Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Formidable Cordon Bleu cuisine at Sunway!

IWFS Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia
26th April 2014


Perhaps I need to preface this piece with the point that this was my first experience with Cordon Bleu style cuisine. It has had a reputation for decades as being THE style of cooking that is par excellence. As a kid I remember cookery books in the shops and on the TV - Fanny Craddock with her monocled Johnny on the sherry in the kitchen cooking up all sorts of dishes. But tasting the cuisine was only for those of wealth and position. Fine dining was not something that was a large part of growing up in Cardiff - good cuisine was Clarks pie or a large steak and chips in Caroline Street on a Friday night after a skinful. So there is little in the background from which to make a fair comparison as to whether this offering would be a good or great expression of the style.  

The Kiwi had been praising to the highest the culinary work of Le Cordon Bleu at the Sunway University at Committee meetings and had finally secured a generally convenient date and a menu for the Society. In this, the event had been threatened for almost a year by the time it came to be. There were reasons for the ongoing postponement - staff leaving, people on holiday - but the Kiwi persisted and then suddenly it was happening. Menu and wines finalised and 51 members responded positively. 

The pre dinner mingle
Perhaps this is a related aspect to my responses - the expectation bar had got kept on getting raised over the twelve months so that by the time the dinner came to be we were all ready to be stunned rather than simply enjoy the food and wine. Kind of like I was totally expecting to be stunned. And, unfair as this might seem, for my part I wasn't quite.

As it was, his original selection of wines had to be amended at the last minute due to his being let down by a supplier. He was not best pleased. Seems someone did notice the discrepancy on producing a printout of the original pairing, though presumably an explanation was given. Someone suggested this should have been made known to all attendees. Not unfair, but maybe an easy oversight to have been made given other things that command attention in an organiser's brain at these times. Certainly looked that way when I said hello to him on the night - you could see the cogs working trying to anticipate what might go wrong and what was the contingency. Whilst it usually needs something pretty extreme to upset people when the booze is flowing, there are often a few picky stand-on-ceremony types who know how to insert the needle and rile people up. Stressful. Well, only if you allow it to stress. Keep a whip on the kitchen and the staff and most things should pan out. And keep on smiling as if what is happening was meant to happen. Alternatively, find someone else to blame. 

IWFS KL President Dr Rajan, Treasurer Chris Chew and Sanjeev
Everyone has heard of Cordon Bleu cooks and cooking but it was only on making a trip to Wikipedia that the origins got revealed. Cordon Bleu is a style of cuisine that is quintessentially French and associated with cooking of an unsurpassed standard of excellence. The literal translation is "Blue Ribbon" and is thought to have originated from a band of French Knights known as L'Ordre des Chevaliers du Saint Esprit. These knights, who had been awarded the Cross of the Holy Spirit which they wore around their necks on a blue ribbon, became famous for living large and holding banquets where fine food and wine flowed long through the day and probably night. It is these banquets which became known as "cordon bleus" - Blue Ribbon events. The name was later adopted by a cooking magazine "La Cuisiniere Cordon Bleu" featuring lessons by France's top chefs, and this subsequently evolved into the Paris school launched in 1895. The style achieved its global recognition as a result of Julia Child and her mission to bring French cuisine to the world, and the Cordon Bleu style became forever associated with the best of French cooking. The school was bought over in 1988 by Andre Cointreau who has since franchised the Cordon Bleu style and its instruction to schools across the world. Le Cordon Bleu in Malaysia is located in Sunway University where permanent and visiting chefs deliver courses on Cordon Bleu cuisine and service to students. It was in this school that our function would be held. 

The bare ambience - lots of hard surfaces
Parking and direction was very swift and painless. GPS is a wonderful invention. The restaurant was located on the fifth floor of a school looking building, though to call it a restaurant does stretch the meaning of the word a tad. It was a training classroom with a bar at one end and the kitchens off to the back. Those who have experience of staff canteens would not have felt out of place here. Our 51 would be on 8 tables which were spread across the space. The walls were all made of glass which meant that the sound and noise of boisterous enjoyment got echoed and amplified so that those with a tendency toward conversational deafness (i.e. me) couldn't really join in the chat.  It also didn't really make for an intimate ambience. Hanging some drapes around the place would have done loads to soak up the noise. Not to worry, I could use my deafness to focus on making notes on the food. Antisocial? Maybe sometimes. Just not always able to chat as fast as others and be skillful at small talk bonding when sober. Though the booze does loosen the tongue and let the shields get dropped. Yes, it does have a use.

