Topic: Chef Tales

Sharwin vs the Caucasian

Sharwin vs the Caucasian - Cheese Flatbread

With the success of the Philippine Week Food Promo at Swissotel in hand, I could now turn my attention to enjoying Moscow. The Philippine Embassy, ever the gracious host, planned a Moscow tour for me. Consul Jeff, who graciously volunteered to give me a tour brought me to Elardji Restaurant. A few blocks away from the embassy and the famed Arbatt Street, Elardji looked like an old home. It had a great cozy feel to it, something I’ve been preferring lately to grandiose or ultra modern looking places. It was described as a “Caucasian” restaurant, something which I later learned generally meant Georgian food.

Chef Sharwin Tee in Russia - Eggplant and Mousse Chef Sharwin Tee in Russia - Cheese Flatbread

Georgian food? Me likey. Jeff and I ordered the Georgian “table for two” — a set meal composed of some appetizers and a main course.

Sharwin vs the Russian Big Three

While I always want to eat local food away from hotels, my difficulty with the language during my first night convinced me to temporarily relax my travel rules. Turns out, it was a pretty good decision, as I got to taste the “Big Three” of Russian cuisine right in the hotel. Well, the “Big Three” in my book, at least.

Chef Sharwin vs the Russian Big Three - Borsch

Borsch was one of the things I promised myself I would have, come hell or high water, and I was lucky to actually witness the staff cooking it while I was working in the kitchen. The chefs there let me taste some. I loved it so much I ordered it for room service the next day. Borsch is a beef soup made with beets, carrots and potatoes, and served with sour cream. I asked the chefs if they made it more upscale and “sosyal” (of course I didn’t use the word “sosyal“) and they shook their head. Nobody in their right mind messes with borsch, so what I was having was as traditional as traditional gets. The soup is hearty with some sour notes and by adding sour cream, one creates a tremendous balance of richness and lightness. Turns out, they cook the beets with a bit of vinegar before adding it to the soup and that accounts for the hint of sourness. It was, in my mind, a tremendous example of comfort food, perfect for me at the end of a particularly long day in the kitchen. Later on, I realized why it gave me comfort. Take out the beets, and it’s your nilagang baka.

Sharwin vs the Non-Russian Food

Sharwin vs the Non-Russian Food

The invitation came as a surprise to me, especially since the event was barely 3 weeks away. The Cultural Diplomacy Office of the DFA, which I have been working with, and the Embassy of the Philippines to the Russian Federation, asked me to cook Filipino food in Moscow. The aim was to not only showcase our cuisine but also help facilitate Russian wholesalers’ interest in importing our foods. What self-respecting chef says no to that?

I wanted to try some food outside for dinner. Little did I know that was tougher than I thought. If you’ve read my Japan adventures about struggling with English, it was way worse here. Very few people spoke English, and Russian was nowhere close to any of the languages I could speak. It took me all of 15 minutes to buy a tube of toothpaste from the drug store! Near the store, though, i could smell some awesomeness.

Chef Sharwin in Russia - shawarma

Sharwin and the Great Cram Job

Sharwin and the Great Cram Job - Number 1 steak at Steakhouse Satou

With my flight home coming at 930 am the next day, I knew I had to wake up at 5 am to catch the train to the airport. That meant my 2nd to the last day in Tokyo was technically my last day. I was tremendously full from the tsukemen I had with Sherilyn and Ruby, but as we parted ways, I was determined to eat more and cram as much I could!

My next stop for a “merienda” would be a place I wanted to eat in the moment I arrived.  Unfortunately, on my first day, I forgot my map and I spent an hour walking aimlessly trying to find it.  Funebashiya Honten, a humble restaurant, in front of a Uniqlo store, two blocks away from the Shinjuku JR Train Station East Exit, has been around over 100 years and they serve only one thing: Tempura.  In my book, if you do one thing great for a prolonged period of time, you’ve got to be crazy good.  My book was riiiiiiiight.  

Funebashiya Honten

[And now for the perfect steak …]

Sharwin and the Anti-Ramen

sharwin and the anti-ramen

Before I was scheduled to meet my high school friend, Sherilyn, I knew I had to get some shopping done.  Stepping out of my hotel, which was 5 minutes away from Tsukiji Market, I began my final shopping run. The outer market of Tsukiji was a field of activity, like the Greenhills tiangge but only of food!   I managed to buy my Katsuoboshi (bonito flakes), which was my main goal. In Tokyo, they were sold by bulk, 500-gram packs. Then I grabbed some preserved ginger and apples. Sold by the roadside, these made for excellent snacks and great for pasalubong as well.

