I've been itching too badly to write about the recent dinner to put it off any longer, so I decided to put everything else on the back burner and get this out of the way first. Be prepared for a long post.
Organisation is not my forte, and the idea of organising an affordable, good-quality and memorable dinner for all the food bloggers in Singapore seemed daunting at first. Looking for sponsors and media publicity were the most frustrating parts of the planning, taking up much of my time, to the extent of my neglecting the more important details, like wine and dining preferences.
Still, my unhappiness at missing the lunch last year and the thought of being overseas and unable to attend the next three years' worth of meals kept me going, as did Chubby Hubby's generous contributions in helping me look for (and acquiring) sponsors for the dinner. I swear, that man is an F & B god.
Sage is not a very large restaurant, and by the time I got there most of the food bloggers were present, chatting animatedly. I had just enough time to snap a picture, have some final words with the wonderful restaurant manager Kimberly before being swept up in conversation with all the food bloggers. Even though they were strangers, conversation flowed easily and we were soon chatting and laughing like lifelong friends.
Each place setting was laid with the menu you saw above, and a box of Artisanal Chai tea obtained for us by the amazing Aun of Chubby Hubby. These weren't even on the market yet, and were in fact designated for delegates' use during the upcoming IMF-World Bank Conference in September.
Dinner started before very long, with the fricassée of Burgundy escargot with lentil du puy and field mushrooms, poached egg and Italian parsley foam. I must admit I had reservations about this dish, as it was such a radical departure from the traditional preparation. Plus there was the viridian green foam to get past. Both Kimberly and Aun convinced me it was a winner though, and from my first bite, I couldn't agree more. The egg was poached perfectly, and the richness of the runny yolks flavoured the escargot and mushrooms. The parsley foam was out of this world - frothy and light, yet with its own body of sweetness that envelopped the whole dish. The lentils were a creative touch, contributing a different texture to the soft molluscs.
I was really impressed by Chef Jusman and his team. His kitchen is not very large, but he had no problems delivering on the goods. None of the dishes were cold and all were excellently planned and plated - but the crowning glory had to be the oxtail consommé with chestnut mousseline and truffle-infused foam. While I was intrigued by the unorthodox presentation, I didn't think more of it till my spoon plunged through the stratifications of foam, broth, mousseline and oxtail. I inhaled the foam, and the aroma of the truffle oil hit me and flooded my brain with happy endorphins. This was followed immediately by the full-bodied broth, relentlessly pursued by the sweet, luxurious chestnut mousseline and finished off by the meaty oxtail. It was so good that I spent several minutes in silent contemplation of how best to make it last longer. But alas, my appetite overcame my better sense.
(Photo stolen from Ivan of Recent Runes)
Courtesy of the magnanimous Razorsharp in a deal arranged by Chubby Hubby, we were each given a 12cm Kasumi paring knife. This knife certainly looks lethally sharp, so I can't wait to get my hands on some unsuspecting vegetables.
Our next course was a baked fillet of sea bass, topped with tiger prawn mousse, braised fennel and a lemon-basil emulsion. I must admit that I didn't enjoy this course as much as the first two, but then again, I'm not much of a fish person to begin with.
The next course, though, put me back on epicurean cloud number nine. The US corn-fed beef shortribs braised in red wine, topped with slices of foie gras and bone marrow, glazed root vegetables and a moussline of butternut pumpkin, was rather like paradise on a plate. Being no stranger to braising myself, I was still in awe of the meltingly tender shortribs, enriched with foie gras and marrow. The pumpkin and vegetables only served to sweeten the dish, making an already pleasurable experience truly delectable.
Before our dessert, we commenced a lucky draw that looks set to become part of food blogging tradition. The prizes were a 27cm Masahiro Slicer, again supplied by Razorsharp, a Staub fondue set and TWO Staub cocottes, generously donated by BATS Singapore, both amazing companies whose largesse is definitely appreciated by the food bloggers.
The slicer was won by Sook Yoon of Sook's Food Notes, whom I'm positive will be putting that to excellent use in her kitchen.
The adorable petite fondue set went to Charmaine, and I'm sure she agrees that everyone can do with a fondue set.
ST of Cheat Eat won the first cocotte, as you can see her hefting her prize here.
As for the last cocotte, that was won by yours truly, in a lucky draw that I swear was not rigged. I've always wanted a cocotte and I couldn't be happier with this one, but I'll wax lyrical about it another day before this post runs on too long. Back to the dinner.
Dessert was a Fromage Blac panna cotta topped with candied strawberries, Champagne jelly and a strawberry sorbet. The panna cotta was a little thicker than usual, but less sweet thanks to the cheese. The strawberries cut through the sweetness of the jelly and cream, and the sorbet was quite magnificent - a smooth, just tart quenelle that held its shape incredibly well.
While Chef Jusman was breathing a sigh of relief that dinner was over, the eating didn't end there. A surprise birthday cake arranged by my unbelievably thoughtful and lovely sister was shared around, as were an assortment of excellent chocolate truffles supplied by Julius Truffles, an old schoolmate turned entrepreneur-chocolatier I serendipitously discovered while organising the dinner.
As an exhausted Chef Jusman emerged to tumultous applause fom the well-fed bloggers, we were basking in the comfortable atmosphere of a truly exceptional meal, chatting about food and exchanging vignettes of life in general. Much has been said how we were relieved to be in the company of others whose ideas of appreciating food involve taking beautiful photos of them as much as eating them, and the air of familiarity and understanding between all of us was as palpable as the ovation we gave the chef and his wife Kimberly.
I can safely say without exaggeration that this is probably the best dinner I've had all year, in terms of food and company, and for that I have a number of people to thank.
Firstly, to Chef Jusman and Kimberly, the foremost husband and wife restaurant team, for helming Sage and being such fantastic hosts to a rowdy group of demanding food-lovers.
Next, to our sponsors BATS Singapore and Razorsharp, for their truly spectacular donation gifts and recognition of the food blogging community. I hope we may work together again in future collaborations. Thanks go out also to Julius from Julius Truffles for his creative chocolates, and to the Gryphon Tea Company for their premier Straits Chai blend tea.
To Chubby Hubby, for his extensive contacts and resources in the F & B industry, without which we could not possibly have settled on Sage as the venue, nor could we have enjoyed the magnificent sponsored gifts.
To Ivan and Umami, who provided some fabulous wines and liquors, which certainly helped lubricate the already-scintillating conversations.
And finally, to all the food bloggers who attended the dinner and made it such a smashing success that was enjoyed by all.
Do read the other accounts of the dinner by many of the floggers around the island:
The Skinny Epicurean
Kitchen Crazy Daffy
Sook's Food Notes