Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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South Island School MasterChef

When I was young, one of my favourite TV programmes was MasterChef. This programme utterly fascinated me and was a source of great entertainment for my parents and I- a sort of guilty pleasure every Sunday afternoon. Loyd Grossman, the American-British host of the show amused me aplenty with his famous catchphrase, “We’ve deliberated, cogitated and digested” before he and his fellow judges would approach the three contestants and their masterpieces.

Fast forward twenty years, and the original MasterChef has since been revived and now there are the spin-offs Junior MasterChef and Celebrity MasterChef. I have to say I haven’t really kept track with the latest versions, but I’ll always hold fond memories of the original.

One day late last year, I found out with great surprise and pleasure that a MasterChef set-up exists in Hong Kong. Not in the form of a TVB programme or anything of that ilk, but at an international school called South Island School. SIS MasterChef is an Inter-House cooking competition that was launched in 2012 and much like TV’s Junior MasterChef whereby students between the ages of 11 through to 17 are put through different cooking challenges in a bid to claim the title of SIS MasterChef. There are two sections to the competition- the Junior section, aged 11-13 whereby they compete in teams of two, and the Senior section, aged 14-17 who compete individually.

The Judging Room

The Judging Room

SIS

 The overall competition is broken up into four events; Entry, Quarter Finals, Semi-Finals and Finals. The Competition starts off with an unlimited number of applicants for the first challenge. The quarter finals has 22 contestants in each house that compete. In the semi-finals there are four students from each house. In the finals there is only one member from the senior section and one team from the juniors in each house. The school houses are Bahay, Casa, Shtepi, Kuca, Maison and Namas. The winner of the event will be awarded points for the house, which is to see which house performs the best in events throughout the year.

What is so fantastic about this event is how it not only encourages students to participate in a fun, competitive atmosphere, but it enables budding young chefs to display their talent and passion for cooking and gain a valuable learning experience at the same time. I was thoroughly impressed that the organisers were sixth-formers who oversaw every step of the competition. The two Heads of Events, Dominic Clark and Alex Llewellyn are both passionate about food and participated in previous MasterChef competitions. They also both have a GCSE in Catering and are keen to carve out careers in International Hospitality and Event Management; areas in which I’m sure they’ll be very successful in, given the smooth running of this competition.

But what does this have to do with me? I was one of a great crew of fellow bloggers and F&B influencers, including Lindsay Jang of Yardbird and Ronin, Gregoire Michaud and That Food Cray founders, Nicola Fung and Eugene Kan to be judges for the quarter-finals in February which I was more than delighted to accept! The QFs were spread over a few days, so on the 2nd day it was Stephanie Ko of Stephs852Diary and myself judging Houses Shtepi and Kuca.

Yours truly on the judging panel

Yours truly on the judging panel

The food technology rooms were huge and the first thing that struck me was how professional and serious all the participants were. The children were completely focused, answered our questions politely and explained what they were doing in a very clear manner. The QF challenge this year was Pastry and they had 90 minutes in which to prepare and present their dishes to us. Judging with us were the two Heads of Houses, who were visibly proud and equally impressed with their students’ efforts.

Food technology rooms

Food technology rooms

We couldn’t believe the creations the students were whipping up, some of which, as you will see in the pictures, are professional enough to rival those we see in restaurants and bakeries across HK.DSC_0331 DSC_0325 DSC_0320 DSC_0346DSC_0326

Seeing the students’ impressive repertoire of cooking skills and how passionate the sixth-formers were about the event and how they helped the younger years, got me in the mood to be more experimental in my own kitchen as well as inspiring me to approach my own lessons (in my day job as a tutor, not food blogger!), with a different perspective. Teachers are always looking at news ways of teaching, making lessons interesting and interactive as well as inspiring our students. And as I watched one student diligently watch his pastry rise in the oven, it dawned on me how cooking is such a wonderful way of teaching younger students a broad range of subjects: history (the origins of dishes, how our ancestors prepared food), language and culture (food from different countries, how to pronounce the various ingredients), science and maths (methods in cooking that doesn’t involve blowing things up (!), the food groups, where does our food come from, weighing and measuring ingredients).

