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Market-to-Table Menu with Charles Chistiaens

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We challenged Hansar Bangkok’s new executive chef to take us to a market, buy ingredients, cook a meal, and pair it with wine. This was the outcome.

By Laurence Civil

As with most of us, it was his passion for travel that first brought Charles Christiaens, the newly appointed executive chef at Hansar Bangkok, to Thailand. His reason was for a diving holiday a decade ago. The familiar story of falling in love with the country followed, and he has been here ever since.

charles-christiaens3He started cooking in Bangkok at Le Bistingo (now Aubergine), in Soi Saladaeng. Then he was the opening chef at Harvey Restaurant, in Thonglor Soi 9 before becoming chef de cuisine at the iconic French restaurant, Ma Maison, at Swissotel Nai Lert Park. He was the executive chef in two more hotels, The Landmark Bangkok and Pathumwan Princess, before coming to Hansar Bangkok a few months ago to focus on Eve, the hotel’s French Mediterranean fine-dining restaurant.

Having tried his food in several of his previous restaurants, we decided to give Chef Charles a challenge: to take us to a market of his choice to see what he wanted to buy, and bring the ingredients back to the hotel to cook an exclusive meal. Once he cooked the meal, we asked him to pair each course with a wine he felt best complemented it. We wanted to give him a chance to showcase the culinary skills he has acquired working in Michelin-starred restaurants in Belgium (his birthplace) and France.

Our culinary adventure started first thing in the morning at Or Tor Kor Market. It was easy to get there by MRT to Kamphaeng Phet station. Taking Exit 3 and following the signs for “Marketing Organization for Farmers,” we arrived at the front door. Last year CNNGo rated it the world’s fourth-best fresh market; this is Bangkok’s equivalent to Paris’s Rungis market. Established in 1971 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives to create a fair distribution channel for Thai farmers to sell their fresh produce, it has recently undergone a total renovation, and today it’s the destination for Thailand’s top chefs, celebrities, foodies, and hungry tourists.

“This is the first time I have come here to buy to cook in the restaurant,” says Charles. “Normally I would go to the Gourmet Market in Emporium.

There, everything is what’s in season 365 days a year, from different part of the world. What I like about this market is that they sell what’s in season in Thailand—respecting seasonality is a key element of the fine-dining experience.”

charles-christiaens2This market was planned by someone who understands fresh produce marketing. It’s spotlessly clean, and each stall attractively displays its produce, which is clearly labelled with the name of each item, and the country or province of origin written in English. Shopper selects how much or how little of each item they want to buy, and products are sold by weight.

Charles declined the vendor’s offer to clean the fresh scallops still in their shells—he would do it himself back in the kitchen. Having put the fish and seafood into plastic bags, the vendor topped them up with ice cubes to keep them fresh until they were back at the Hansar.

“At Eve, my menu is based on the best seasonal products I can find,” he says. “Our shopping trip this morning allows me to apply the concept of creating this menu using as much local produce as it is practical to. This is a candlelight cosy romantic restaurant, and I want to continue that emotion into what goes onto the plate. We do have an à la carte menu, but I prefer to go out into the restaurant and ask guests their preferences and how they are feeling, then I create dishes that are right for them at that moment, just as I have done with this menu.”

charles-christiaens4This first dish he prepared was Andaman Sea scallops, pomegranate, and coral on toast. “I prefer the taste and texture of these fresh local scallops from the Andaman Sea to those frozen from Hokkaido, Japan,” he claims. He cooked them with coral in white wine and served them on a bed of cauliflower and pomegranate mousse, to which he added just a touch of fresh horseradish to give the dish a subtle kick.

His wine pairing for this dish was Brokenhills Estate’s Amanda’s Brook Sauvignon Blanc 2010, from Adelaide Hills, Australia. With this wine, there is a fine balance of citrus and grassy notes that develop greater depth and smoky complexity, with a biting structure. This was a nearly perfect match—the first course exceeded my expectations.

Charles had checked the freshness of several strawberry-red snappers by squeezing them and looking under the gills before choosing the one he would cook for me. He filleted the fish, pan-fried it with white asparagus, and served with brunoise (finely diced) melon and cucumber with paprika. Wrapping melon balls with a red spinach leaf created an interesting color contrast on the plate.

With this course he went to Chile for his wine pairing and chose Viña Siegel’s San Elias Chardonnay, from the Central Valley. It was a yellow wine with an intense pineapple aroma and a very fresh taste. A delicious, easy-drinking wine that was another successful pairing.

For the main course, Chef Charles prepared a very elegant interpretation of duck confit parmentier, a classic dish from Gascony that is similar to a cottage pie, but made with duck meat. To take it to the next level, he served it with shaved foie gras.

He chose to stick with Chile for the wine pairing of this course: a Santa Ema Merlot from Maipo, located at the northernmost end of the Central Valley. This wine opens with aromas of ripe blackberries and vanilla, which lead to rich chocolate and toasty oak.

This menu was made from Thai ingredients, with the exception of foie gras, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, simply because they aren’t produced here. And Charles passed the test we set him with flying colors.