Tuesday 25 September 2018

Our secret to delicious food

Southeast Asian food is unquestionably exciting! From the spices and depth of Indonesia to the sour vibrant character of the Philippines; from the clean crunchy freshness of Vietnam to the diverse hearty comfort of Malaysia and the spicy aromatic perfume of Thailand. If you have ever had an authentic meal at a great Thai restaurant, you know it is more thrilling and potentially dangerous than white water rafting. Its unexpected sourness, the confusion of sweetness, the earthiness of grilled meats and toasted nuts, the shock of slow-burning fiery hot chilis and the memories brought by fragrant fresh herbs. Yup, coming from Canada, the mystery of Southeast Asian cooking and a genuine curiosity for its food has been a source of inspiration for years.

Western-style cooking traditionally focuses on individual ingredients with complimentary sauces and garnishes used only to support the main items. Every ingredient is still very much appreciated and obvious in the end result. In Southeast Asian cooking, however, it is totally different: ingredients are blended, mixed, braised or smashed together giving the dish an entirely new flavor where each ingredient acts like musical notes to form a song. Think grilled chicken with lemon potatoes and parsley vs. chicken curry. Western food is delicate while Southeast Asian food smashes your face with flavor. As a classically trained chef, the use of sugar in savory food is unheard of in European cooking, while very common in Asia. The use of sugar opens the door for the juice of fresh lime for balance, fish sauce and soy sauce replace salt bringing with it salty fermentation and umami. This new “sweet, salty sourness” pushes flavors forward and makes dishes zing. These are the secrets of complex flavors and the difference between bold and boring.

Of course we had to incorporate these reflections in Cuca. Instead of taking traditional western dishes and merely substitute ingredients, we needed to do more. We could also not simply combine all ingredients together like in Southeast Asia, as dishes would lose their identity. What we did then was to create components of flavor and assemble those components into a dish. Let me explain: rather than a curry where everything is cooked together and every delicious mouthful is the same, we break down the components and serve these elements of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy and aromatic individually so no two mouthfuls are identical, causing the guest to eagerly continue to attack a plate of food searching for discovery. Our food, by design, takes the western approach to showcasing unique ingredients while still delivering a powerful punch of flavor. Nothing soft, subtle or delicate about what we do.

Buckle up and hold on to enjoy a new brand of taste we call Cuca!