Washing lettuce

When washing any kind of lettuce, the main priority has to be that your guests are not grinding on grit or sand whilst eating your much loved salad that you have prepared for them…there is nothing worse.

When washing lettuce it is best to fill a clean sink with fresh cold water so that when all the lettuce is placed in the sink, there is at least 6 inches of water between the lettuce and the bottom of the sink.

Mix around the lettuce whilst washing each leaf individually and allowing all the sand to fall to the bottom of the sink. When this is done, whilst leaving the water in the sink, the lettuce must all be scooped out of the water and then placed to one side.

Then the water is drained off, the sink thoroughly washed and the same process completed a second time, after this is completed the lettuce is now clean.

You must not allow the water to drain first and the lettuce to touch the bottom of the sink as the lettuce will get mixed up with the sand and place you back to square one.

Sex in the Bahamas

This musing is true and one that I may or may not share with my grand kids, I have not decided yet, maybe you can help me to come to a suitable conclusion:

The Bahamas really was paradise when I moved there from Canada in the winter of 86, I remember boarding the Air Canada plane in Toronto when it was -30 and then stepping off the same plane about 2 ½ hours later into glorious warm sunshine. I was relocating there for a 2 year contract as Sous Chef, a management position I had never held before and a position which came with the benefit of complimentary staff housing.

They say there are two great days every week when working in the Bahamas, one is pay day which needs no further explanation and the other is your day off. The most popular pastime during your single day off every week was lazing around the beach, wearing mirror shades girl watching and drinking Becks beer by the bucket due to the immense boredom. Everyone at that time seemed to be having sex in the Bahamas and to be honest, being 26 years old, sitting on the beach and watching the endless parade of topless girls walking back and forth all day was starting to take its toll on me, my hormones were going crazy and I decided that I needed to find a girlfriend of my own.

There was one girl in particular who I had taken a fancy to and who was a croupier at the hotel casino, I decided to ask Susan out and after she agreed we went out for a night on the town. After having my first night dancing and drinking with her, I went back to my room and entered my bed alone and tipsy.

After I had taken care of my later than midnight munchies, I fell asleep with a half eaten bag of potato chips on the floor next to the bed side table. I was woken up with the sound of the paper bag rustling around, I moved across my bed to turn on the side table lamp and when the switch was clicked on I looked down and saw nothing. Thinking the last glass of tequila had taken its toll, I turned over and went back to sleep again only to within seconds of me settling heard the rustling of the bag again.

Feeling rather annoyed, I turned around again, switched on the table side lamp only to see the same blank space on the floor next to the bag of chips. I realized that, the sound of me moving in bed to switch on the light alerted whatever it was to hide and wait for me to turn off the light again before moving in again on my snacks.

Feeling like Sherlock Holmes, I turned off the light, stayed completely still with my hand on the switch and waited for the paper bag to move. On hearing the bag move, I immediately switched on the light and to my horror I saw the biggest, fattest, most well fed and ugliest rat I had ever seen looking up at me with my sour cream & onion chips all over its whiskers and paws.

This bloody stinking rat, no thief I should call it, swaggered ever so slowly with a waddle and its hips swinging back and forth before it disappeared behind the fridge. I walked slowly to look behind the fridge only to see a very large hole in the wall.

The next day I got the engineering to come and put a large wooden plank over the hole and believing that it was all sorted out went to sleep only to find out he had other entrances all mapped out around the apartment.

This went on for weeks, it would come in and I would follow it, find its entrance and plug the hole until I finally got fed up and went to see Rentokil.

They gave me a very large sticky glue tray, which I placed near its latest entrance and went to sleep, the next morning when I checked the tray I saw there was a very large rat arse shape stencil in the middle of the tray where the glue and the rat were supposed to be. There were glue foot prints all over the kitchen where it had obviously been looking around for something else to eat during the night.

On explaining to my Rentokil specialist what had happened, they told me that they had never seen a rat big enough to release itself from a glue tray so they decided to go for broke and gave me a very large tray of poison.

The problem was I had become very attatched to my rat friend and did not want to kill the thing, but I had realized that I could not go on like this and laid the tray of food next to its current entrance. I could not help but think what a disaster and passion killer it would be if I managed to get Susan to enter my room only for the both of us to find the rat waiting for its normal and regular potato chip supper.