Sharwin and the Anti-Ramen: Tamago Breakfast would be freshly-made tamago. There were plenty of tamago stands along the streets and I grabbed a “small” one with chili flavor. Nicely cooked and not too sweet, it was an excellent way to jumpstart the morning! The best part was there were tons of flavors available, ranging from chicken to seaweed.  On the way back to the hotel, I spied some Togarashi pepper. It looked fresh not as ground-up as the ones we’re used to here so I grabbed a bottle. This was my kind of shopping trip!

For lunch, I headed to meet Sherilyn to check out, in her opinion, one of the best noodle places in Tokyo.  Steps away from the A4 exit of Iibadashi train station lay the tsukemen place.  The funny part is, you place your orders and pay through a vending machine OUTSIDE the restaurant and then you line up and wait for them to call you when your seats are ready.  The tsukemen, though, was no laughing matter.

Sharwin and the Power of Turo

chef sharwin and the power of turo

Throughout my 4 day stay in Tokyo, I often resorted to broken English, a few “desu kas,” “arigato gosaimases” and a lot of “turo” or pointing.  Sometimes, that can lead to some awesome discoveries.

A few of those discoveries were in the Ameyoko Flea Market.  After spending a couple of hours walking along Kappabashi Dori (which is heaven for chefs – a 2-3 km. stretch of nothing but culinary stores), I developed quite an appetite.  I took a train to Ueno and began to look for the famous Japanese flea market. Before I left the train station, though, I needed an ice cream break! Baskin Robbins was smiling at me and what greeted me was this treat of a flavor: Ichigo Milk Ice Cream! Named after a Japanese cartoon, it had a wonderfully creamy milk ice cream, richer than your normal vanilla and it also had some strawberry ice cream with nice sweet strawberry chunks.  Quite a flavor!

Ichigo Milk Ice Cream

Traversing the flea market, I was more interested in the food being offered than the discount clothes, and my first stop was an izakaya, or a drinking joint.  Since it was early afternoon, it was not busy.  Usually izakayas serve yaki toris with sweet sauces, but the one I ate in served theirs with salt and a spicy bean paste.  Left with no choice but to point, I pointed at four items, hoping to God I got at least one right.  And I really was! First came a chicken meatloaf, like a long Tsukune or meatball.  Very flavorful and tender, a great beginning. Then the good stuff came in.  Chicken Gizzard, chewy with a slight crunch, no disturbing odors.  I wish they were slightly more tender but it was good.  A stick of grilled chicken skin was a win, with its slight crunch and rich fatty goodness.  Lastly, a traditional chicken yaki tori with leeks.  Juicy and perfectly cooked, even the leeks were tender and flavorful. Points for lucky pointing! 

Next in this article: takoyaki and oysters!

Sharwin and the Temple of Sushi

Sharwin and the Temple of Sushi

My second full day in Japan started early, 3.30 am (2.30 am Manila time), to be precise.  It was such as ungodly hour that I half-expected a ghost or apparition would appear in my tiny hotel room to scare me to death.  Unlike most days, however, I didn’t mind waking up this early.  After all, I was going to Tsukiji Market, the Temple of Sushi.

I got to the Fish Information Center to line up for the tuna auction at around 420 am.  They only allow 120 tourists per day to watch the auction and to my surprise, I wasn’t even the first (or the 15th) person in line.  After chilling outdoors with a Spanish couple and basically humiliating my old Spanish teacher by butchering my conversational Spanish (a donde a la biblioteca?) the 120 of us were herded into the waiting room.  Here we were given bright yellow vests for safety (and also so market purveyors could look at us with disdain as ‘those evil tourists’) plus specific instructions on how not to get killed inside the market.  Warnings of watching out for moving forklifts and trucks and not using flash photography were ingrained in our minds through sheer repetition (for about 40 minutes) and then we were off!

Chef Sharwin Tee - Sharwin and the Temple of Sushi

Pan-demonium

Very few can have the expansive kitchens featured in mansions on TV, so with the limited space, which pans are your must-haves? Once you have these four, you may not need more.

Shiny Pointy Things

Chef's Knife

With food becoming more and more significant in people’s lives, kitchen gadgets are falling out of the sky. From garlic presses to silicone tea bags, kitchen gadgets are now a dime a dozen. Even the most basic of gadgets, the kitchen knifes, are getting glam makeovers as well, but how many kitchen knives do you really need? “Only four,” is the answer and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Keeping Your Cool

Summer time is beckoning and as much as people look forward to the sun and the outdoors, the heat could wreak havoc on our food, and then our moods. Keep your kitchen cool with these tips.

Tip # 1 Ice Ice (Water) Baby

One of the most important things in the summer is to keep everything cold. During picnics, trips to the beach or outdoor barbecues, keep your uncooked meats, salads and drinks cold by placing them in ice with a little bit of water. The water will help spread the “coldness” of the ice throughout the entire ice box, making things colder faster, as opposed to just ice. It’s a good tip to remember also when chilling wine and champagne.