photography

Plastronomique. A Photo Series on the Hawker Centres of Singapore and Malaysia.

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

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When it comes to street food and night markets, I thought I had seen it all after going to Hong Kong, Taiwan and Saigon. But I was further from the truth the second I stepped into the amazing hawker centres of Singapore and Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur and Penang). A completely different approach from what I was used to. In Singapore alone, there are at least 50+ hawker/food centres. My first meal in Singapore happened at the well-known Maxwell Food Centre located in the heart of Chinatown. It was 11:30 am and people were pacing the aisles for their first meal. Kids, servicemen, old people, businessmen – all congregating under one roof to eat from the 75+ food vendors. It’s simple. You wait in the line for whatever whets your appetite, pay, pick up your food and sit on the many provided benches. Shortly after you’re done, a busser comes by and cleans up after you. You’re out of there. It reminded me of being at a county fair, only the prizes were edible. But the irony of it all was the quirky presentation of the food on humble, colorful plasticware. We found this to be pretty damn cool and immediately started to document it. As opposed to the usual bells and whistles you get from haute dining, the hawker food almost seemed to pop more visually off a faded pink plate. A French chef would rather de-bone himself with his $150 chef knife, than serve his perfectly seared scallops on plastic plates. It’s then that you realize how important food is to the Singaporeans and Malays. What we see as gourmet, is in fact day-to-day survival for the locals – served on humble, no bullshit plasticware.

See the rest of the Plastronomique series on our site. Thanks for reading.

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Camino, Oakland. From Farm to Fire.

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

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Talk about being late to the party – five years late! I just learned about Camino in Oakland last year from our friends Kayoko and Yoko of Umami Mart and our friend, Honolulu-based gourmand, Reid of Ono Kine Grindz. It’s the kind of restaurant that makes me ask myself, “Where in the world have I been?”. Camino is Chef Russell Moore’s first restaurant. Recently, Moore had committed 21 years of his professional culinary career at Chez Panisse under Chef David Tanis. My discovery of this restaurant could not have come at a better time. The food I was eating of late was just seemingly complicated. Dishes that were basically edible forms of a United Nations meeting. Uni from here, fish from here, vegetables from here, etc. When I finally had the chance to eat at Camino, I was taken back by so many things. I was yearning for simplicity, something fundamental. As I looked at the ten-item savory menu, I suddenly became very excited. For once, I didn’t have to spend time deciding what to pick off the 50+ item menu. I’m all for places that only do a few dishes but do them very well. Why is it that street food is so appealing to many people? It’s because it’s usually from a vendor selling no more than 1 or 2 items. They’ve been so used doing the same thing over and over again, until perfection is achieved instinctively. Too many dishes on a menu, you’re bound to have more misses than hits. At Camino, you won’t see foam, brushed sauces or food contraptions – you’re going to see simple, yet flavorful food on a white plate. In addition to a focused menu, the secret to Chef Russell Moore’s style of food is knowing exactly who the purveyors of meat, fish and produce are – and the magical wood fire-powered hearth that he calls his kitchen. This is Camino.

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Walking in and seeing the black wrought-iron ring chandeliers, candles and dark wooden furniture, I got a sense of medieval meets modern. With the hearth in the center of the restaurant and chefs behind the wooden counter, it was almost set up like an old school theater. I already knew the food would be delicious just from walking into this warm restaurant.

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Chef Moore uses almond and cherry wood to power the hearth. In the middle of the hearth is a 2′ wide grill. Flanking the grill are various “grill stations” equipped with cast iron pots/skillets and clay cooking pots from Spain/Latin America called cazuelas. When we were in Argentina, we ate various meat and fish stews cooked in cazuelas. This type of material stores heat at higher temperatures for longer periods of time, allowing another level of flavoring to occur than your standard metal pot.

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This write-up combines my meals from four different occasions within 2 months. On my first visit, I lucked out during crab season but did not make it for Crab Mondays which I hear gets incredibly packed. Poor crustaceans.

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State Bird Provisions, San Francisco. Inside the Kitchen with Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski.

Monday, March 18th, 2013

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Last August, Jeni and I had dinner at State Bird Provisions. It was already very popular and well-known amongst the locals and fortunately we were able to get a table quite easily. In the last seven months, many good things have happened to the quaint eatery run by husband-wife/chef-duo Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski including Bon Appetit’s “Best New Restaurant in America 2013″ and a James Beard nomination. From Instagram photos, I’d see 20-30 people already queueing up for a seat before the restaurant even opened. One would think there was a secret concert being held inside, but no – it’s just amazing food being made. Each time we return to San Francisco, we end up here. Not simply because of the food, but because of the whole experience. We love the chefs, the team and the service. Anyone that has been will probably speak the same.  Knowing we’re big fans of their food, Stuart and Nicole invited us in to photograph their food and team in action. I can tell you, it is very difficult to keep focus when your subject is a tasty piece of sea urchin atop a sourdough pancake with shoyu reduction.

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Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski. Their first date in 1994 was at a pho restaurant in Cupertino. Awesome. Follow his awesome tour of the Fish Sauce Trail in Vietnam with Top Chef Paul Qui of Uchiko (Austin, TX) and Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia (Louisville, KY).

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Stuart and Nicole infuse Asian ingredients into their dishes. Always delicious and well-balanced. I believe these ingredients are used to spice their pork ribs.

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Produce you’ll never find in Trader Joe’s.

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