The next morning when I woke up the tray was empty, as I looked at the empty tray I felt quite sad and remorse for killing my regular visitor.

A couple of days later I was in the canteen having lunch with a few of my colleagues and Susan was sitting there alone. I went to sit down next to her with two spoons and offered to share the large slice of American cheese cake and 2 huge scoops of vanilla ice cream that I had pinched from the pastry kitchen minutes earlier.

She looked very sad and I asked her what had happened, she told me that “Henry” had passed away and that she was heartbroken. I felt very sorry for her and told her that I was sorry for her loss, I enquired if Henry was her brother, father or another member of her family and she announced, “No it’s my pet rat, I live in the staff housing and I found it dead at my bed side when I woke up this morning”

Make an omelet like a professional chef

Making an omelet looks harder than what it actually is and like everything else, with enough practice, along with enough trial and error you will be making professional chef like omelets in no time. Confidence and faith in being able to do something will arrive automatically, when you do it often enough. It’s like riding a bike and only negative thoughts you may have & ones that shout out “I can’t do it” will stop you.

All you need is a simple, small and shallow non stick frying pan, a wooden spoon and the ingredients and away you go.

Let’s talk about the omelet pan first shall we;

If the cooking surface is too large the eggs will be spread too thin and cook too quickly, if the surface is too small the eggs will be spread too thick and take forever to cook. The ideal size with regards to the cooking surface of the pan should be approximately 6-8 inches in width. It should be non stick, rather sturdy and easy to wipe clean with a kitchen cloth after the omelet is finished.

The wooden spoon should have a smallish head which would be about 3 inches in length, it does not really matter if it is flat or with a dimple inside, but it should be round in shape to move inside the pan easily. A square shaped wooden spoon will make it difficult to collect the eggs as you stir the eggs in a round shaped pan, leaving eggs here and there to then over cook.

Now let’s talk about the ingredients;

All you need is 2 eggs (some people like to use 3, but with the ongoing cholesterol issue 2 will suffice. Also if you make the mixture too much, then you go back to the pan and cooking surface being the incorrect size for the amount of mixture you are cooking), salt & pepper and a small touch of milk (cream if you would like to be decadent).

Now to making the actual omelet;

Place the omelet pan on your stove; add a little clarified butter or low cholesterol oil in the pan. We should not use fresh butter as the butter may burn and discolour the finished omelet surface and spoil the presentation.

When the clarified butter is hot and almost starting to smoke, you add the eggs, immediately stirring vigorously and not allowing the eggs to stand still for a second.

When the eggs are almost cooked and there is a little wet egg left, you should then stop and take the pan off the stove.

You then take this opportunity to use your spoon and move around the liquid egg that is left, thereby filling any holes left behind from the stirring wooden spoon. The entire surface of the pan should be covered now with moist eggs.

You then use the wooden spoon to roll the eggs as you would roll a swiss roll cake after baking. Whilst holding the spoon in your hand, you start from one end and slowly roll the eggs tightly moving in to the middle of the omelet and then to the far end.

When the eggs are rolled and resemble an omelet you then turn the pan upside down tipping the omelet on to a clean warm plate. You can then use a clean towel to cup the omelet in your hands and shape the omelet for presentation purposes.

Notes:

If you would like to have something a little different and special (showing your loved ones you have a couple of tricks up your sleeves) you could add another single egg white to the two egg mixture. You then need to whip the mixture vigorously to trap as much air as possible. Making the omelet in the way I have shown you, after the finished omelet is on the plate you can place it under a hot grill for a second and watch it rise like a soufflé.

The air you have trapped inside during the whipping process will now expand and rise taking the egg mixture with it. Although omelet purists will tell you that this method is not actually an omelet, the nice colour from the grill, the almost double in size omelet will definitely impress the people for whom you are cooking.

The only problem is, is that as it is kind of like a soufflé in its cooking process these kind of omelets need to be served straight away as if they are not they will sink rather quickly.

Happy Cooking!

Making a homemade non stick pan

In the hotel industry many of the old style hotels would never purchase non stick pans, one reason was in the “old days” they did not exist and another was that for heavy usage they would never last long. They would get scratched, dented, burnt, broken, smashed and even stolen, so to avoid this they would make their own non stick variety that would be hardened, sturdy and last forever.

