chef Khải Tuấn from Stoker Woodfired Grill & Bar serving up the Saigon institution’s Woodfired Cheeseburger Sliders. Then there’s Võ Thành Vương, Top Chef Vietnam champion 2019, and head chef at cultured CoCo Saigon, creating his 14-day dry-aged duck with a wild berry sauce.
Both chefs will be working with state-of-the-art kitchen equipment, including the Mychef Combi Oven and Heston Blumenthal’s Everdure, supplied by Ly Gia Vien, a company that specializes in high-tech cooking appliances for fine-dining concepts.
And, spreading the event’s culinary reach to the capital, is Hoàng Tùng, who, across his two restaurants, T.U.N.G. Dining in Hanoi and Å by T.U.N.G in Saigon, has been tinkering with iconic Vietnamese dishes like phở – which, handily, is what he’ll be making at the Vietnam Whisky & Cocktail Festival 2023.
Finally, from the purveyors of delicious and decadent delights, Palais Des Douceurs, is Chef Phạm Thị Trâm Anh, who studied at Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon. And the pâtisserie, founded by Anh and her chef sister, is renowned for its authenticity, with recipes “passed down by generations of French chefs.”
Phạm Thị Trâm Anh admits she owes it all to her dad. “He was the one to give me my first shot of espresso, my first glass of wine, and also my first taste of whisky,” she smiles.
These days, for Anh, enjoying whisky means a quiet drink after work from time to time. “And if I could only have one for eternity? I’d go for Bowmore 18. It’s a faintly peaty Scotch that smells of caramel. It has just the right amount of smoke. And it’s wonderfully complex, with some additional chocolate notes, and some fruit notes, and a long, pleasurable finish.”
The Absence Of Whisky Would Make Life Boring
For Hoàng Tùng it’s an occasional joy too. “It really does have a special place among my preferred beverages though,” he nods, “usually just before retiring to bed for the night.” Life, he decides, wouldn’t be the same without it. “Its absence would undoubtedly make my life more boring!”
CoCo Saigon’s Chef Vương is very familiar with pairing whisky and cuisine – or even using whisky in his cuisine.
The CoCo Saigon space, after all, includes a chic whisky bar opposite the woodfired open kitchen. “It’s what I get to do every day,” he shrugs. But, after work, when he’s escaped the pressure of the CoCo Saigon kitchen, he’ll often reach for a bottle whisky too.
For Stoker’s Khải Tuấn, whisky, he says, “is definitely an important part of my life.” And, like the other chefs at the Vietnam Whisky & Cocktail Festival 2023, it’s a pleasure usually enjoyed after work. “It’s kind of a reward,” he explains, “just half a dram to savor is usually enough. Then I can save some for winding down after my next shift.”
And any Islay whisky will do. “My favorite style of whisky is smokey, so give me anything from Islay!”
Cuisine As Smokey As An Islay Whisky
For the Vietnam Whisky & Cocktail Festival 2023, Khải Tuấn’s dish, like his favorite whisky, will be infused with smoke. “So, for our Woodfired Cheeseburger, we add homemade tomato relish, dill pickles, double cheddar cheese, on top of a very special beef patty – for this event I’m going to use our dry-aged beef. And we’ll finish the relish in a smoker, for about 30 minutes. Plus, the fatty beef, when it drips onto the grill, will create lots more smoke, creating a rich smokey flavor too.”
Phạm Thị Trâm Anh’s Palais Des Douceurs’ desserts will be “decadent, refined, and satisfying.” Which is, she says, “precisely the way desserts were intended to be.’
For her Chocolate Vanilla Charlotte, she’ll use a 70% dark chocolate from Santo Domingo, vanilla beans, chantilly cream and a chocolate crunch, “made the way the French masters would do it.” That means, to top it off, the whole cake will be adorned with a cocoa-ladyfinger crown, and topped with 41% milk chocolate whipped ganache.”
And it’s not the first time she’s paired her desserts with whisky. “I remember we once paired Venezuela chocolate and blood orange entremets with Dalmore 12 Year Old. It really worked well, because they both share a similar profile – there’s dark chocolate notes in the whisky too, and citrus peel and aromatic spices.”
As with his cuisine, Hoàng Tùng takes an iconoclastic approach to pairings. Traditional whisky experts will, he feels, evaluate whisky through a lens of its technical intricacies. “But, for me, I judge it based on how much it satisfies my own palate, and how compatible I feel it is with the cuisine – regardless of what I’m told to do or expect. Sometimes, by doing that, you stumble upon an exceptionally harmonious combination.”
Vietnam Whisky & Cocktail Festival 2023 guests will have the chance to do the same, grabbing different whiskies, and tasting them alongside Hoàng Tùng’s deconstructed phở. “Inside you have the ingredients behind the distinctive flavors of phở, but I’ve transformed it with three layers of flavor. There’s a rice noodle layer, a succulent A4 beef layer, and a broth jelly layer. The jelly hits you first, followed by the melt-in-your-mouth A4 beef slice, after which you get the velvety smoothness of the rice noodles, all with a hint of mild spiciness from the green chili.”
It is, he assures us, “a multi-dimensional taste experience” – like the whiskies being served.
Chef Vương is even interested in the matching processes behind his cuisine and a good whisky, he tells us. “I play around with fermentation a lot,” he says, “so in this dry-aged Long An duck dish, you have fermented fruit on top, and obviously, the impact of aging on the duck itself, just like whisky which is fermented and then aged in a barrel.”
But How Do The Chefs Like Their Whisky?
With our appetites stoked for the Vietnam Whisky & Cocktail Festival 2023 weekend, there’s one question we forgot to ask. How do the chefs like their whisky?
“Give it to me straight!” Khải Tuấn demands. “I just want to experience the original flavor as it should be, unadulterated.”
“Me too,” Palais Des Douceurs’ Phạm Thị Trâm Anh concurs. “I like the intensity of that first sip.”
“Oh, it has to be straight,” Chef Vương agrees. “Me as well,” Hoàng Tùng nods. “Even with all the whiskies available at Vietnam Whisky & Cocktail Festival 2023, I’d prefer to take mine straight up – no ice and no water, exactly as they’re meant to be!”