Starry, starry night

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In Photo: Calamansi and ricotta cheesecake with Boschendal Vin d’Or 2013: when Philippine flavors meet South African dessert wine

cecille g. mauricioTHE delicate nuggets of fish seemed to float on a whiskey-colored sea. Crisp-tender on silky smooth. I mopped up the last of the heavenly broth with bits of bread so that not a drop escaped. Stupendous. And that was just the first course. I sensed a collective “wow!” from the guests gathered in the dining room. It was going to be one interesting, delicious evening.

When Werner Berger (himself a chef but better known as the purveyor of top-quality food items and cooking ingredients through his Säntis Deli stores) heard that a chef who worked for a Michelin-starred restaurant would be in Manila on personal business, he tracked down the chef and then mobilized his team into organizing a Michelin-style sit-down dinner—even for just one evening.

And that was how Sydney-born Chef Thomas Heinrich got to I’m Angus Steakhouse, cooking for a sold-out gathering of foodies and wine enthusiasts, one sultry evening in April.

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Michelinstyle dining in Manila: Chef Thomas Heinrich (left), executive chef of The Langham Sydney; and Werner Berger, president and CEO of Werdenberg International

That first course, Hiramasa kingfish with ponzu, black garlic and salted, pickled cucumber, was followed by another fish dish, this time a generous slice of Norwegian salmon smoked à la minute. Adorned sparingly with rocket, lemon pearls and crème fraiche, the fatty richness of salmon came through the subtly smoky, salt-kissed aura that enveloped it.

Which one did you like better, the kingfish or the salmon? The gentleman seated across me from the table wanted to know. Which one was better? I declared both, the best.

Chef Thomas Heinrich is currently executive chef of The Langham Sydney, a luxury five-star hotel which had been awarded Overall Hotel of the Year at the 2015 Gourmet Traveler Hotel Awards.

He started out at Basil’s Seafood Restaurant in Sydney and gained experience in several local restaurants, after which he traveled to New York, where he worked as sous chef at the Four Seasons Hotel’s Fifty Seven Fifty Seven restaurant. After New York, it was back to Sydney, this time as executive chef at Deep Blue Bistro, a fine-dining restaurant.

But North America beckoned again, bringing Mr. Heinrich to several hotel restaurants that included the Michelin-starred Seasons Restaurant at Four Seasons Chicago where he was chef de cuisine, and the Hyatt Regency Chicago where he was appointed executive sous chef for Hyatt’s flagship property. He was then promoted executive chef at Hyatt Regency Vancouver, before returning to Australia, where he took on the role of executive chef at the five-star Swisshotel Sydney—his post before his appointment in 2015 at The Langham Sydney.

I always have the integrity of each ingredient in mind, Mr. Heinrich said later when he talked about his work. That and his respect for the natural flavors of ingredients, allowing them to shine through is part of a long-standing philosophy. That was evident again in the third course—butter-poached Cloudy Bay clams with shiso leaf, beet foam and Greenwheat Freekeh. These were the tiny green kernels of roasted green wheat that served as a savory, almost nutty, nutritious bed for the gorgeous clams.

The herb-crusted lamb rib eye with fava bean, paper bark-smoked shiitake mushroom and citrus jus was the finale in Mr. Heinrich’s play of flavor, color and texture. Meat, unfettered by sauce, allowed to reveal its gamey nature and touched with only the barest of adornments. The wines were not forgotten as the drama unfolded: Batasiolo Gavi di Gavi 2014, Craggy Range Te Muna Sauvignon Blanc 2013, Miles from Nowhere Sauvignon Blanc-Semilllon 2013, DiGiorgio Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2012. They were the necessary players in an already star-studded cast.

Dessert was almost an afterthought. Calamansi and ricotta cheesecake. With a basil-cucumber gelato? It was the apt ending to a meal replete with interesting flavor and texture combinations. I thanked the chef for his brilliant cooking. But it was Mr. Berger I thanked more for getting Chef Heinrich to cook in the first place.

Vinofile

  • I’m Angus Steakhouse: 7431 Yakal Street, San Antonio Village, Makati City. Call 892-5852
  • Batasiolo Gavi di Gavi, Craggy Range Te Muna Sauvignon Blanc, Miles from Nowhere Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon, DiGiorgio Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Boschendal Vin d’Or are available at all Säntis Deli stores