December 11, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

A great introduction to Korean food

I HAD some trepidations about going to the post Madrid Fusion Manila dinner by contemporary Korean culinary rockstar, Tony Yoo at the Conrad Manila for two particular reasons: I am not very familiar with Korean cuisine, and, not being particularly partial to vegetables, I imagined a menu comprised of temple cuisine -- that is, radical vegetarian food -- a particular gastronomic genre which Mr. Yoo is known to be a specialist in.

Mr. Yoo was among the over 20 noted international chefs who flew into Manila for the third straight year of Madrid Fusion Manila, held this year from April 6 to 8.

My fears were all to naught. The acclaimed Korean chef, who had been at the helm of the kitchen of South Korea’s Michelin-starred restaurant 24 Seasons, collaborated with the Conrad Manila’s German Executive Chef Thomas Jakobi on a seven-course menu featuring dishes that came to the table looking like virtual works of art, with a sublime taste to match the stunning way they were plated by the Korean gastronomy wunderkind.

The Yoo-Jakobi dinner was prepared a la Chef’s Table at the Conrad Manila’s well-appointed, spacious, high-ceilinged Brasserie on 3 restaurant. It was a meticulously curated menu of mostly haute contemporary Korean dishes using in-season organic ingredients, seasoned with traditional fermented pastes and sauces such as house-made soy bean paste, soy sauce, and red pepper paste.

Our amuse bouche, to start, was a hors d’oeuvre of foie gras with pureed corn and dried cranberries. It was pretty easy to guess that that would’ve been a particular contribution of Mr. Jacobi’s to the menu. That went down easy. And then came Variations of Steamed Lotus -- the first from among Mr. Yoo’s concoctions for the night.

That highlighted ingredient -- lotus, an underwater Asian root vegetable -- brings to mind the fact that the strapping, fine-featured Mr. Yoo had spent an entire year of his life in a Buddhist monastery to perfect his knowledge of vegetarian temple food, that is, food based on traditional recipes handed down through generations over the centuries.

A monk’s diet is totally vegan, small portioned, with such naturally seasoned low-calorie ingredients as mushrooms, sesame, seaweed, and, yes, lotus root and the like -- but never onions, shallots, garlic, and others items which are believed to agitate one’s temper and libido -- cooked over a short period of time. “The ingredients are high in fiber, and are intended to nourish one’s body and soul,” explained Mr. Yoo.

Obviously not something which would be served in a monastery was the food that came next to our table -- pork ribs, double-boiled, with shitake mushrooms, in an absolutely delicious soothing broth spiced with ginger and wolfberries.

The soup was a warm cleanser that made way for a deftly plated crab and lobster roll with cucumber and a seaweed sauce. Again, hallmarks of Mr. Yoo’s artistry with food using clean fresh ingredients -- dishes, he said, which one could find on the menu of his current signature restaurant back home, the celebrated Doreeyo.

Paired with the crab and lobster roll was a light, dry Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio Valdadige, with refreshing aromatic hints of lemon and green apple.

After a cold gin tonic and lime sorbet palate cleanser, our meat course came: Mr. Yoo’s tojang seul ya myeok, that is, a marinated slab of the juiciest tenderloin cooked pinkish medium, paired with an Australian Penfolds Bin 8 Cabernet Shiraz.

To cap the feast was a Chocolate Dome Caraibe 66% crunchy hazelnut and milk ice cream, which went down very well indeed with a Santa Margherita Proseco.

The repast that Saturday was not exactly one which served to totally familiarize my palate with the nuances of Korean cuisine, but it did give me a taste of sensual culinary heights, through the collusion between Mr. Jakobi’s continental orientation with food and Mr. Yoo’s exquisite mastery of his craft -- haute contemporary Korean gastronomy -- a collaboration between both chefs the end result of which was nothing short of brilliant.