The Beauty of Burnt

My seventh crème brûlée attempt, on13 June 2018, with the kind of brûlée, burnt top I had been chasing: sexy, lace-like, sheet-thin, and elegant . (Photo: viv)

NOT all food memories are transporting or transcendent like the kind that the villainous food critic Ego encountered at his first taste of the Thomas Keller-inspired ratatouille by Remy the rat. Some are just so vague and distant you search hard for that first encounter only to find nothing, just the hopelessness of a time passed and a record all but lost at sea. 

Crème brûlée is one such memory. 

For a long time now, this simple, elegant custard dessert has held a special place in my heart. It’s one of several I would name if you were to ask me what my favorite desserts are. 

Did I first have it in Paris, at Le Marais, in the fall of 1994 during my very first trip to France, or was it at this chic French restaurant at the Hyatt called Hugo’s? No, maybe it wasn’t Le Marais, but Le Quartier Latin, I don’t remember. Then, the memory would get a little messy — could it be that it wasn’t  even crème brûlée I had at that bistro, but Tarte Tatin? All I remembered clearly of that soirée was the fromage du chevre, the weird bug-like back note and plastic taste of goat’s cheese from that deadly morsel I had picked from the plate of my dining companion, Richard, a long-ago friend with whom I’ve lost touch. 

Such annoying quandaries of a foggy brain could well have been avoided if I had kept a journal. It’s a habit I still don’t keep, alas, which is not to say that my memory is poor or sluggish . . .

Continue reading the rest of this essay here


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A Girl’s Gotta Have Her Chocolate, Her Burger, and Her Gyoza

Salmon burger in the style of Harumi Kurihara

IT’S not often that I invite kids to my home, other than my youngest nephew Christian, who used to visit almost every week when he was five or six. Kids can be fussy eaters—no greens (that’s Christian with certain greens, especially spinach), no tofu (that’s my niece, Jen), no eggs with yolks that glisten, no crustaceans (that’s Christian too), and not even rainbow-colored veggies.

The challenge can easily be solved by going the fried route. Deep-fry, pan-fry, if not that, at least a little sear here or a little char there. And go with something safe, like chicken, for instance. But when the cook can’t bear to eat yet another morsel of chicken, let alone cook it, there’s yet an easier way around the kiddie food challenge: just ask Mom what they like.

Which was exactly what I did when I invited a dear friend from 33 years ago, my Secondary Three classmate, Cindy. Is there anything you and KC don’t eat or can’t eat—a question I always put to every single one of my guests.

No shellfish for KC—her eyes got puffy after a foray into soft-shelled crabs—though she seemed fine with prawns, she tells me. And then, she offers: KC loves tamago sushi and gyoza. Can eat five gyozas at a go.

A mini gyoza kingdom

There was a lovely ring to the last line because I always love hungry guests, and I happen to be crazy about gyoza too. There was an even lovelier ring when I read the line, Ooh, chocolate can be her mains.

Mmmm, this could have been my main …

Guests who show up poking a little here and there—either because they are pretending to be eating daintily or blessed with a small stomach—always leave me with that lousy, sinking feeling in the heart. And then you wished you had scooped them a mouse’s serving of rice or served up a doll-sized bowl of soup.

Saying a prayer of contrition just as you’re tossing out anything from the table that had merely been prodded at feels like a desecration of the very prayer itself. It’s the same kind of heartache I get when I myself toss things out either from being the silly greedy girl buying too much, or simply being careless with my meal planning, so that vegetables wilt and fruits go weird and strange.

But KC, she was a star, our petite, ultra-bendy eight-year-old gymnast who showed up with fire in her belly and a gourmand’s appetite! It’s probably because she had arrived from an arduous three-hour session at the gym, or simply this: her host was just a great cook.

We’re not sure, but this same cook bungled her prep planning. With a late start at slightly past two that began with coffee pastry cream for her choux puffs, how could she possibly have breathed a moelleux au chocolat to life in time for dinner, especially with all the chopping, all that dicing and mixing and molding and wrapping? She forgot she had no sous chef that day, no Christian to fetch this or that, or peel ginger and garlic, or wash and cook the rice. Why didn’t I invite him, my ten-year-old kitchen star?

And so, there was chocolate in another guise, as a dip for our choux puffs. It worked beautifully. Everyone was happy, and the happiest part of it all was this: there were no leftovers, just seconds.

. . .

1. Salmon burger, garlic butter rice, baby Shanghai greens
2. Vegetarian gyoza stuffed with beancurd, cabbage, chives, bamboo shoot, garlic, ginger, served with homemade ponzu sauce
3. Red-white miso with beancurd and seaweed, garnished with scallions aplenty (even in KC’s soup, can you believe that?)

Dessert: Choux puff with coffee cream and a chocolate dip of 55% dark chocolate

Wine: Weingut Gunderloch | Rothenburg, Rheinhessen | Riesling Spätlese, 2012

On the Jukebox: Soundtracks from Being Julia, De-Lovely, Sabrina

On the Night of: November 19, 2017

Salmon burger, garlic butter rice, baby Shanghai greens, with red-white miso soup of beancurd and nori

Gyoza, sear side up

Gyoza, served to show off the pleated seam, as arranged by our creative guest

Shine, chocolate, shine!

… and a little class on prepping the choux with a gentle poke in the bum

Our “Dinner With …” series features in a bolder, sleeker, sexier format on Instagram. I invite you to find me there: @vivienneyeo

Dîner Chez Viv /dee-nay shay viv/ : Dinner at Viv’s

all photos by viv, except the last one by Cindy H.,
with post-edit advice and lessons in light and composition from food photographer, Todd Beltz