Very pretty table setting
Getting handed a glass of the Nicholas Feuillatte on entering, I noticed that all members were wearing their medallions and I was not. Ooops. Wearing that damn thing is not something that enters the mind since it only seems to be such a rare occasion when they get called out. Is also me - I absolutely do not remember seeing it on the notice, but it was clearly and definitely there and read by most other members. Ooops. At least I had a jacket on. Should have checked the code - my bad. Think only two people noticed. Well, they pulled me up about it. Some people just love to whack you with rules, eh? Or maybe they just need to whack for whack's sake. I understand, and hope their next poop is a durian.  I skulked off to take photos of the charming place settings. 

Up stepped the Kiwi to call proceedings to order and give a little by way of introduction to the place. The theme was "Tasting the Food of Southern France" with Cordon Bleu style cookery courtesy of Chef David Morris and Chef Thierry Lerallu. Chef David is Cuisine Chief Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu Malaysia, having first trained as an apprentice in Birmingham in the UK and continuing his thirty year career through a number of well prestige and occasional Michelin Three Star establishments across England. Normandy born Chef Thierry is Head Pastry Chef at the University and is no stranger to Malaysia, having worked at various five star establishments during the nineties. Following a stint in Korea to set up various "salon de The" outlets, he is back in Malaysia doing what he loves - creating art in dessert.

The Nicholas Feuillatte fizz itself was nice and crisp and dry and zingily cleansing. It was one we'd had aplenty on cruises with the Seabourne group. Today's Nicholas had a firmer acidity than previous fizz enjoyed at IWFS functions which made it quite bracing and lively. Didn't get much in the way of fruit either on the nose or the palate. We were advised to keep some of the fizz to drink with the Foie Gras first course, but were also advised that bottles would be coming around to refill.  I naturally swilled mine down in anticipation, but got a flat "Sorry sir, champagne finished" while I desperately proffered my almost empty glass at the bottle man. Well, bottle boy, actually, he couldn't have been much above twenty. There was a smidgen left in the glass which I saved for the last bite of the FG, looking exceedingly pretty on the plate, with lots of dainty little bits to combine for different tasting titillations. Someone quipped it might have been better to eat with chopsticks, but we persevered and did well enough with the little fork. Someone nameless started using the other cutlery on the table, clearly being totally oblivious to the little fork on the plate supplied for the nonce and on realizing quickly wiped his utensils and put them back in their place. If anyone noticed, they were too kind to speak. Memo to self - never go on a binge with YC the night before an IWFS dinner. Really skulls the brain into mush. 

Foie Gras and Piquant Vegetables
The FG looked more like terrine, and was rich and rustic in taste and texture. The little bits of citrus, onion, baby broccoli and apple sauce gave interesting combos to tantalize the tongue, but the sucker only came into its own when slapped on the bread. Total heaven for peasants like myself. A tad over-salted perhaps but this smooth zippy pate on crusty tomato bread was wonderful. Sometimes the simple combos are still the best. It was unfortunate that no wine was available to go with it, and the table indeed felt that the fizz was not a brilliant match. Something a bit more unctuous would have been better. As I tossed off the remaining glug of my champagne (now quite flat) I had to agree. On reflection, perhaps the second course Suicide Oyster would have been better coming first to pair with the fizz. Have to see what the rationale was.

Suicide Oyster
The Suicide Oyster itself came out drowned in a shot glass and we were advised to wallop the whole lot down in one. It was billed as "piquantes" which would suggest "gentle fire and spritz" rather than anything else. Not entirely sure how suicide entered the dish and I don't remember it being made plain as to how the dish got the name. Walloped in one it duly got, and we got cilantro, rocket and watercress. The rim had been smeared with wasabi which explained the fire on the lips and inside mouth. What the purpose of the oyster was I'm not sure. For me it got lost in all the "piquantes" - little in the way of taste or texture seemed to make it through for me. Maybe another two or three or six and I might have got it. One seemed to slip down too fast. 

The Luberon on its own was initially a bit industrial - sharp and oily though with nice balance across alcohol and tropical fruit. I got banana. The oyster tamed the industry, but some cilantro stalk gave a bitter note to the wine on the finish. It also got stuck in the teeth. The Luberon needs fish to match its texture, something light and firm like a turbot or a monkfish. For me it didn't work with the oyster - neither really brought out anything in the other. Those of immense self discipline who had retained some of the fizz said it was a better match. Perhaps if the dishes had been switched the matches would have been better received. So it goes.