Decision time!

Decision time!

Given how food-orientated Hong Kong is, I think South Island School has done a wonderful thing setting up this competition, and I hope that it continues to gain more coverage and motivates children to want to learn and enjoy cooking. Walking around the SIS kitchens and chatting to most of the students as they cooked really brought a smile to our faces. The dishes were judged according to 5 criteria- taste, texture, appearance, overall impression and food wastage (as the SIS team have partnered with Feeding Hong Kong) but when it came to making the final decisions, to me, all of them were winners, even those whose creations didn’t quite come out as planned. What counted were their efforts, tenacity and fantastic attitude to honing their skills. Enjoy the photos, (you’ll see which one we thought was the best all round), and maybe this weekend, you and yours can whip up a storm in the kitchen rather than eat out.IMG_1990 IMG_1995

This was voted best for overall taste, texture and appearance- it was an almost perfect fruit tart, hard to fault!

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A deconstructed Thai Green Curry Shepherd’s Pie by a Senior Shtepi student

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Well done again to the students of Shtepi and Kuca! I look forward to seeing the results of the final 🙂

South Island School MasterChef http://sismasterchef.weebly.com/

Many thanks again to the SIS team for the kind invite!

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Sunday Brunch Blowout at the Intercontinental

I’m not usually one for a huge Sunday buffet these days, as my days of fast metabolism are behind me *sob*, and I can’t quite eat EVERYTHING I want without feeling as though my gut literally wants to explode. However, The Intercontinental was very generous and extended a kind invitation to myself and a friend to try their Sunday buffet lunch a few months back. (Bit behind schedule writing, whoops! But don’t worry nothing has changed with the buffet!) If a lazy Sunday sipping free-flow Perrier-Jouet Champagne, nibbling leisurely on seafood, imported cheese, pizza, noodles and carved meats to name a few, whilst enjoying the views of the Hong Kong harbour sounds like heaven, then look no further than the Harbourside’s elaborate Sunday Brunch.

Harbourside - Image courtesy of Intercontinental

Harbourside – Image courtesy of Intercontinental

The spread is highly impressive with tonnes of choices, so even the fussiest of eaters have something to tickle their fancy. On one fine Sunday a girlfriend and I basked in the sun and took in the hustle and bustle of hungry patrons and wait-staff enthusiastically passing around specialty items such as pizza and ‘Shooters’ of sweet or alcoholic delights. Unfortunately, we missed a few of these mini items as we were almost always otherwise occupied at the stations devouring the spread with our eyes.IMG_0268

Mini treat from the Pass Around schedule

Mini treat from the Pass Around schedule

The fresh seafood section is always a hit at buffets, but I was thoroughly excited by their “action stations” with Peking duck, curries, pasta, dim sum and the carving station with plenty of succulent meat. I loved the rack of long bone-in beef but we were sad that their Yorkshire Puddings were on the more doughy side and weren’t crispier. I was also happy to tuck into freshly pan-fried Foie Gras (very decadent) and as a self-proclaimed cheese and cold cuts fanatic, went wild over their selection of Italian and Spanish hams and salami as well as their delicious display of French cheeses. Cheese baked crab meat still in the crab shell was a hit with us, but with so much to choose from, we had to put our spoons down after one.IMG_0278IMG_0272 IMG_0271 IMG_0265 IMG_0281 IMG_0291

If savouries aren’t your thing, the dessert buffet will definitely be. Macarons, cookies, mille feuille, chocolate fountain, pastries and other cakes, is enough to make one diabetic just looking at it. Crepes made-to-order certainly made a few children excited. If you want something a little less sweet, there is also an array of Chinese desserts on offer as well as fruit smoothies for a lighter end.IMG_0259 IMG_0258 IMG_0263 IMG_0261

So what is the wallet damage after a buffet such as this? It doesn’t come cheap at $888 per person for the free-flow champagne or $838 for soft drinks only and for children it’s $588. However, if you are looking for a special occasion brunch, have hours to ease into the meal and slowly nibble your way through, it is a delightful afternoon spent by the harbour. And let’s face it, sometimes, you just need to treat yourself to a sumptuous feast on a Sunday.