I have done this many times personally and this is how they do it:

When I was conducting my training there was no such thing as non stick pans and they would use cast iron, very heavy and durable pans which needed to be “seasoned” for them to be able to be non stick.

On receiving a new, straight from the supplier, cast iron frying pan or sautéing pan, we used to first place it on a solid top stove, empty with absolutely nothing inside and get it so hot that it would be smoking.

We would then place enough course sea salt in the smoking hot pan to cover its entire cooking surface until it was about 2cm thick. We would leave the hot pot on the stove with the salt and slowly burn and cook the pot with the salt inside. The salt will very slowly “cook” by smoking, burning and turning the salt very slowly to a dark brown colour.

We would then discard the salt in a bin, get a piece of cloth (a towel cloth like an old bath towel or face cloth) dip it in oil and wipe or rub the pot until the hot metal would absorb the oil making the pan shiny.

When the pan is smoking hot, we would them wipe the pan clean with another piece of kitchen towel and then proceed with the whole process all over again from the beginning.

After doing this 2 or 3 times the metal will have absorbed the oil making the metal very shiny, “seasoned” and have a homemade non stick effect. When you have done this you need to try out the pan by making an omelet, if the eggs stick, you have to start all over again until the pan cooks an omelet without the eggs sticking.

The act of “seasoning” the pan may take a few days, a week on more than a week, but it is definitely a loving care process.

It is VERY important to know that this kind of pan, once seasoned can never be washed in water; they are just wiped clean with a dry kitchen cloth or paper towel. Water and this type of non stick pan are worst enemies, washing the pan with soapy water will ensure that you have to start the whole process again from the very beginning.

Once any metal which includes a barbecue grill, pots and pans or skillets absorb enough oil and become seasoned, nothing will ever stick to them again if you take care of them.

Even when you are using a barbecuing grill, you must rub the grill irons with an oily cloth enough times to ensure the metal has absorbed it. The metal will look moist and shiny and no food will stick to this metal. If the bars are hot, very dry and dull, anything you add to this grill will immediately stick and when you pull away the food half of it will still be stuck to the grill bars and then burn.

Metal which is used for cooking needs to be seasoned with oil and this takes patience, time, tender loving care and lots of effort, but once you get the pan the way you want it, protect it with your life as you will be the envy of the chef community.

Happy Pan Seasoning!!

Easy steps to cutting a mango

Cutting a mango correctly could not be easier if you have the right tools and the basic knowledge to do so.

The first step is to cut a mango as you would normally cut it, if you make a mess of it please do not worry, all you want is the stone from inside as this is the secret to cutting a perfect mango.

After you have eaten the broken mango wash all the left over bits and pieces of fruit off the stone until it’s clean and lay it on your cutting board.

Then you get need to get another whole mango and lay that next to the cleaned stone.

Both the stone and the mango will lay on the board in a similar fashion, the stone will look like a elongated, funny kind of flying saucer shape.

Then you must peel the skin off the whole mango with a small pairing knife, we use smaller knives as they are easier to control whilst holding them and much better for any intricate work that needs to be done.

Lay the peeled mango next to the mango stone and take a good look at them both.

You now know what the stone inside the whole peeled mango looks like and which way the stone will be laying inside the whole fruit.

The stone will be lying inside the fruit exactly as it is lying on the cutting board, flat on its side.

Here is the secret, by using a thin bladed and sharp knife, by holding the fruit with your left hand ever so gently, you insert the edge of the knife into the right had side of the mango.

You feel around for the stone with your knife and when you feel the stone, you turn your hand to ensure the knife is laying down flat on the stone and cut across the top of the stone cutting the top half of the mango off.

You then turn around the mango and do exactly the same to cut off the top half of the fruit.

In other words you are using the knife to follow the exact shape of the stone thereby cutting around the stone.

You will then end up with two rather large pieces that you can slice and serve, however there will still be more bits and pieces left on the stone that you need to cut off any way you can.

The smaller pieces you have would normally be cut for fruit salad and the larger ones sliced and served with ice cream or another accompaniment of your choice.

