When you win 2 golds, 4 silvers and 13 bronzes at the Battle of the Chefs competition in Penang, that definitely gives you bragging rights and Chef Chai with his team of student chefs certainly did us proud when he threw a dinner party for more than 40 guests at his Volcano restaurant recently to celebrate his win.
A very modest man and a self-taught chef who searches incessantly around the world for new ideas, new trends and new techniques, Chef Chai also used the occasion to introduce my new book, The Foodie’s Guide to Ipoh’s Best Eats 2, to the diners, who rapidly bought up the whole stock that I brought to the dinner.
Chef Chai is also one of only three chefs in Malaysia who age their beef; in some cases even up to an unbelievable 300 days! With his own special ageing refrigerator, ageing beef is a process that takes meticulous care. Chai checks his beef every day for signs of mould, or spoilage. Dry ageing does for red meat what cave ageing does for cheese or cellaring for Bordeaux – improves the taste greatly with time. There are myriad chemical reactions that happen while dry ageing, but at the simplest, a lot of the water in the beef evaporates yet the remaining meat still has all of the original flavour, which is then more concentrated in every bite. At the same time, the connective tissues begin to break down, making the beef more tender, but again, without any loss of flavour.
Meat aged between 30 and 45 days develop more complex cheese-like flavours. Some even like the ultra-funky flavours that develop in 45- to 60-day-old meat and older. It is all a matter of individual taste.
For me, beef aged 28 days is perfect for my palate and that is precisely what was served at that celebratory dinner.
We began with a delicate Crab Chowder with tortellini, in a robust broth with hints of saffron, dill and mixed herbs. This was followed by a smoked salmon canape topped with Ikura (salmon roe) on a delicious crispy pancake.
Next on the menu was an interesting juxtaposition of red and white meat with duck and chicken; the duck breast, still pink in the centre, topped with a chocolate wine sauce, next to a ballotine of chicken breast stuffed with a mushroom farce, the contrasting tastes and textures providing a culinary palette for our palates.
Next was the piece de resistance of the evening the Wagyu Beef double A6 with a marbling of 7-8, Dry Aged for 28 days, served with whisky mustard and anchovy pickles. The reason why this is so expensive (RM550 for Wagyu; Angus Ribeye RM330 – both servings enough for two) is that the wastage factor is so high. Out of a 5kg piece of 28-day aged beef, about 1.5kg is cut off and thrown away!
The one we had that evening was served medium rare and unlike regular wagyu, had the extra touch of smokiness and mild funkiness, an explosion of flavour like a love fest in the mouth.
We finished the meal with a Dark Chocolate Mousse on layered sponge, with chocolate tendrils and fruit jelly, just enough sweetness to round off a magnificent meal.
Chef Siew who is a baker and partner of Chef Chai made all the delectable choice of breads that evening. They plan to open five more bakery shops in Ipoh.
We shall look forward to tasting more of their breads.
Volcano Grill Cafe
31 Jalan Ampang Baru 6b,
Kampung Ampang Baru, 31350 Ipoh.
Phone: 011 3140 4800
GPS: 4°35’05.1”N 101°07’33.0”E