Sergio Herman opens new restaurant The Jane in Antwerp

Sergio HermanDutch chef Sergio Herman, who closed his three-Michelin-starred restaurant Oud Sluis last December, is today opening a new restaurant: The Jane in Antwerp.

The new restaurant, which is run by Herman and Nick Bril, who spent three years developing the concept, has a big focus on art and design.

Herman said: “To me, dining out is about more than a plate of fabulous food; the overall restaurant experience has become progressively important in recent years. So it’s not just the dishes that must reflect our vision and our ‘feel’, but everything that surrounds them too, from the front desk to the tablecloths, the crockery – even the bread baskets. Everything at the Jane was specially made for us. And that takes time.”

The kitchen, which is designed to look like an artist’s studio, is the headed up by Bril, Herman’s former right-hand man at Oud Sluis. The Jane offers both a fixed and an à la carte menu, which feature some of the classic dishes from Oud Sluis. There is also an in-house food and cocktail bar called the Upper Room Bar, which has a separate menu.

Bril said: “It’s hugely exciting to create something new after all those years at Oud Sluis. Naturally I’m shaking like a leaf. But we held a couple of trial dinners last week, and we’re now ready to roll.”

Reservations are now being taken for both the Jane and the Upper Room but don’t get too excited as the restaurant is already fully booked for the next three months.

Herman and Bril created the Jane in partnership with a number of artists, designers and DJs. Interiors were developed by Dutch architects Piet Boon and interior designer René Nijboer, while staff uniforms were made by G-Star, the printed windows were designed by Studio Job and Flemish designer Michaël Verheyden created the accessories, including the leather bread baskets and butter dishes.

Other features include an illuminated neon skull by Kendell Geers from the Walter Vanhaerents Art Collection and an 800kg chandelier with 150 points of light by Lebanese lighting design company .PSLAB.

Umami: unlocking the fifth taste

This is an extract from an article I wrote for Caterer and Hotelkeeper. You can read the full version by visiting catererandhotelkeeper.co.uk

About 3,000 years ago, Greek philosophers came up with the concept of our four elemental tastes: sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Their theory remained intact right up until the early 20th century, when a scientist in Japan discovered a fifth taste: umami. But unlike the traditional four tastes, umami is a bit more complicated.

“Simply, umami is the deliciousness or savouriness of food,” says Trevor Blyth, a former Roux Scholar and chef-proprietor of the White Fox in Tokyo. “Scientifically, it is the taste imparted from all foods that contain glutamate, guanylate and inosinate. And metaphorically, umami can be viewed as the dark matter of flavour; the difficult-to-describe element that holds all other tastes together.”

In Japan, people have for years used dashi, an umami-rich stock made from kombu (kelp), to elicit the best flavour from food. The concept of umami has been recognised in the East for a long time, but only over the past decade or so has umami started to play an increasingly important role in the West, too. Top chefs such as David Chang and Heston Blumenthal have been working with umami for years to balance and enhance their dishes.

“It’s something very close to my heart,” Blumenthal has said, using his research into umami not only at his three-Michelin-starred Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, but also to design in-flight menus for British Airways and develop umami-rich dishes for hospital patients to encourage the elderly to eat more.

But even in the mainstream, umami is starting to make waves as more and more restaurants are incorporating it into their menus. In California, burger chain Umami has used a secret sauce to maximise the umami taste experience and make punters crave their $12 burgers, while closer to home, Hawksmoor has designed its entire menu around umami, with its Longhorn kimchi burger providing the ultimate umami hit. “Umami is important because it plays a strong supporting role which helps to unify flavours,” says executive chef Richard Turner.

Yet umami remains a taste that is difficult to explain, although we all know it when we taste it. “Umami has a mild but lasting aftertaste that is difficult to describe,” says Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, chef-proprietor of Nobu and Matsuhisa restaurants.

“It induces salivation and a sensation of furriness on the tongue, and it stimulates the throat and the roof and the back of the mouth. Umami is palatable and has a long-lasting taste.”

