Wet Market Challenge: Nobu Kuala Lumpur Cooks A Meal From Ingredients We Chose
WEDNESDAY, JULY 3, 2019
Pudu Wet Market
*Slap* goes the slab of meat as it hits the chopping board. I watch with wide eyes as the indifferent butcher expertly partitions our cuts. "Is that for dinner?" yawns Micheole Chico blearily. Despite having worked till the wee hours of the night, the head sushi chef of Nobu Kuala Lumpur and his colleagues have risen early for our benefit.
Inquisitive stares follow our party of 10 or more, largely due to the camera crew darting around our star chefs. Hervé Courtot holds up bunches of long beans to the light, admiring their vivid purple. Philip Leong sticks close to his side, patiently translating the names of produce from Mandarin and Malay to English for the Frenchman's benefit.
Three types of beans—bitter (aka petai), four-angled & purple–make it into our baskets, which get substantially heavier after stopping by various seafood, livestock and fruit stalls. After amassing enough ingredients for tonight's feast, we spin on our heels and head back to our waiting van.
Hainanese coffee, cool and sweet, slips down our parched throats at ICC Pudu. Not only has the Nobu team surprised us with a prepacked breakfast of onigiri, lobster tacos and fresh fruit; we are also treated to a winning trifecta of coffee, kaya toast and half-boiled eggs from Ah Weng Koh Hainan Tea & Coffee, an establishment said to be half a century old. Everyone trades anecdotes while tucking into our Malaysian-Japanese breakfast — such is the power of food in bringing people together.
Goodbyes are said as everyone parts ways temporarily. We will regroup at sundown to see what the 3 chefs have whipped up. Although I've just eaten, indulgent thoughts of dinner flit through my mind en route to Malaysia Tatler's office.
Nobu Kuala Lumpur
Five famished members of the media, myself included, have made it just in time for happy hour. Cocktails & canapés keep us company on the 56th floor of Menara Petronas 3, where a scintillating sunset glints in the horizon. Our conversation revolves around a single question:
Can Malaysian ingredients work in tandem with Japanese-Peruvian flavours?
We are beckoned to the sushi counter for the first reveal. Looking a lot more perky than he did this morning, Chef Chico presents us with catfish done 2 ways.
Fried to a crisp and layered upon creamy avocado, the first dish sees an interesting juxtaposition of textures. The second is catfish sushi, a first for everyone, including the sushi chef.
This was my first time using catfish on sushi.
"I marinated and cooked it with dashi, soy and mirin like I usually do with unagi," explains Chico. "It was a safe bet as eels and catfish are both bottom feeders with similar textures."
Having hand-picked our own produce at the market this morning, we are wholeheartedly invested in their transformation.
Sweet white corn offsets petai's potent perfume in a warm salad; tough purple beans have been rendered tender by hot butter; and she-crab finds two purposes in a frothy crab cappuccino and a spicy mentaiko appetiser.
No longer accoutered in colourful 'plumage,' a whole parrot fish has been steamed with sake, topped with black beans and doused in Nobu's ‘new style sauce’ aka hot sesame and olive oil. Meanwhile, the lamb chops inspire me to try my own hand at making smooth, smoky and maddeningly delicious eggplant mash at home.
There is plenty more: from paleo poké bowls that substitute rice for beans to stalks of grilled asparagus tossed in shiso salsa... The chefs have outdone themselves.
Equal parts decorative and delicious, dessert is a lychee parfait topped with edible shards of decorative glass. "Everything has been made from scratch," beams Chef Leong, who has popped out of the kitchen for a minute to witness the final massacre.
Bowls scraped clean, we sit back, basking in the afterglow of an exceptional meal. The cherry on top of the cake is knowing that our priviledged few partook of off-menu dishes.
Adaptability, a hallmark of skilled chefs, isn't available in every kitchen, but Nobu has it in spades. Not only did the chefs create newfangled dishes in a constricted time period; never once did they lose sight of the 'Nobu essence.'