The clearance of glasses and plates was nothing short of rapid and scaringly efficient, as if there were threat of whips on anyone who failed to clear the table slower than anyone else. Swiftness and efficiency is indeed a mark of a strong team, though I sometimes feel it can get a shade impersonal. Which was amplified by the staff canteen nature of the room. It's nice to sometimes let the plates and glasses linger to feed the conversation, though in tonight's echo chamber it didn't really seem to matter. And I have issues with staff who insist on clearing glasses that have a taint left in them. The taint helps me to check for how long the wine can stay in the glass, and so allow for savouring the bouquet and finish. I cornered the table staff after the dinner and tried to explain this to them. They seemed to follow and appreciated my taking time to help them understand my thing about leaving the glass alone. Cute kids, very happy and excited.

Ballotine of Chicken
The Ballotine of Chicken came out tender with good juice and worked very well with the pate, walnut and carrot to give an earthy bite and textured crunch to the whole. A sauce of what were called black onion seeds (and looking suspiciously like sunflower seeds) gave an unusual oily pungency to the dish and created a light peppery oil coating in the cheeks. 

The Chicken was being paired with the Chapoutier 2011 Crozes Blanc which came across as full and firm and in great balance with apples and peaches lending a sweet crispness on the palate. With a nose of tropical apples and soft fruits, this was steel and oak in a glass. Lovely wine, though somewhat lacking in complexity. Not that this was a bad thing in the present context. There was enough to pique the interest, but not really enough to engage. It got a bit harsh on the finish when long in the glass. But most enjoyable. 

The chicken really rocked, and went very nicely with the Crozes, but the black onion seed mush getting soaked up by the bread and chewed with the remains of the Luberon was a double Belter. The Luberon fused perfectly with the onion pip mush to create an oily crisp coating on the throat. Kind of sucky sucky at the back of the tonsils but a hugely long and grit peppery finish as a result. Total magic.  This must be how the Southern French Paisano really eat - bread, gravy and wine. Sign me up.

Out came the first red, the Oratorio. Immediate big nose of forest berries and dark fruits, with damson and currants to the fore. Lovely blackberry and plum in the mouth with good tannins leading to a lengthy finish. A full on wine, which had all the potential to decimate the monkfish. Which, for me, it did, though having the fish more than a tad overcooked and coldly firm did little to help. Not much taste on my fish medallions though no one else seemed to be complaining, so maybe it was just me. The celery crisp was a sweet kick in the mouth, but the rest of the dish didn't feel like a star. Not enough in the fish to do much, though it did cut the tannins to let more fruit shine through. Quite a nice wine, this one. 

Again, though, I might have flipped the dishes so that the chicken followed the fish and the Oratorio paired with the bird. I get it that having a fish to follow oyster is two seafood in a row, but this also could have been solved by having the oyster first (though some might argue Foie Gras is a bird which, with chicken, makes two birds together). 

Wine wise it would also have worked, with the Oratorio being ready to give the chicken a good fruity whack. Commentators on the table were suggesting that individually both the dishes and the wines were good, but the pairings didn't quite seem to connect. It also felt a bit stingy on the pourings; traditionally we are used to a little top up on the wines - if there was any top up, very little made it to our table.  Someone was saying it appeared to be half pourings. Well and maybe, but on my reckoning each table had its fair share of the bottles. Six people on a table, one bottle per table per course so six bottles got chugged so no real complaint seems possible. Still, it did feel stingy. And feeling decidedly sober at the end of the night seemed to reinforce the point. The guzzlers were decidedly miffed. Whether they went to a wine bar to drown out their misery I have no idea. But I went home and had a beer just to feel…. more complete. Doesn't often happen and would normally guzzle a few glasses of water. But tonight needed a beer. Maybe someone else just got a bigger swig for the night. It happens.