Ultimately, umami is what makes our favourite savoury dishes taste so delicious. It’s rich, earthy, meaty and savoury. It’s why the Japanese cook with dashi, why the French use stocks and truffles, why Italians love Parmesan and tomatoes, and why we Brits like to add a splash of Worcestershire sauce to our food. It may not be sweet, salty, sour or bitter, but it’s the taste that makes our mouths water.

THE HISTORY OF UMAMI
Although it has become a 21st-century phenomenon, the idea of umami has been around for way longer than one might imagine – we just didn’t know it. “The concept [of umami] may be rather new, but the taste has been with us for centuries in the stocks and sauces of Europe, the pizza of Italy, the broth of Japan, and the oyster sauce of China,” writes Dr Kumiko Ninomiya, director of the Umami Information Center, in her paper Umami: A Universal Taste.

As far back as 3,000 years ago, Greeks and Romans used a condiment called garum – a fermented fish sauce – unwittingly boosting the umami in their foods. In 1825, in his famous treatise The Physiology of Taste, French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin established the word “osmasome” for rich, meaty tastes, which has since been considered a forerunner of umami. And in the late 1800s, fellow Frenchman Auguste Escoffier incorporated veal stock into his cooking to intensify the flavour of certain sauces as well as their mouth-feel and texture.

But it wasn’t until 1908 that a scientific explanation of umami was established when Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda at the University of Tokyo tried to extract the distinctive taste of dashi. He discovered it was
glutamate – a type of amino acid – and coined the term umami, which was derived from the Japanese word umai, meaning savoury or delicious. Following his discovery, Ikeda went on to invent monosodium glutamate or MSG – perhaps the most infamous three-letter word in the history of food (see below).

However, it took the world of  science nearly 80 years to acknowledge Ikeda’s finding and only in 1985, at the Umami International Symposium held in Hawaii, was umami finally recognised as a distinct taste separate from that of sweet, salty, sour or bitter.

In 2000, scientists at the University of Miami discovered the existence of a specific taste receptor responsible for umami, while in 2009 a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that certain genes play a role in how sensitive we are to it.

THE SCIENCE OF UMAMI
Glutamate is one of 20 non-essential amino acids, a structural element of protein, which occurs naturally in many foods, but particularly in asparagus, seaweed and tomatoes.

Following Ikeda’s discovery, further research revealed that in addition to glutamate, umami is also imparted by DNA building blocks called ribonucleotides, which also occur naturally in many foods, particularly in meat and fish (inosinate) and in mushrooms (guanylate).

Although the ribonucleotides give off some umami on their own, more importantly, they magnify the umami taste of foods rich in glutamate. What this means is that the key to umami is the combination of ingredients high in glutamate with ingredients that have ribonucleotides, as the resulting umami taste is way more intense than that of the ingredients on their own.

“Umami is part of the taste of food and it has a synergistic effect on other umami-rich foods,” explains Blyth. “Combine asparagus (glutamate) with bacon (inosinate) and mushrooms (guanylate) and the umami taste in all of the ingredients will be intensified.”

 

HOW TO UNLEASH UMAMI
While glutamate is found in many natural foods, certain cooking methods further enhance umami as they help to increase the level of amino acids and this can be achieved in a number of different ways. Cooking boosts umami in savoury foods such as meat, which isn’t umami when it’s raw as it is the cooking process that releases the glutamate. Similarly, curing meat or fish results in the breakdown of amino acids, which not only helps to preserve the meat, but also increases umami.

Fermentation frees the umami in things like soy sauce or kimchi, while ageing cheeses or drying mushrooms has a similar effect. Combining foods rich in glutamate and ribonucleotides is the key to unleashing umami, which is why age-old combinations such as Parmesan and tomatoes in pizza or kombu and katsuobushi in dashi are so popular. The umami taste can also be enhanced by condiments such as fish sauce or soya sauce to season a dish before serving or at the table.