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5 

Harbourside, Intercontinental Hotel, 18 Salisbury Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong Tel:  +852 2313 2323 Opening times on Sunday: 11am- 3pm

This review was by invitation. Many thanks to The Intercontinental.


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Lunch in Chocolate Hévin

I am a chocolate window shopper. I let my eyes lovingly take in pretty displays of truffles, pralines and cocoa balls, and drink in my calories that way! Jean-Paul Hévin is one such chocolatier whose window-front on Lyndhurst Terrace is a visual pleasure whenever I walk past. Although I count myself lucky that I am not a chocolate junkie like Rach, I have demolished their chocolates before with gusto – I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there are more than just these delicacies on offer.

Jean-Paul Hévin chocolate cake!

Jean-Paul Hévin chocolate cake!

Who would have thought that behind those rows of tasty treats, there is also a proper feast to be had? Aside from Jean-Paul Hévin’s chocolates, or ‘black pearls’ as he calls them (as each piece is created from the highest-quality ingredients), the ‘Boutique et Bar à Chocolat’ has now launched a two-course set lunch. The set lunch comprises a soup or salad plus a main course of the day (which alternates between fish, meat and vegetarian pasta or risotto dishes) for a very reasonably priced $108 – and if you need to end on a sweet note, you can indulge in a slice of one of Jean-Paul Hévin’s six signature chocolate cakes for an additional $40.

When Rach and I stepped into the chocolate zone, our noses were immediately assailed by delicious wafts of cocoa – and sadly, our ears were also assaulted by the grating construction noises out on Lyndhurst Terrace! With our seats by the window (and outside din notwithstanding), the environment was relaxing and the meal quite delicious, making it a nice little spot for your lunch break if you work nearby.Jean-Paul Hevin Chocolatier - Lyndhurst Terrace - Second Floor 2

With a choice of either the green pea soup or celeriac remoulade to start, Rach and I decided to get one of each so we could try a bit of both (sharing is caring, after all!). The celeriac remoulade, a lovely mildly piquant celeriac mash, was a scrumptious start to the lunch, going well with the green apple and Parma ham. Rach’s green pea soup was creamy and satisfying but importantly not overly heavy, paving the way for our mains.

Celeriac remoulade

Celeriac remoulade

Green pea soup

Green pea soup

For mains that day, there was a sweetcorn risotto, a garlic herb roasted chicken thigh and a crispy sole fillet on offer. The meat and fish dishes were calling to us, with Rach going for the sole fillet, while I opted for the chicken.

It wasn’t that I necessarily went to Jean-Paul Hévin with low expectations, but as their forte is clearly chocolate, I did wonder how their savoury offerings would fare. After the starters, I was looking forward to the mains, and I was quietly impressed. My garlic roasted chicken was excellent – the meat succulent and the skin nice and crispy. The accompanying soft polenta and mushroom ratatouille was also good and I cleaned my plate with relish. Rach’s sole fillet was pleasing to the eye and equally well executed, with a delightful lemon chilli remoulade to give the fillet a bit of zest. The accompanying buttered new potatoes were also a hit.

Garlic-roasted chicken

Garlic-roasted chicken

Sole fillet

Sole fillet

But one cannot leave a chocolatier without some chocolate, so Rach and I each ordered their signature ‘Chocolat chaud Parisien’, classic Parisien hot chocolate made using cocoa from Central America. I loved it – a happy medium of rich but not sickening, sweet but with the perfect amount of cocoa to prevent it from being just a cup of melted chocolate. The cocoa really shone through and I was surprised that I could actually detect some of the spicy tones alluded to on the menu.

Chocolat chaud Parisien

Chocolat chaud Parisien

The ultimate sweet ending was our gâteaux au chocolat, and at an additional $40 to your set-lunch, it’s a very good deal indeed, especially if you are a chocoholic. I adore praline chocolate so I immediately jumped to attention when I saw their hazelnut Quinola Gâteaux, whilst Rach went for the classic Guayaquil, a densely layered chocolate almond dream.