Notes:

When holding a peeled mango, if you squeeze it too hard, the fruit will crush or at least end up with large indents or finger prints all over it. Mango is a very delicate fruit that needs to be handled with lightly touched care. You need to ensure that the cutting board you are using is very clean and fresh without onion, garlic or fish smells (for example) as Mango is also a very delicately tasting fruit as well and will absorb left over smells on the board. There is nothing worse than biting into a wonderful piece of fresh fruit only to find out that it tastes like garlic.

Happy Cutting!

Simple points to cooking vegetables

When cooking vegetables most people would believe it to be the most simple of tasks, but if done correctly, you can retain all the vitamins, minerals and the wonderful natural colours. Let’s take a simple vegetable such as long beans and go through the steps taking into consideration that most vegetables can be cooked the same way.

Start off by placing a large pot on the stove, ¾ full of water and seasoned with rock salt.

Bring the pot to a steady boil before adding the vegetables, the vegetables should roll over in the water as the water boils.

Get a bowl ready filled with ice, do not add the water until the last minute as the water will melt the ice rather quickly.

After cooking for 5 minutes, every 1 minute or so after that, fish a single bean out of the pot and bite into it, when they are almost cooked and there is a slight “bite” left they are ready.

Fill the bowl of ice with cold water on top and plunge the “fished” out and almost cooked green beans right into the ice cold water.

When they are plunged into the ice cold water the green colour will jump out at you.

The ice cold water instantly stops the cooking process and they can be left there for hours and will be safe, thereby not cooking any further.

You leave the cooking water still in the pot and simmering gently on the stove.

You then get a sauté pan, add some whole butter, shallots, garlic or whatever herbs, spices and so on that you wish to add.

When all the ingredients are sautéed nicely together, you plunge the beans back into the simmering water for just long enough to heat them up.

You then fish them out again and add them right into the sautéed garlic and herbs, toss them around for a second and they are done!

Notes:

We should never put a lid on green vegetables when you are cooking them as the entire natural colour will disappear and they will turn brown.

We should never over cook vegetables as if we do that all the vitamins and minerals are transferred into the cooking water, to get the natural benefits from the vegetables we have to drink all the cooking water.

If we are cooking lots of vegetables we should cook them in batches, if there are too many vegetables put into the boiling water it will take too long for the water to come back to a boil and the vegetables with loose their colour. The quicker the vegetables come back to a boil the better. It should actually only take a few seconds after adding the vegetables for the water to come back to a boil, if this is not the case you have added too many.

Every different type of vegetable takes a different amount of time to cook so they have to be cooked separately. If we cook them together, you have to wait for the vegetables that take longer to cook to cook properly and this will ensure that the vegetables that take less time to cook are over cooked.

Happy Cooking!

Industry news

As Chefs Tales is a community blog and is quickly becoming a public source of information for everyone to share, it has been suggested that we offer Industry news that is available and for which people may be interested in.

We have decided that we will offer this service to ensure that interesting information and posts are  continously uploaded for your reading pleasure.

There will be the first industry news posting uploaded shortly and we do hope that it is of some interest to our readers.

Please let us know of your thoughts and or your opinions.

Warm regards,

Mike.

Once Upon a Durian Date

This musing was first published in Flavours Magazine and is not in Chef’s Tales the book:

Did I ever tell you about the time when I had my first encounter with “The King of Fruits”? It was one I shall never forget as it was my very first romantic date with my dear wife Beatrice. I had only been in Malaysia for a short while and had not yet tasted any of the local fruit, as they were not yet in season.

After negotiating a date over a period of months, the big day finally came where I hoped to steal my first kiss. I closed my eyes and tried to think how great it was going to be; the many times I had dreamt of it had built up the expectation to dizzying heights. We walked along a beach in Penang, had a drink in a small restaurant along the way and then decided to go and have some fresh “fruit”. The journey around the winding hills in Teluk Bahang, looking for the elusive fruit while sitting in the back seat of a taxi was to say the least, harrowing. The driver – let’s call him Schumacher for the sake of an argument – was a very friendly chap who just had to have what he considered a most interesting conversation with his customers, while driving at speeds any of his fellow Formula One drivers would have been proud of.

“You know”, he started out, “the last time I came up here, I turned the car turtle,” he proudly boasted. Turning around to face us and at the same time pushing his foot down with lead shoes to reach breakneck speed while maneuvering 100 feet drop corners, he calmly announced, “with a little bit of luck, we can avoid the same occurrence this time around”.