However, just like with the other four tastes, balance is key, as too much umami can be overpowering. “Umami should be used with caution – it’s easy to overdo and bludgeon the tastebuds, which is okay for a few bites, but fatiguing over several courses,” says Turner.

This article was first published by Caterer and Hotelkeeper. Please visit catererandhotelkeeper.co.uk to read the full version.

 

 

Chef profile: Luke Dale-Roberts

This is an extract from an article I wrote for Caterer and Hotelkeeper. You can read the full version by visiting www.catererandhotelkeeper.co.uk

Luke Dale-Roberts has a calm yet confident command over his kitchen. His voice is soft but firm and consistently acquires a pertinent chorus of “Oui chef!” from his brigade. He elegantly moves among his busy chefs, correcting things here and there, all under the watchful eye of curious diners along the chef’s counter lining the open kitchen.

Since launching the Test Kitchen in Cape Town in 2010, British-born Dale-Roberts has increasingly made his mark on the global food scene. His innovative culinary style, which gained him plaudits as the executive chef of the famous La Colombe restaurant, also in Cape Town, has continued to win him awards and accolades way beyond the shores of his adopted home of South Africa. And with his second venture, the Pot Luck Club, he’s expanded his business with a new concept that may well be rolled out internationally.

The secret to Dale-Roberts’ success is no doubt his food, which is neither modernist nor traditional but comprises an eclectic mix of techniques, cooking methods and international flavours and ingredients. “My food is a result of my life experiences; my travels and the things that influence me on a daily basis,” he explains.
The Test Kitchen, as the name suggests, is all about research and development. It serves ever-changing tasting menus of refined dishes. “We are constantly trying things and developing new dishes to keep our menus fresh and continually evolving,” says Dale-Roberts. “The focus is always on flavour.”

Open for lunch and dinner five days a week, the Test Kitchen serves the five-course Discovery Menu (R590/£35) and the nine-course Gourmand Menu (R800/£45). Typical dishes include Pickled Fish – yellowtail ceviche with a Cape Malay lightly curried dressing, barbecued carrots and ras el hanout honeycomb; or duck with turnip purée, preserved kumquats and baby leeks. Added theatre comes with dishes like Pork Smiley – a whole roasted pig’s head that is presented at the table before being cut down to a dish of pork cheek with parsley pressed apples, wild rosemary infused honey, blue cheese cream and crackling; or TK Concrete Ball – Mozambique langoustine cooked at the table over burning Madagascan spices inside a concrete ball.

“I don’t have a mantra that governs my cooking,” Dale-Roberts says. “One day I might do a foie gras bordelaise that is ridiculously classic, while the next day I might do something completely off the wall like a grilled langoustine jelly with oysters. I just want to do whatever feels right on the day without being pigeonholed into a specific style.”

The Test Kitchen opened in November 2010 at Cape Town’s Old Biscuit Mill, a creative hub of independent shops, galleries, cafés and restaurants that has redefined the previously derelict district of Woodstock. “With the Test Kitchen I wanted to create something intimate, with a small team and a menu that had no starters or mains, just hot and cold small plates,” Dale-Roberts explains.

He collaborated with local pottery makers to craft unique plates, bowls and platters, as well as local artists and designers to create an industrial-cum-organic space featuring exposed brick walls and red pipes next to oak beams, earthy toned walls, and a wooden counter encircling the open kitchen.

Virtually overnight, the Test Kitchen emulated La Colombe’s success, with Dale-Roberts reclaiming the Eat Out best chef and best restaurant awards in his own right in 2011 and being named One to Watch in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2013. “You always hope that you will be successful but I never expected it to happen so quickly,” he admits.

