Susur Lee at Brasserie
- more than just a good rhyme

Internationally-acclaimed chef Susur Lee and renowned Napa Valley winemaker Dennis Cakebread teamed up at The Brasserie restaurant during the 2011 Cayman Cookout with delicious results, reports Alan Markoff

Perhaps not as much of a household name as some of the celebrity chefs attending the 2011 Cayman Cookout, Susur Lee is acclaimed in culinary circles as one of the world’s top chefs. Known for his Asian fusion style of cooking, Lee is an owner-chef of popular restaurants in New York, Washington, Toronto and Singapore.

Lee, who will soon open another restaurant in his home Toronto, teamed up with the Brasserie’s Consultant Chef Dean Max and the rest of the Brasserie kitchen staff to prepare a five-course meal with passed hor d’oeuvres during a cocktail reception which featured a local sorrel and pomegranate Bellini, a Brasserie favourite for the holiday season this winter.

For Max, the dinner was a chance to work with someone he looked up to when he first started out in the kitchen.

“It was a really pleasure working with Susur,” he said. “When he was at Lotus – his first spot to make a real name for himself in North America – I remember being so impressed with his style and execution. His food is a really cool balance of Chinese textures with French flare. I was a cook on the line when he was making his name and so working with him is a real return to my youth.”

The hor d’oeuvres highlighted the things the Brasserie is known for: fresh seafood and local vegetables. Of particular note was sashimi with garden peppers made with Blackfin tuna that had come in on the Brasserie Catch, the restaurant’s fishing boat, just four hours before, and a flavourful fish tea shot, the Brasserie’s modernised take on Cayman’s traditional fish soup. The fish tea was made that morning on the Brasserie’s caboose – a modern version of the old-time Caymanian sand-bottomed grill – during a Cayman Cookout demonstration event earlier in the morning.

After being seated, it was Lee’s turn to shine for the next three courses. First up was chilled garden cucumber vichyssoise with king crab salad that was just as fun to look at as it was to eat. A thin ribbon of fresh wasabi sauce added a breath-catching zing to the cold soup. The dish was paired with Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, which had the mineral and citrus flavours to complement the crab and soup and the crispness to handle the wasabi.

For the third course, Lee served a dish the menu described as “rice gnocchi and chicken with foie gras, French black truffles, roasted pear, Chinese sausage and porcini mushroom sauce”. The menu description didn’t seem to explain the dish that came, probably because adequately describing the three dumplings on the plate and what was on them or under them would have taken up half the space on the menu. By any name, however, they were truly delicious.

Max said really liked watching Lee make the dumplings.

“He uses Chinese methods and starts like wheat starch and rice starch to create a dough to wrap a chicken meatball infused with foie gras – a great technique and really great result,” he said. “The richness of the foie with the cool gummy texture of rice flour is a great pair.”

This course was served with Cakebread Pinot Noir, which, thanks to the black truffles and rich porcini mushroom sauce, paired wonderfully and made the wine shine.

Next came the highlight of Lee’s effort, caramelised black cod with preserved lemon, salmon pearls, a garden turnip cake and a dollop of miso mustard. This dish, a popular entree in his North American restaurants, was Lee at his Asian fusion best. It was paired with Cakebread Chardonnay, a refreshingly elegant and complex wine that didn’t exhibit the overwhelming butteriness and oakiness usually found in Napa Valley Chardonnays.

Lee’s dishes used a lot of non-local ingredients, but he enjoyed learning about some of Cayman’s unique ingredients, Max said.

“I know Susur wanted to give the locals a taste of what he does at home in Canada, so we flew in his farm to our table,” he said. ”But he also was super impressed with what we are doing in Cayman and at the Brasserie with the garden. He loved our local seasoning pepper and coconut oil, as well as all the fresh greens and herbs from the garden.”

After Lee’s black cod dish, Max and the Brasserie Executive Chef Brad Phillips took over to serve the fourth course, Certified Angus Beef brand Prime Natural Tenderloin, served with braised veal cheek, garden greens and a most unique Vidalia onion. Served with Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon, the beef and veal were a meat-lovers dream of tenderness and flavour. The onion was served halved with an inner-layer of skin intact to hold it together. It had been baked, then partially hollowed and then filled with local breadfruit au gratin. It is with these kinds of imaginative creations using local ingredients that sets the Brasserie apart from other local restaurants in pursuing the garden-to-table approach to cooking. In this case, any potato served with the meat after all the previous fabulous courses would have been too boring – and probably too filling – but the Vidalia onion worked as a perfect accompaniment.

There was still dessert to come and another red wine to pour, so chefs Max and Phillips did what needed to be done and went for chocolate in the form of something the menu called a Black Walnut Chocolate Bar with dulce de leche ice cream. The soft dessert offered an explosion of flavour and texture, topped with extra virgin olive oil and Cayman sea salt. Its delightfully light and crunchy bottom had diners baffled until Phillips revealed that corn flakes were the secret ingredient. Who would have guessed?

Because it wasn’t really sweet, the Cakebread Merlot went well with the dessert, providing a nice ending to a wonderful meal.

Max said he enjoyed meeting Cakebread Cellars’ Dennis Cakebread, who attended the event, and said he really liked his wines.

“But I think that in a perfect world, Susur’s dishes would have been better with some Rieslings, Gewürztraminer, some Grüner Veltliner or other whites,” he said. “It’s difficult because it’s hard for one wine producer to have a group of wines that would fit two chefs personalities in food.”

Still, Max thought the Cakebread Pinot Noir worked particularly well with the dumpling course.

After having hosted a Cayman Cookout dinner event at the Brasserie twice now, Max is already thinking about the possibilities next year. If he could have a wish come true, he knows who he’d like to work with in a future event.

“It’s a toss up between Michel Bras from France and… [Masaharu] Morimoto.”

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Brasserie Executive Chef Brad Phillips salts veal cheeks, part of the final savory course of the meal.

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