The game of gastronomy cannot be bound by Michelin stars, commonly regarded as the highest merits of the culinary arts; but rather, it is a journey of discovery to find the most unique and refined experience it can offer.
My fate with cuisine is intertwined with my boundless passion and pleasure of enjoying food. Many have asked “What is the difference between having a good meal and enjoying it?”
It is not a simple task to give a concrete answer to such a broad question, but it is safe to say that beyond the enjoyment is the desire for exploration and discovery. The philosophy of gastronomy carries the same sentiment. Eating good food is a conditional reflex of the physical body, while gastronomy is a way of life. After all, gastronomy runs the course of using all your senses to achieve the most divine sensations; but of course, how far this will stretch depends on your personal experience.
To eat, in the simplest figure of speech, is to play and the game of gastronomy cannot be bound by Michelin stars, commonly regarded as the highest merits of the culinary arts; but rather, it is a journey of discovery to find the most unique and refined experience it can offer.
Imagine a style of dining with no particular location – a deserted warehouse, a farm or the private house of a stranger. Welcome to the secret dining club – where you are ready to indulge in a culinary experience by dilettante chefs, and to sit with strangers from all over the world, who share the same passion for exploring the art of food. It is a sweet retreat from the symbolic yet mundane paths that lead to Michelin stars.
This culinary trend began in San Francisco with “Ghetto Gourmet”, which was located beneath a dining club, and whose notoriety was spread through word-of-mouth by food connoisseurs who had grown increasingly jaded with the then current, monotonous culinary practices and standards. Along with the blossoming of the culinary industry within the last decades, this trend has, and currently is, quietly rising in various shapes and forms in the East and the West, in spite of countries and borders. A fine dining meal, which previously demanded a set style of presentation and the following of rigid rules, is no longer considered a must-have standard in a culinary trend that is vastly changing and growing. These futuristic innovators have created a revolution in the gastronomic game.
This article will briefly touch on a few exceptional experiences I have had the good fortune to enjoy during my travels in Asia.
Our first stop is Ultraviolet in Shanghai, the kind of restaurant that dreams are made of, where patrons live and breathe the parties of light, sound, images, scents and of course, the restaurant experience itself. A secretive location is selected for the dinner, which is then only served to ten patrons at the very most at each culinary performance.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself enjoying a fish dish under the sea, with thousands of fish swimming among one another; listen to the splashing and swishing sounds of sea creatures that feel almost real. As you listen to the melodious background music, you can almost imagine smelling the saltiness of the oceans, the sharpness of the seas, and of course, in reality, the fragrance of the food. Under these spatial guides, each and every one of your senses are heightened to the utmost to allow you to marvel in the delight and satisfaction of one of the most incredible experiences of your life. In this way, Ultraviolet has managed to please even the most fastidious food connoisseurs.
Chef de Cuisine Paul Pairet, a man who has stepped over every culinary boundary, will concoct inventive and stunning dishes for you, with myriad ingredients – frozen foods, canned fish and even a lemon tart, in which the lemon and the tart are layered upon one another. His unlimited inspiration has blazed a trail in the dining world. A world that was becoming way too conventional and banal. It is no surprise that Ultraviolet, no matter how mysterious and unpredictable, has managed to stay staunchly within The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, until now.
If ten patrons are too many for a meal, then Aronia de Takazawa would be the most apt restaurant for those who enjoy dinner alone as I do. Regarded as one of the smallest and hardest to find restaurants in the world, and located in an unnamed area in Akasaka district in Tokyo, Aronia đe Takazwa has just two tables on which to serve their patrons.
It is easy to believe yourself to be Alice, and get lost in the wonderland of Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa sampling bizarre dishes like foie gras crème brûlée with mango, or curry ice cream with smoked crispy Ezo venison topping. The tea party with a Gothic theme will provide explorers with a once-in-a-life-time experience. The waiting time for a table from the confirmation of your booking is six months, obviously, a puzzle not meant for the impatient; however, the joy of savoring the taste of victory is immeasurable.
Another renowned representative from the East is Da Ping Huo, an innovative location inside a building, on a platform, in the restaurant-auditorium-gallery at the arts center of Hong Kong. This is the place I frequented to enjoy spicy Sichuan dishes, to listen to the proprietress singing Opera each night, to take a relaxing stroll and to gaze at the artwork of amateur Hong Kong artists that were exhibited there. Simultaneously eating, listening to Opera and looking at the arts is such a fascinating and poetic mix of activities.
On the last stop of this journey, I will mention two of the distinguished representatives from Vietnam: Noir Dining in the Dark in Saigon and French Grill in Hanoi. While Ultraviolet opens all our senses through its meals, Noir Dining in the Dark takes us on a journey reminiscent of the endless night. When our visual sense is deprived, the olfactory, gustatory, olfactory, somatic senses and perhaps even our sixth sense, are enhanced more than ever. Even if we were provided with a guide, I believe most of us would feel like fish out of water the first time we dine in the pitch black – where sight is no longer a criterion to judge a meal, when the rest of your senses react more honestly and allow you to fully explore the true meaning of the art of enjoying food. I will let you experience and evaluate this night time adventure your own way.
My last few words will be a dedication to a rare annual performance called the Molecular Night at French Grill. Even if I have yet to participate in this fascinating event, I have to admit the Molecular Gastronomy and Mixology Night is a bold, yet wise move from the French Grill.
Even though molecular gastronomy is no longer foreign terminology to Michelin diners, innovation in the most state-of-the-art culinary techniques and a molecular gastronomy performance under the guise of a Chemist’s Laboratory is a highly original and inventive idea.
From the perspective of a person who appreciates the gastronomic journey as I do, I believe that the Molecular Night has posed a challenge for the participants in that it puts the focus on each of the ingredients used in the dishes. The main participants of the meal are no longer the patrons themselves, but also the results of these chemical reactions. The experience does not merely come from the senses but also the ingredients themselves. Instead of listening to external sound, patrons perceive the faintest and most subtle oscillation of the dishes on a molecular level. Therefore, by extension, humans are not always the key players in this gastronomic game. The ingredients are able to speak out in their unadulterated forms.
The path of exploring and searching for innovative ways to enjoy gastronomy is similar to countless scientific experiments: there are successes, and there are failures, but they cannot even begin without creativity. In any frame of reference, the future of gastronomy is always an unknown number that needs to be received, contemplated and purposely appreciated with our most refined senses.
Van Nguyen | Wanderlust Tips | Cinet