In 2012, he branched out to open the Pot Luck Club in a space next door to the Test Kitchen. “I had lots of ideas for dishes that would work well for sharing but they didn’t really fit into the Test Kitchen,” he explains. The Pot Luck Club presents a menu of tapas-style dishes, arranged according to sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami tastes. Dishes include vodka-infused watermelon with Campari jelly; pig’s tails; spicy turmeric and tamarind fried calamari; sticky beef short rib; curried celery leaves; mushrooms on toast; or quince and almond tart with melted popcorn ice-cream.

In winter 2012, the Pot Luck Club helped push Dale-Roberts’ international profile even further, with a pop-up in Verbier, which transported his menu from the shores of the Cape to the ski slopes of the Swiss Alps. “The pop-up was an enormous success,” he says. “We had the Royal family dine – Prince Andrew had his birthday there – and it was a real hangout for the hip Made in Chelsea crowd.”

Back home, the Pot Luck Club soon outgrew its home and at the start of 2013, Dale-Roberts moved it to a different site within the Old Biscuit Mill – this time a spectacular loft space with an open-plan kitchen and bar, and panoramic views over Table Mountain and the city.

Today, a reservation at the Test Kitchen or Pot Luck Club is one of the hottest tickets in Cape Town as both restaurants are booked up weeks in advance. Dale-Roberts has had a string of offers to open sites in the Middle East and even London but for now, he’s staying put.

“It’d be stupid not to expand the Pot Luck Club – it’s a really funky brand that has a lot of potential – but at the moment I’m being very, very cautious about doing more,” he insists. “The more you do the more you neglect things around you, whether that’s your personal life or your business. Up until now I have been very proud of everything I have done and I don’t want that to change.”

This article was first published by Caterer and Hotelkeeper. Please visit catererandhotelkeeper.co.uk to read the full version.

LA’s ethnic food scene: Koreatown

This is an extract from one of my monthly postings of LA-focused food articles for The Staff Canteen website.

One of the most exciting things about LA’s food scene is its community of ethnic restaurants. After all, Los Angeles County is recognised as the most ethnically diverse city in the USA, where you can explore just about every country’s cuisine.

Arguably LA’s most interesting ethnic quarter is Koreatown, K-Town for short, which is home to the largest community of Koreans outside of Korea. Under the guidance of young Korean chef Justin Oh, a K-Town local, who works for José Andrés at his Beverly Hills restaurant the Bazaar, I recently spent a night out in K-Town, visiting three of its most authentic hidden gems.

Put on the culinary map by famous chef Anthony Bourdain, who featured it in his Parts Unknown series on CNN, and voted in 2013 as LA’s hottest neighbourhood by Conde Nast Traveler, K-Town is said to have the highest concentration of restaurants and nightclubs in Southern California.

Line_Hotel

Perhaps it’s thanks to Gangnam Style but K-Town is the place to be in LA right now and its coolness factor has just been bolstered with the January opening of the Line Hotel, run by Sydell Group, the company behind New York’s NoMad. Bringing together the city’s top Korean-American trendsetters, Line Hotel features a retro-themed lounge from LA bar gurus, the Houston Brothers, as well as two restaurants headed up by Korean celebrity chef Roy Choi, who has made a name for himself as the creator of the gourmet Korean taco truck, Kogi.

Beyond the mainstream, however, K-Town can be intimidating, as upon first glance, it seems like a huge impenetrable maze of restaurants, bars, markets and strip malls. Sprawling across a three-square-mile radius, it’s a whole foreign city within the city, where at times you can feel like you’ve left the USA and gone to Asia.

But of course that’s exactly what makes K-Town so exciting and what’s really amazing about it is its plethora of truly authentic restaurants. For unlike many other nations, Koreans have resisted the Americanisation of their food and continue to celebrate their country’s cooking in all its glory. Next to a host of top Korean barbecue restaurants and their all-you-can-eat menus, there is so much to explore – from hot soups and stews to abalone porridge, raw fish salads, rice bowls and of course lashings of kimchi (spicy, pickled cabbage); every Korean speciality under the sun is served up here.

To read the full version of this article please visit The Staff Canteen.