Farm to table is certainly not a new concept. Before the commercialisation of the F & B industry and the importing of foods over long distances during all seasons, eating foods from your back garden was the way of life.
Nowadays, we can expect to see supermarket shelves lined with produce that is not locally grown and during all 4 seasons. Fast, cheap and easy are concepts have permeated our culture. With such variety and availability all year round, why are we now seeing a shift to the traditional way of sourcing produce? Chefs like Hugh Fearnley Whitingstall of the UK’s River Cottage, Dan Barber of New York’s Blue Hill (featured on Netflix’s Chef’s table) and the pioneering Alice Waters of California’s Chez Panisse have all advocated the sourcing of locally grown produce from organic and sustainable farms.
Not only does the farm to table movement promote ecofriendly sourcing but it ensures that the quality of the produce remains high as they are not only in season, the transportation time and thereby changes in temperatures and bruising etc. is also reduced.
This may all be well and good for those who live in the US and UK, but what about Hong Kong? Hong Kong’s farmers markets from Central to the New Territories are becoming increasingly popular. Restaurants like Rhoda, Locofama and Mana all source locally. Yet, we still are nowhere near our western counterparts.
Husband and wife team, Don and Lauren, who met in Atlanta, Georgia created Chomchomyomyom private kitchen in Hong Kong only last year. Having worked in fine dining establishments in Atlanta, Hong Kong and Jeju island in Korea, Chef Don takes inspiration from these places and aims to showcase locally sourced produce with his cooking.
Growing Smart, a perma culture farm in Peng Chau has recently launched meatless Mondays in collaboration with Chomchomyomyom.
I was lucky enough to be invited for this special dining event ‘meatless Wednesday` in this lovely Sheung wan apartment. The typically old Hong Kong high rise building has only one lift to go up to the 23rd floor apartment so you don’t quite know what to expect. Once you leave the lift, you are greeted by a gorgeous mini garden of herbs and the Chomchomyomyom neon sign. The space itself consists of a very open kitchen with little Tupperware boxes filled with ingredients neatly stacked on a shelf, state of the art kitchen appliances and two friendly hosts eager to welcome you in- a complete dream! Amazing views of both the harbour and city are a bonus and the table is set with elegant china and cutlery.
As this is a private kitchen and you can bring as much booze as you like with no corkage fees, we brought some bottles for our party. Lauren very attentively served us from the beginning to the end of the meal while chef Don explained each dish and the origins of the ingredients.
We were lucky enough to get a demonstration on the first course of our meal. For the ‘corn | alfalfa | basil’, Chef Don started out with creaming the corn in a juicer with some starch and a pinch of salt. He then lightly fried some corn he had taken off the cob. He allowed us to help with plating and the result was corn done 5 ways with alfalfa (from his mini garden) and some dehydrated basil. The sheer variety of textures going in this dish was just phenomenal, the creaminess of the corn, mixed with the crunchiness of the corn puff and baby corn kept the dish exciting. I will not be looking at corn in the same way again! Chef Don has shown us how versatile it is.
Our second course was the Japanese inspired, ‘Sweet potato | Chawanmushi | Yolk’ which is a savoury custard dish typically served in a tea cup, hence the name (Chawan/ 茶碗). This course was chef Don’s version of the caviar course, ‘the caviar’ in this case being the very finely chopped sweet potato sourced from a farm in Yuen Long. The chawanmushi itself was perfectly seasoned and went really well with the hint of sweetness from the potato. Dipping the purple sweet potato chips in the Chawanmushi was just as comforting as dipping soldiers in soft boiled eggs. Yum!
Chef Don explained that our next dish, the ‘Spent Grains | Bitter Melon | Pecorino’ was inspired by the desire to not waste ingredients. The grains had been ‘spent’ in the local Moonzen brewery, not wanting to see them go to waste, chef Don made them the feature of this course, served with a few slices of fermented bitter melon, radish and grated pecorino cheese with a sprinkling of pine nuts. If this wasn’t enough flavour, chef Don came over and poured salty sauerkraut juice over our grains. The result was sublime- loved the concept and moreover the taste with the grains being slightly nutty and moreish- perfect comfort food.
The next course was met with some trepidation by me as I rarely like ladies fingers or okra, but was willing and open to give chef Don’s ‘Okra | Mustard | Tomato’ a go. Chef Don quizzed us on which ingredient was not locally sourced, after (somewhat correctly) guessing the mustard, we found out it was also the cherry tomatoes. These were probably my least favourite thing about the dish, especially the green tomato as it was particularly sour. I did however like the pan fried okra, which was nicely cooked. May be changing my mind about this vegetable…
Our main sharing dish of ‘fermented rice | green peanuts | eggplant’ looked so colourful. Chef Don explained that the eggplant/aubergine had been seared and glazed with cherry, the shitake mushrooms had been fermented and the quinoa was roasted to give the dish a crunch. This along with the ‘dirty’ rice with peanuts is a typically Southern dish. The aubergine was very nicely cooked with no bitterness to it and was complemented well by the sweetness of the cherry glaze. The crunchy quinoa really added another element to it and I loved the smattering of peanuts. The only issue I had was that I wish there was more of it!
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the ‘Tofu Ice cream | Banana Miso | Peanuts’. The tofu ice cream was so light and creamy with a very slight tofu taste, the bruléed baby banana went so well with the ice cream on the plate and on the tongue. By now, we all realised, Chef Don likes crunch, he added peanuts to this dish also as well as tiny fried tofu cubes underneath the baby banana. Divine!
To end the night, we were given the Yuen Long Fragrant Farms watermelon with Vietnamese chili and lime salt to counteract the sweetness. My personal favourite was the lime salt, although our group were seeing how much of the chili salt they could possibly take. Reminds me of when people go into curry houses and order the spiciest dish on the menu.
Verdict: Chef Don and Lauren make for amazing hosts. They not only have a comfortable and inviting space with an open kitchen allowing you to take a peek into the inner workings of the fine dining process, they also take you on a culinary adventure, explaining each dish, their inspiration behind it and the sources of the ingredients. I was particularly impressed with the spent grains concept as this reduces food waste and promotes local produce. A night at Chomchomyomyom makes for a satisfying, sustainable and enlightening meal at Michelin star quality. I would love to come back again to try the ever changing menu.
23/F Wing Hing Commercial Building, 16 Sutherland Street, Sheung Wan
To book the meatless Monday dinners, contact Growing smart at:
Sample menu and site for Chomchomyomyom:
Ph: 852 9555 6531