With little confidence, I broke a meek smile to try and cover up the feeling that I was going to die or at least vomit at any time, totally humiliating myself in front of my dream date, who was looking a little peeked herself. “Why don’t you try to slow down a little there, big guy, the apples and pears won’t go rotten, you know.”

“What apples and pears? What are you talking about?” he announced, puzzled by my comment about the upcoming fruit expedition. “This ain’t London you know ..,”he finished off with a strange word I had not yet heard, which sounded something like “boh dough”.

“What does that mean?” I asked Beatrice. “I did not hear what he said as the air-conditioning is too loud,” she said in a politically correct manner. As I was sweating like an overweight Sumo wrestler sitting in a hotter-than-hell sauna, I enquired, “What air-conditioning?” and slowly received the message as she rolled her eyes at me. What with going around in circles combined with the feeling of sheer fright, I was almost going to loose my breakfast when I heard those golden words, “We are here.” As we stopped and pulled over at the roadside, I was totally oblivious to where “here” actually was. There was a small wooden hut constructed at the side of the road and a chap was sleeping on a wooden rickety table made from tree branches and surrounded by four chairs. “Wow, business must be great here, and the fruit so superb and fresh, everybody is lining up to grab some of it,” I quipped with a smile. “Shush,” said Beatrice giving me a nudge, “Don’t be so rude.”

The proud owner of the orchard woke up as Schumi gave him a shock by blowing his horn. “Hey, Datuk, I have a couple of customers for you,” he proudly announced. “That will be 20 ringgit,” my friendly chauffeur said calmly. “Twenty ringgit?” I said in a high-pitched voice. “You must be nuts!” I said in a shocked manner. “Anyway, where do you think you are going?” I asked rather sheepishly, “Do you see any taxi stands around here, how the heck are we going to get back?” Mr Schumacher happily negotiated to wait without extra charge, which I thought, was very polite and kind of him, until he announced that he was hungry and the sharing of our fruit might just clinch the deal.

“Datuk” had already gone walking through the jungle with his hands behind his back, looking down in the long grass while kicking, trying to find something. Surely the apples or pears or whatever would be rotten if they were lying on the moist ground, I thought. Not wanting to offend, I kept quiet and amused myself by looking at Beatrice and her lovely full lips and wondered what it was going to be like when I kissed them. “Got one,” shouted the orchard owner. He sounded so happy with himself and with his big find of goodness-knows-how-long-ago-rotten fruit. As he emerged from the jungle and was making the short trek up to the hut, I saw in his hands the strangest looking – what I supposed was fruit – that I have ever seen. What the heck was that? A large green funky-looking thing with spikes! My first reaction was to ask how we were going to peel this sucker. “What do u have there Datuk?” I asked, bemused. “The last time I saw something like that was in the Alien movie.” I hesitated for a second, “no, sorry, I think it was Predator.” Schumi gave me a look that said “Don’t be funny, you might find yourself walking home.” Well, that would be safer…and cheaper, I muttered to myself.

The fruit was placed on the table with a thud. This was the first time I witness a fruit that, if dropped, would damage the table before it received even a single blemish. I crossed my arms and looked at this thing with a puzzled look on my face that alarmed Beatrice. “Have you never tried this before?” she asked. “Tried it? I have never even seen anything like it before, never mind tried it. What the heck is it?” My new sweetheart explained to me that this strange looking fruit was in fact a durian and it was a delicacy of Malaysia and somewhat of an acquired taste.

Datuk bent down, reached under the table emerged with a large, menacing knife. “I’m sorry,” I announced quickly. “I did not mean anything if I offended you.” “Bodoh!” Schumi muttered under his breadth, as they started to pry open the skin with the tip of the blade.

