p Picks and Pecks: review: Chuck Hughes in KL

Friday, February 24, 2012

review: Chuck Hughes in KL


When I first heard that Chuck Hughes was coming to KL, the first thought that went through my head was "how much food can Chuck Hughes chuck if Chuck Hughes could chuck food"! It was my first chance to get to see one of the AFC stable of chefs "in action" as it were, and Chuck is one of my favourites because of his simple approach to food, with basic ingredients and generous portions. (If you're interested, his show is called Chuck's Day Off).

I'm pretty sure that a large chunk of the audience was in attendance because Chuck is one of the better looking chefs on AFC, but more importantly - what did the food look and taste like?

First up was a king crab leg Salad - essentially a Caesar salad with a bit of glammed up twist with the addition of the king crab leg. Instead of a crouton, there was a twist of seasoned bread which had been toasted sitting on top. While the crab leg was very sweet - much less briny than the crab we're used to in Malaysia - I thought this was a rather simple way to get started on Chuck's food, which didn't exactly smack of Canadian-ism just yet!

Second course - smoked salmon. In a little nod to the smoked salmon which is readily available in Canada, we got a dim sum steamer which had been used to steam the fish over wood chips. You can't see it here but the salmon had a slightly burnished tone from the smoke of the wood chips. 

Incidentally, this is a recipe that chef demo'ed to us - I will post up the recipe presently!

Next came (what I recall as being) a crispy trout, served on a bed of fennel. While the skin was cooked to a crisp, I didn't find this all that special, especially coming right after a fish course. Moreover, fennel is such a traditional accompaniment to fish that it is hard to see how this could go wrong. We were told that the kitchen did have problems sourcing Canadian trout and this was a more readily available variety - let's give them the benefit of the doubt with this one.

Every Canadian food show I have ever seen makes much of poutine - that French Canadian specialty that some regard as a national dish. Here was the kitchen's version of the classic. It does not look like much in the picture, but the key to the entire dish is the rich gravy that covered the potatoes. This is a really basic poutine, which is traditionally made with just cheese curds and gravy, but there are some fanciful interpretations in our own Malaysian restaurants, which I will feature in upcoming posts. Here, due to the unavailability of cheese curds, they've substituted mozzarella cubes. No problems with this dish, except that I would have preferred the fries to be slightly more crunchy to contracts with the soft texture of the cheese.

A riff on a clambake was next, with lobster tail, clams, sausages and potatoes. If it was cooked as I hoped it was, the key to this would be timing so that all the ingredients were done at the same time. However, there wasn't any gravy or sauce that accompanied this dish, so I couldn't tell if the tastes had melded together. That said, the dish was delicious - the lobster, it goes without saying, was yummy, but the main star was actually the sausage. It was gently spiced, just enough to differentiate it from the bland "hot dog" type sausages one typically finds. From its pale colour, my guess is that it was made of veal - another reason why it was not overpoweringly meaty, which provided a base for the spices to come through.

From something very simple to something very rich - this was a beef short rib which had been braised and served over a bed of mashed potatoes, with grilled tomatoes and french beans. How can you complain about ribs, honestly? This version was braised till it was fork tender, and the sauce didn't go to waste as the mash soaked it up.

Can you really hate a guy who loves bacon? I think my criticism would be that it is not always easy to replicate dishes when you're abroad due to lack of ingredients. Though the dishes tasted good, I think that (aside from the poutine) there wasn't much that hit you over the head and said "I'm Canadian", which was what I was hoping for. 

Oh, and if you're curious, he really sounds like he does on TV - very energetic and engaging with the audience. He also seems to have a very genuine love for food, and is eager to share it. He might not wear his heart on his sleeve, but he definitely wears his grocery list on his arms!