Guayaquil gateaux

Guayaquil gateaux

I was an utter glutton and finished the lot. My Quinola was divine and I could easily become a total chocoholic if I were to live or work anywhere near Jean-Paul Hévin!

I was pleasantly surprised by Jean-Paul Hévin’s set lunch and I am glad to see that they have made the leap from patisserie and chocolatier to small restaurant. Their dishes were well prepared, very enjoyable and at $108 for two-courses, extremely reasonable for the standard. Jean-Paul Hévin already makes for a sweet addition to Lyndhurst Terrace, but their lunch offerings ensure that they’re more than just a candy-coated shop front.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5 (That chocolate gateaux completely won me over)

The set lunch costs $108 (with an additional $40 for dessert) and is served Monday-Friday, 12-2pm.

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Jean-Paul Hévin Boutique and Chocolate Bar, No. 13, Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong Kong, 2851 0633

www.jphevin.com.hk

You can also read this review on Sassy.


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Dessert Quest (North Point adventures Part 2)

My friends and I have a bit of a sweet tooth. In fact, we’re dessert mad. Even though we had finished our feast at Tung Po Seafood just 5 minutes before, we were all craving something sweet to cleanse the palate and round off a Sunday evening of gormandizing (my new favourite, food related word) 🙂

7 of us huddled in front of the Cooked Food Center looking a bit lost. “This is not my area!” DY “the Imperial taster” declared. “Well, it’s not any of ours either!” said Krispy K. “Let’s start walking and see if we can find anything” someone else said. Wise words indeed as I’ve found that one tends to stumble across really cool places when you’re least expecting it.

We started walking in a random direction and thought we spotted a dessert place across the road but to our chagrin it was just a normal noodle shop. It wasn’t until J pointed out the street sign that we realised we could be onto something good. “Look where we are!” said J, pointing furiously at the road sign. We gazed up and lo and behold “Tong Shui Street”. Woooo we thought, lots of dessert places must be down here! In fact, it turned out there were no such establishments but a helpful lady told Krispy K to walk to the road opposite and we would find our sweets.

After nearly getting run over by a tram, a taxi and several people carting their wares on iron wheelie carts (don’t forget North Point isn’t our area!) we saw lights ahead and what appeared to be photos of desserts! There were 2 dessert places to choose from at this end of the North Point Road, one looked quite traditional and the other had bright lights and lots of photos of ice desserts. We decided to go for the latter “大良八記” (Dai Loeng Baat Gei) as we were intrigued, and we were ushered in by an old lady and led to a booth in the back.

They only had Chinese menus which was slightly daunting but I was extremely chuffed that I could read enough to order my desired dessert which was a mango dau fu fa. JEd lover asked for a red bean and icecream shake dessert whilst J, Krispy K and Imperial taster chose from the shaved ice dessert menu. The “combo dessert” had 1 scoop of cookies and cream icecream, plus you could choose any flavoured shaved ice (e.g. blueberry, mango, guava, chocolate, coconut, strawberry) to go with it and 2 types of fruit.

The old lady taking our orders was hilarious, insisting on taking one person’s order then getting their dessert before returning to take the next order and so on. She also struck up a conversation and asked us why only Krispy K and JEd lover were talking in Canto while the boys spoke in English. Considering the hour (around 10.30pm) more and more people were coming into the cafe which shows that this place and maybe it’s staff are a local hit!

My mango dau fu fa was awesome. The mango was drenched in a mango sauce and made a refreshing contrast with the dau fu fa. The guys’ shaved ice desserts were amazing to look at and there was a lot of dessert envy from the rest of us who weren’t savvy enough to get the same.

Krispy K’s guava shaved ice with watermelon and sea coconut was gorgeous- the guava flavour was so intense, it was amazing that it was just shaved ice. J’s mango shaved ice was a cross between durian and mango and was quite strong whereas Imperial taster’s blueberry was light and refreshing. J commented that it would’ve been better if they had given them more fruit but nevertheless everyone was happy and satiated! A cool and random find in North Point indeed (especially at $173 for 6 desserts). 🙂

Chopstick rating: 3.5/5

大良八記 (Dai Loeng Baat Gei), Shop A, G/F, 15 North Point Road, North Point.

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