The mid dinner mingle
The Kiwi got up to say there would be a little wait for the beef so why not everyone get up and mingle for a while. I decided to stay put. The wait turned out to be less than five minutes, so whilst everyone was mingling the staff were fighting their way through everyone to get the beef to the tables. Ooops.  And there ain't no way you're gonna get people to get sat back down once they are on a social mingle mission. The downside was that whilst the beef was on the table, some of the guests were not which meant either a polite wait while the beef got cold or get stuck in whilst it was warm. After a fashionable two minute wait we got stuck in. It had gotten cold. The beef itself reminded me of what mum used to roast in the oven and left overnight for sandwiches. Dry and tasty without being tough or chewy. Surrounded by a peppered creamy Oxtail crust which gave softness to the meat, the combo mixed the contrasting textures nicely to present a full memorable taste. But the real stars of the dish (and of the night) were the vegetables. They were nothing short of excellent, some of the best I've had for a good long while. Firm fresh, full of taste and texture, they rocked. Could have eaten these all night. So, so good. 

Sous Vide Filet of Beef
The matching CdP got served in a Bordeaux glass and someone was of the view that traditionally a CdP should come in a Burgundy glass. Not being sure on this, a post event consult of Riedel recommends a kind of hybrid it calls the Hermitage from its Sommelier series. It's tall like a Bordeaux glass though has a somewhat larger bowl. Couldn't find much else, so I guess it's a matter of taste and what glass is available. Could be one of those where neither is the wrong glass. We'll drink out of tumblers if only tumblers are available. The wine was certainly a cracker - light in body but full of character with firm forward fruit. Pairing with the beef made absolute sense and the meat cut through the tannins nicely to lend Grenache pepper, spice and dark cherry to the meat. Definitely the pairing of the night.

Light Passion Fruit Creameaux
Dessert was kind of like a fruit tart with an acidic fruit taste in the sorbet. It was a good combination of carbo, acid, mango, passionfruit and what felt a lot like either grapefruit or pomelo. Contender for dish of the night, it was delightful - light yet firm and filling with a huge range of sweet and acidic tingles. Chef can certainly make a good dessert. 

O for a coffee....
The Muscat was far from sweet and made for a pleasant ending wine. Was like a Gewurtz with light peach syrup, all Turkish Delight and sucky peachjuice gunk, but with a blitz of acid to keep things honest. It was a fierce cut on the palate, which took me back to sucking on Barley Sugar sticks as a kid - that citrus acid sugar taste that cuts through the cack on the back of a bad sore throat. Was a bit snuzz when paired with the dessert - neither seemed to do much for the other except neutralize. Both were pleasant, though separately seemed to be better than the match. What would REALLY have been welcome would have been a coffee, especially with the little dainties that were being brought to the table. None was forthcoming. Would have nicely capped the night. So it goes.

LCB Sunway Chefs and kitchen team
Chef and staff got presented and unusually dismissed quite abruptly by the Prez who proceeded to vent against being scolded by members for not doing enough to enforce dress codes and ended the vent by saying that anyone in future who did not abide by the code could "get lost."  It did make for a somewhat down note to end the evening and I quickly got lost to the toilet and went to congratulate the student serving staff on a job well done before skulking off before someone else could whack me about that fricking medallion. 

Should I comment on the President's outburst? Maybe not. Except to say that reacting to the needle and barbs of others is rarely a good thing (though easier said than done - I always find it difficult not to react when someone pushes my hot buttons). And it felt like a reaction. And given that it must have happened early in the night it would have meant he had no way to enjoy the evening. Also, if the Prez took it personally, then I feel that he was wrong to have done so - it is the fault of the Committee for not having in place any necessary procedures for sanctions and enforcement rather than any individual. Which in turn might be seen as a fault of the Society because it is not traditionally built like that and as I recall the Constitution doesn't allow for it. Once you get into rules and grievance procedures and all that nonsense then my experience is that you can kiss half of the fun goodbye. The more litigious or thin skinned may seek redress through other means which for a small group feels decidely daft. Standing on ceremony has a place, though when it has potential to break friendships then something is wrong somewhere. We are only a small group of people after all - there's way more important stuff out there in the world to worry about.

And in any society you'll always get a few who just love the rules and like to ensure that all stick to them and point out when they are not being complied with. Some people just love rules and procedures and are sticklers for abiding by them. Maybe it's a power trip, feeling able to whack someone whilst you are safely within the regulation. Not for me. If IWFS gets that way, I'm off. 

For me, is just that I always forget that fricking medallion. It just doesn't enter the consciousness to think to dig it out, and when paired with a tendency to not fully read the notice combined with the fact that it is only on the rare occasion we are ever asked to dig it out then I will be pretty much screwed for the future. And at root, I really don't want to have to think about it. I would be happy to make it mandatory to wear the sucker to all events. That way, I CAN'T forget. 