All of a sudden, there was an offensive odour surrounding the table. I smelt under my armpits to see if the smell was coming from me and then looked underneath my shoes to see if I had stepped in something. After deducing that the wonderful smell of fresh picked roses was in fact not my fault at all, I realized that the offending odour was in fact coming from the fruit. A thin, blue-like haze was rising from the split skin. “It’s rotten!” I shouted, “We will have to find another one, maybe one that is still on the tree and in better condition.” Beatrice went to explain that, in fact, that was how the fruit was supposed to smell and that the best ones would be those that had fallen from the tree by themselves, ensuring that they were totally ripe. “You mean durian actually smells like that”? I asked in shock. “Yes,” was the one word answer Beatrice offered me. “And it’s not rotten?” “No,” she countered. “And we are going to pay good money for it and then eat it?” “Yes, that’s right. Will you please be quiet?” She pleaded.

As the durian was laid on the table, everyone was unfortunately polite to offer the guest, yours truly, the first piece. So I took the smallest piece available and placed it in my mouth. My stomach, which by now was in a state of shock, dropped a subtle hint that is was less than impressed with the nourishment that I was offering, by churning and tying in a solid gut-wrenching knot. I had never in my entire life tasted anything that smelt so bad and tasted so terrible with an unimaginable sickly and slimy texture. As it slithered down my throat leaving a horrendous after-taste, I managed to bear a thin-tooth smile, and throw out a single word: “Yummy.”

In a matter of minutes, the durian was finished, and I was offered another. “Oh, no thank you, I could not eat a single delectable piece more,” I announced. “I am totally full; stuffed, actually,” and then I held my breath and prayed that they would not purchase a second nightmare. “Fruit”. I will give them both fruit,” I complained to myself.

As we settled back in the car, I was dreading contending with Schumi, the winding road and the added disadvantage of having this lump of smelly, heavy and burp-promoting substance that was simmering around in my tummy like a volcano. “Schumi,” I declared, “take us to a chemist as soon as you can. By the way,” I pleaded, “do you have a plastic bag by any chance?” On reaching town, I bought some Listerine to gargle with, which made me feel much more comfortable. With the smell and the bad taste in my mouth diminished, I diverted my attention back to concentrating on getting my first sneaky kiss.

As we sat on the now moon-lit beach where the date had first started, I edged closed and put my arm around her shoulders. I looked into her eyes and they had “kiss me” written all over them, so I did. As our lips locked together, she still had the durian smell on her breath that was rather off putting. As I was about to drop a hint by offering her my new bottle of Listerine, I burped, sending my own version of deep-down-in-the-stomach, after-dinner aroma into my date’s face.

Well, there you have it, my first kiss had been and gone, not very memorable, I am afraid, and that was that. Luckily, Beatrice forgave me, we are still living happily ever after and have both become durian connoisseurs. I have fallen in love with durian over the years and constantly get looks of amazement as people see a Mat Salleh sitting down and digging into a good durian where and whenever I can. There are many species of durian and they are supposed to be an aphrodisiac. The only problem is after eating it and getting the necessary effect, nobody wants to come near you anyway, so the whole idea is rather redundant. Bombaceae Durio Zibethinus, commonly known as durian, has unfortunately, quite a few calories. However, it has lots of protein, minerals, beta-carotene, vitamins B1, B2 & C, calcium and iron and better still, has no cholesterol. Thai durians have larger flesh, but with little taste and the Malaysian version has less flesh, but a much better taste. Congratulations, Malaysia, on producing a great version of thus funky looking thorny and stinky fruit!

The Great Junk Food Conspiracy

I have been on holiday for a while, so I must aplogize for the lack of postings,  to make amends I would like to offer you one of my Musings which was first published in Flavours magazine. This musing is also not in Chef’s Tales the book….hope you enjoy.

Junk food is the stuff of a marketing exec’s dreams and a true foodie’s nightmare. Junk food is one subject that fascinates me, and the amount of attention it receives is quite astounding. The term “junk food” is usually used to refer to food with little or no nutritional value – which may be a waste of time to eat from a nutritionist’s point of view, but my goodness, doesn’t (most) of it taste great!

Parenting groups lobby for junk food commercials to be banned from prime-time television, to be aired late at night, as if the subject matter is as scary as a restricted movie showing violence, drug use or worse. Then, the large fast food chains fight back by spending millions trying to prove that their food is actually great for consumption and that their meal sets are balanced meals!

And there is just so much money involved here. Would you believe, after all the negative media about canned Spam being the worst, possibly most unhealthy food on earth – the company just celebrated selling its sixth billionth can of the processed meat. There are potato chip companies today boasting of sales upwards of one billion bags of chips a year! Can you imagine how many people are crunching these salty deep-fried snacks every second of every day?

