Chef Ting Yen sets Mumbai palates a-tingle!

With Chef Ting Yen and his son Chef Kevin at Yuuka, St Regis Mumbai

Earlier this year, I had reviewed the new menu at Yuuka by Ting Yen at the St Regis Mumbai (it was good old Palladium Hotel at the time) for a luxury website… Supper Theatre: We throw the spotlight on the new menu at Yuuka by Ting Yen

Over the last two decades, I’ve eaten at some of India’s best and most creative eateries and explored food across the globe. Even so, I was really swept off my feet by the fusion food that this chef creates.

A few days ago, I was invited to join Chef Ting Yen and his son Kevin for lunch at Yuuka. They were introducing some new additions to the Yuuka menu and I was excited to meet the man who created all that masterful magic I enjoyed in May.

Chef Ting Yen turns out to be a jovial and extremely down-to-earth person, with a ready smile and a twinkle in the eye. Born to a Japanese father and Chinese mother, he grew up eating dumplings for breakfast, he tells me, also speaking about his journey as a chef who started cooking when he was just 14 and knew right from the start that this was what he wanted to do. Today, he is in his element, flying across the globe to consult on creative menus like these.

So, what has he brought to Mumbai this time?

There’s a refreshing Avocado Tartare served on ice in a glass with a corn dashi tucked away at the bottom. You have to break through the ice, stir it all up and crumble the crispy carrot chips that top it into the mix. The result? A burst of coolth, an umame tongue feel and scads of flavour bursting through it all. Perfect at lunchtime as you survey the city skyline shimmering in the heat and haze from the 37th floor of The St Regis Mumbai.

Avocado Tartare with Corn Dashi on Ice

Refreshing in every way: Avocado Tartare with Corn Dashi on Ice

Octopus is one of his favourites, he says, speaking of why he wants to introduce his Octopus Terrine to Mumbai food lovers. “It’s the connection between the seafood in Boston (where his restaurant Oishii is) and Bombay,” he explains. The Boston apple also features large in his foodscape, especially as it adds a touch of freshness in the oppressive Mumbai heat. 

While he does fly in some of the seafood, he said he likes to use local produce for his dishes here. The Indian pomfret features on the menu, as do Mumbai shrimp. All of the fruits and vegetables are locally sourced too, except for a few such as cucumber and mango. Why not one of the many varieties of Indian mango, we asked indignantly.

“While Indian mango is delicious, it’s small, has a larger seed and less flesh. Thai mangoes are bigger, with firmer and more flesh, which we can use as larger pieces in our food,” Kevin is quick to explain.

Speaking of ingredients, when I ask Chef Ting Yen about unagi (eel, which is a particular favourite of mine in Japanese cooking), he shows a very emotional and expressive side to his persona. “I love it but I don’t eat it too often,” he declares, explaining, “My dad used to love cooking it and it always reminds me of him…” As he describes the precise recipe his dad used, I can see how moved he is just talking about it.

The father-son bond is just as strong between him and Kevin, also a talented chef, who has been helping to conceptualise the menus. They work in perfect tandem, though Kevin’s penchant for playing with molecular techniques in the kitchen is viewed with scepticism by his dad.

In the pretty-as-a-picture Kombu Salmon appetiser that we taste next, it’s evident that Chef Ting Yen is not averse to using the techniques as long as there’s a legitimate reason for doing so! He tells us how they use the sous vide technique of sealing the fish in a vacuum before cooking to not only preserve its juices and flavours, but also to cook it medium rare and yet have it maintain the pink tenderness of raw salmon. 

Eating with our eyes: Kombu Salmon

Eating with our eyes: Kombu Salmon

His creativity finds inspiration anywhere and everywhere. I ask him whether the presentation of his Lotus on Fire dish that I had reviewed earlier had any connection to artist Salvador Dali’s famous melting clocks as I had imagined. The truth, says the straight-forward genius, was much more simple. He was looking for the perfect vegetarian ingredient that would sit well on those bars over the flame. For a few days, Kevin and he tried various options to no avail. In the end, inspiration struck when he passed by an under-construction building next to Oishii in Boston.

“When I saw the pattern of holes in the construction work, I knew I had hit upon the perfect solution… lotus stem, which would suit the plating I had envisaged. Although I like art and wish that I could say it was Dali’s influence, I’m happy that I have people like you eating my food and adding these extra dimensions to it!” he laughs.

 

The wonderful Lotus on Fire

The wonderful Lotus on Fire

Now, after having analysed and understood the Indian palate (they even did a Mumbai-inspired menu at Oishii that featured Dosa Maki and Chai Gola recently!), father and son talk knowledgeably about how we like the flavours that our spices impart unlike in the US, where spices are all about gorging on ghost chillies till you’re red in the face!

That’s why, even with the superlative grilled Chilean Sea Bass we sample, the emphasis is on creating a balance of flavours between the zing of ginger, the umame sourness of soy and citrus and the sweetness of the caramelised fish.

Balance of flavours: Chilean Sea Bass

Balance of flavours: Chilean Sea Bass

This balance, above all things, is something that I believe Chef Ting Yen has absolute mastery over. And the secret to his popularity and success. 

 

Yuuka

A splendid space on the 37th floor: Yuuka

 

Yuuka
Address: The St. Regis Mumbai, 462, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai
Phone: 022 6162 8000
Social Media: @stregismumbai

 

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