I would also advocate a "name and shame" policy with possibly a nominal fine as sanction which goes to a charity of choice. During the dinner, someone stands up and names the miscreants to come forward and pay their forfeit. This keeps it friendly enough yet maintains a degree of decorum. If the miscreant pays up then all is smiles and bonhomie. If he or she refuses to pay and makes a song and dance about it, then so be it - they are clearly no fun but at least those present would get an insight into the character. May need a subcomm to garner thoughts from the members to produce a viable solution which maintains good bonhomie yet is able to get the message across that dress codes need to be abided by. Equally, breach is often a matter of degree ranging from technical to brazen which further suggests a need for a range of penalties. This one will roll. 

Hmmm… guess I did comment on the outburst….  Overall, the food was fine, the wines were good, the presentation was excellent though perhaps the pairings could have been better. Service was efficient and fast, though the ambience really needs attention if more events are to be held there. Very good job done by the Kiwi, and well grateful thanks for putting the event together. My first Cordon Bleu experience, very glad to have done it, though not sure whether I would pay RM400 to do it again. Well, not in Malaysia. Have to try the real thing in Paris to compare. That could be fun - IWFS trip to LCB restaurants in Paris…. hmmm…

Le Cordon Bleu Sunway University
Dinner Menu

Foie gras and piquant vegetables
Foie Gras et petits légumes épices
Louis de Sacy Brut Original Champagne NV
Nicholas Feuillatte Brut NV

Suicide oyster
Huitres piquantes
Domaine Bellemare Languedoc  Picpoul 2012
Luberon La Ciboise  M Chapoutier 2011

Ballotine of corn-fed chicken, walnuts and mace carrots with black onion seeds jus
Ballottine de poulet, noix et macis aux jus de graine d'onion noir
Crozes Hermitages Les Meysonniers Blanc M Chapoutier 2010

Collops of monkfish celeriac emulsion, smoked duck beurre blanc with celery crisps
Medaillon de lotte au celeri-rave, beurre blanc de canard fume avec son croquant de celeri
Ogier Caves des Papes Gigondas Oratorio 2010

Sous vide fillet of beef, oxtail crust and pot au foe vegetables
Filet de boeuf "sous vide" queue de boeuf en croute et pot au feu des légumes
Chateauneuf de Pape  La Nerthe 2009

Light Passion fruit Creameux on a Scottish shortbread with a Tropical sorbet
Cremaux aux fruits de la passion sur sable avec son sorbet Tropical
Muscat Beaumes de Venise 2010

Wines Notes
Nicholas Feuillatte Brut NV
A pale yellow blend of cru wines that impart elegance and structure, revealing fruit character and a balanced ribbon of abundant bubbles. Floral nose, aromas of apples and pears with almond, caramel and honey notes. Initially soft, the silver bead is supported by a creamy finish. 

Luberon La Ciboise  M Chapoutier 2011
A blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Ugni Blanc and Roussanne. Colour : pale, with green and yellow tints. Aromas of white blossom, lemons and exotic fruits. Good balance between the freshness and roundness, with a great length. 

Crozes Hermitages Les Meysonniers Blanc M Chapoutier 2010
This organic one hundred percent Marsanne offers an almond nuttiness and plenty of body without pumping heavy alcohol. This wine speaks of the varietal and is a real change for those used to zingy acidity or lots of ice cream tastes in white wine. It is rounded and mellow and a wine for now or long to come.

Ogier Caves des Papes Gigondas Oratorio 2010
"Really perfumy up front, displaying lots of singed spice and mesquite, followed by a solid, mouth-filling core of blackberry and anise flavors. This shows a lightly firm edge through the finish, as the toasted spice notes take over, but should settle in with modest cellaring. Drink now through 2016. 2,000 cases made." (WS 91/100 pts)

Chateauneuf de Pape  La Nerthe 2009
"The 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape is performing even better from bottle than it did last year. Composed of 47% Grenache, 38% Syrah and 15% Mourvedre, it is surprisingly evolved for La Nerthe, but that actually gives the wine additional appeal. Its dense ruby/purple hue is followed by aromas of blue and black fruits, lavender, licorice, truffles and garrigue. Full-bodied, supple textured, fleshy and succulent..  (WA 92/100)

Muscat Beaumes de Venise 2010
The nose of honeyed fruit, lychee and some candied notes promises rich sweetness as does the golden colour. However, the palate is rich and full without being cloying. The pleasant  finish is longer than one would expect from this often under-rated southern Rhone sweetie.

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