In the hotel business, we spend hours trying to come up with great marketing ideas, slogans, sales concepts and other ways to increase sales. Junk food companies have an easier time of it due to the fact that their products are cheap, tasty (everything that is bad for us tastes great, we all know that), quick to purchase and are loved by…well, basically everyone on the planet. Junk food usually has too much fat, too much salt, too much sugar – in some instances, all of the above. I have always wondered how we are persuaded to eat so much of it, so bear with me while I imagine the scenario in a junk food marketing meeting.

Imagine a brainstorming meeting where the MD is trying to get the creative juices going with his people.

“Come on everybody, we have thrown ideas around for days and we cannot come up with a single idea worth its weight in coarse sea salt on how to increase sales for our MSG! Somebody say something worth listening to!” says the MD. As he finishes his grand speech, the meeting room door creaks open, and in walks the semi-retired tea lady. “Madam, please offer these clowns some advice – how would you increase the sales of our MSG shaker? Our million-dollar-earners here all seem to be brain-dead today,” he says, rounding on her. Placing the cups and saucers down on the table with her old, shaking hands, she raises her head ever so slowly and whispers, “Why don’t you make the holes in the shaker slightly larger?” The whole office is swallowed by an unpleasant silence as the executives look down at the floor in shame and the MD looks astounded. “Brilliant! Shrieks the boss excitedly, “That’s it!” As the tea lady is leaving the room, the boss asks her, “What is your current salary, madam?” “Five dollars an hour, sir,” she replied with pride. As she whisks herself away to continue her daily tasks, the boss is less than amused, to say the least. “You lot had better wake up, let’s get cracking,” he says, “Our sales of Twinkies are slipping every day and people are saying they are not healthy, so what can we do?” “Let’s change the name to Grandma Mabel’s Homemade Twinkies instead,” is the first offering. The boss looks at the speaker with an open mouth and an expression of despair. “We are not changing the recipe, image or packaging, how the heck will that help sales, you twit?! The cakes are made from flour, eggs, sugar and a fake cream that lasts – unrefrigerated – for then years!” “Well,” begins the upstart, “This will give the impression that if it is good enough for grandma, it must be all right – I mean, good ol’ grandma would never hurt us by serving us food that was no good, right?” “Ok, brilliant!” announced the boss, “Now what about our burgers, what are we going to do about their floundering sales?” “Let’s announce that they are ‘All Natural’,” offers a different staff member. “No, that’s not a good idea,” sighs the boss, “I don’t want to lie and I think that is stretching it a bit too much.” “How about we offer dental floss to go with the burger – that way, even if the burger is made with a stale bun, goodness-knows-what meat, terrible sauce and processed cheese, we can at least look like we care about their teeth!” “Brilliant!” announces the boss again, “Now we are on a roll!” “How about starting a new line of deep-fried chips not derived from potatoes but made out of vegetables? We can call them “organically-grown veggie chips’,” says another voice. “Brilliant!” shouts the boss with glee. “Wait a minute,” announces the secretary taking notes, “they are still deep-fried in the same oil and full of cholesterol, salt and other stuff – in fact, they are exactly the same as potato chips!” “Yes, but when people hear the name ‘Veggie Chips’ they will believe that they are healthy,” says the boss. “This is great stuff,” announces another senior executive, “Here is another idea – how about ‘Cherry Chocolate Diet Soda’?” By this time, everyone in the whole office is on their feet, clapping and cheering as the meeting progresses to dizzying heights. “Guys, I can top all of your ideas – why don’t we make an ice cream float with the sweetest dollop of ice cream available plonked into a large glass of sugary, fizzy cream soda so that after drinking it, all the kids run around like nutcases all day, get addicted and then demand to have it every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner!” The boss looks at him, gobsmacked, and announces at the top of his voice, ‘This man is immediately promoted!”

The meeting then proceeds to come up with the concept of chocolate milk – where they turn even the healthiest drink into a fattening alternative – cocoa crunch, making the only possibility of getting children to eat a healthy breakfast nigh impossible, a chocolate-filled croissant, chocolates coated in hundreds of different colours (which all taste exactly the same regardless of the colours), caramel-coated sugar doughnuts, and the best idea of all, “diet ice cream”.

