Last week, the fine dining meets street food series aptly named “Streats” finally made its way to New York following stints in Sydney and Auckland. Conceived by Heineken subsidiary Tiger Beer, the three-course dinner brought out curious city-dwellers eager to taste the fare of two Michelin-starred chefs who cooked in two different styles and came from two different sides of the globe.
American Chef Christopher Kostow’s briny whelk lasagna represented the white glove service world of fine dining while Hawker Chan Hon Meng’s aesthetically simple yet richly flavored soya chicken and rice embodied the most comforting qualities of street food. There was of course Tiger Beer in abundance to accompany every course.
The event’s location was also a flawless nod to the theme of fusion dining. Despite a slight chill in the air, guests queued outside of French-Vietnamese outpost Indochine, a staple of the area since its opening in 1984. Inside, dim lighting cast long shadows on a table-scapes split neatly between formal white tablecloths and glassware, and a decorative runner with bright orange plastic cups and matching stools. Again, driving home intention to meld fine dining and street eats.
Paired with the retro-chic, tropically-themed decor of the restaurant, the two-in-one table experience didn’t feel as off-kilter as one might expect. The food, which was touted as a joining of two worlds, provided a similar experience – it seemed disparate on the surface, but proved to be a rather comfortable partnership once it all came together.
Whelk Lasagna with Agretti
Napa Valley-based Chef Kostow opened the evening with a uniquely, sea-flavored take on lasagna that aligned with his philosophy of using of seasonal ingredients. In lieu of typical lasagna ingredients Kostow settled on whelk, a sea snail similar to conch that is currently in season off the Coast of California, and agretti, a hardy, Mediterranean succulent capable of subsisting on salt water. Kostow layered whelk between seaweed pasta and topped everything with a healthy dose of roasted broccoli and agretti.
The end result was settled lighter in the belly than what you’d expect from a typically gut-busting lasagna, but it still managed not to compromise any robustness of flavor. Of all things, the texture came as a bit of a surprise – it lay somewhere between creamy and slightly gelatinous. However the crown of crunchy greens kept the balance from swinging too far towards glutinous.
Soya Sauce Chicken and Rice
Hawker Chan Hon Meng followed up Kostow’s experimental cuisine with something that hit a little closer to home – tender soya sauce chicken and steamed rice. The chef recently found himself at the center of quite a few foodie docs when his Singapore food stall was awarded the first-ever Michelin star for “street food.”
While there was much to-do about this accomplishment it also points the fact that there is something paradoxical about the kind of meals that are bestowed the title “street” or “comfort” food. They’re often the kind of meals that appear simple, and might actually be simple in concept and execution, but in reality, take years of practice to perfect. Chan’s soya sauce chicken was a study in years of practice – that is to say it was perfect. It’s also quite literally the type of thing you fantasize about eating to make yourself feel better in every bad life situation: hangovers – soya sauce chicken; break-ups: soya sauce chicken; shitty roommate problems: soya sauce chicken…
Coconut Pudding with Rice Balls and Red Bean
The two chefs worked together on a multi-layered coconut dessert that offered quite a bit in terms of different textures. The eating experience started with a crunch delivered via a coconut flake-topped wafer. Next came the pudding and tangyuan (rice balls) which sat on a bed of red bean sauce.
Kostow was charged with making the sweet pudding which tasted intensely of fresh coconut, and probably used a healthy amount of coconut cream. Chan, for his part, handled the dense rice balls and red bean sauce. It would have been a challenging finish to a meal for anyone who didn’t love coconut or anyone who prefers cloyingly sweet foods. Judging by the empty bowls there didn’t seem to be too many diners who harbored that sentiment.
Unfortunately the New York leg of this series has ended but those in Kuala Lumpur can look out for Tiger Streats to stop in their city next.
Also see just how Hawker Chan’s food stall earned its prestigious Michelin star here.