Of course, there is expensive, “exclusive” fast food that may make us feel proud about slowly killing ourselves by clogging our arteries; it my even raise our social status a bit, as not just anybody can afford such highly sought after delicacies as a double truffle burger which costs US$120 per burger just because it is topped with freshly-snorted-up, hard-to-find wild French truffles. Or an ice cream sundae that costs thousands because there is a four-carat diamond ring hidden among the cherries at the bottom to surprise and unsuspecting sweetheart – who hopefully does not swallow it by mistake and then has to wait a few days (after eating half a pound of prunes) to wear it.

Eating fast food a couple of times a week if all right I guess; I do it myself with my seven-year-old, but when you get sick of the long lines, the trouble finding a seat and less-than-glamorous surroundings, why don’t we all make a pledge to give our nearest good-quality hotel a call and make a reservation, thereby locking in a clean chair and enjoying some slow food for a nice change.

It’s all in the Game

As it was a pre-opening and we had time on our hands, my Executive Sous Chef suggested that since it was now winter in Hong Kong, I might like to go with him to a game restaurant to explore possible menu ideas. Not really knowing what he was talking about, I went along anyway because I was keen to try as many new things as possible. We arrived at the appointed restaurant, which was located down a back street, or more rather some dark alley, such that you would never be able to find it a second time even if you wanted to. The owner and chef came out to greet us, and told us that if we were willing he would like to play a little game with us. He would bring out the food and as we finished each course, we would have to guess what we had just eaten. It sounded a little scary to me given that this was Hong Kong, but as I did want to try things, and was also keen to fit in, I went along with it.

The first dish we ate was a very strong smelling, yet clear soup, which the chef said was, “Good for the body”, which part I wondered.
He asked us what we thought it was. Well I surmised, it was a game restaurant, and it was a soup. “Pheasant” I said.

“What, what the hell is pheasant?” came the reply.

I knew then that I was in trouble, and this was going to be a long, long night.

Our host went into the kitchen and brought out a large cage on a wheeled trolley, covered by a dirt white blanket. He did his trick of pulling away the blanket like a television magician, revealing a huge, slimy, long-tongued, uglier that anything I had seen…lizard. My stomach started to turn over straight away and I thought I was going to throw up on my shoes, and for that matter, on everyone else’s.

Then came the next course, a small bowl of some kind of stronger smelling heavy stew. I nibbled at it since my appetite was already suffering under the enormous strain. “Game Restaurant”, I whispered to myself, “I’ll give him GAME restaurant.”

Out came the dreaded cage once again, and away went the blanket to reveal a beautiful Snowy White Owl, it’s huge eyes looking deep into mine. That, my friends was the last straw.

I didn’t care any more if I was going to fit in or not. Dinner was over for me and, as the next course came out, I announced that I was out of the game. So as not to cause offence, I decided to ask for something safe instead, and with which I was familiar.

“Hey, how about just giving me some chicken chow mein” I asked pleadingly.

The manager looked at me extremely confused, “Chicken chow what?” he said. “Chow mein” I reiterated.

“Are you trying to be funny?”, he responded angrily. “If you don’t like the food, I understand but there is no reason to be rude.”

“What the heck was he talking about?” I asked Tan my assistant, and then he told me that he had been living in Hong Kong all his life and he had never heard of this dish. What was worse, “chow” translated from Cantonese to English is “stink!”

For the full years I was in Hong Kong, I was unable to find a single restaurant that had heard of the famous “Chicken Chow Mein,” much less had it on their menu.

My protestations of being full had still not spared me from the third course. This was another thick stew, which the owner told us, “Is made especially to keep the body warm during winter,” while pulling away the trolley curtain to reveal a somewhat scabby-looking dog.

This time I tried a different track.

“I think I must have eaten something which did not agree with me at lunch earlier today.” I mustered.

This at least seemed to do the trick. Though still trying to extend hospitality and feeling sorry for me being unable to eat the delights of the main meal, he brought out some steamed prawns and fish insisting that it would make me feel better. Guess what, my appetite was indeed encouraged back to life!

The whole experience showed me though that if you have the taste for something and the money to pay for it, you can find it and eat it in Hong Kong.