Much like fashion, food also revolves around a cyclical time scale – although in the pantheon of its greatest ingredients, this can stretch into the hundreds, if not thousands of years. Vogue asked four Hong Kong chefs to reinterpret some of the world’s longest lived ingredients in their own modern way, in the process paying tribute to the rich and varied tales woven around them since time immemorial.
Uwe Opocensky, UWE
The fig’s monumental history far outweighs its humble appearance. Stretching back to before the domestication of wheat and barley (which makes it possibly the first known form of agriculture), the fig has firmly made its presence known throughout Western civilisation: Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover their modesty when they were driven from the Garden of Eden, while Roman emperor Augustus was said to have been killed by his wife Livia after she fed him poisoned figs.
In a modern-day interpretation, chef Uwe Opocensky of UWE flips the sweet fruit on its head by serving it as part of an appetiser. The fig and foie gras gateau is based on the baumkuchen cake, with fig jam spread between its many concentric layers. Figs and black truffle decorate the crown of the cake, while chunks of foie gras contribute a smooth dose of umami to this playful culinary creation.
Cary Docherty, Gough’s on Gough
The artichoke leaves a dignified impression on cooks thanks to its appearance – an oversized flower bud with petals arranged in architectural fashion, it hides a succulent, fleshy heart that yields delicate flavours if properly prepared, earning it the title of the aristocrat of vegetables. Records of the artichoke’s use as a culinary ingredient dates back to antiquity. First domesticated in Sicily during Roman times, cultivation of the artichoke spread throughout Italy and into the medieval age in Moorish Spain, from where it became a culinary favourite of European royalty such as Henry VIII and Catherine de Medici.
At Gough’s on Gough, chef Cary Docherty gives the artichoke the regal treatment it deserves as a vegetarian main dish. Braised and served atop crushed Jersey Royal potatoes with other spring vegetables like asparagus, wild garlic and braised morels, the dish reflects classic combinations of flavour that, according to Cary, are dictated by Mother Nature due to their seasonality. “Most guests don’t realise it, but the amount of effort that goes into preparing artichokes is something you take a tremendous amount of pride in as a chef,” he says.
Corey Riches, Bedu
The pomegranate’s history dates back a considerable 8,000 years, where it was first cultivated in Iran and the Himalayas. Thanks to its vibrant rouge colour and a treasure trove of luminous, jewel-like seeds, it’s easy to understand the reverence that civilisations throughout history ascribed to this fruit: it was offered as food to the gods by the ancient Sumerians; the pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb held numerous pomegranate-themed artifacts; and even today it is regarded as a symbol of fertility that is celebrated during the Jewish New Year.
Traditionally used across the Mediterranean and Middle East in everything from salads to garnishes and confectionaries, today the fruit’s visual and culinary appeal remains strong as ever in contemporary cuisine. Here, chef Corey Riches of Bedu creates an ode to the pomegranate in the form of a hand-whipped semifreddo ice cream cake infused with juice and molasses made from the fruit. Topped with blood orange and crunchy meringue, the result is a revitalising dessert that is a worthy addition to the pomegranate’s ongoing story.
Shane Osborn, Arcane
Neither from Jerusalem nor related to the artichoke, the Jerusalem artichoke is a little-known ingredient that has its beginnings half a world away from its namesake Israeli city. As if to create even more confusion, the root vegetable is in fact a species of sunflower originating from North America, where it was reported by explorer Sir Walter Raleigh as being harvested by Native Americans as far back as 1585.
Subsequently, French navigator Samuel de Champlain brought it back to France in 1616, where it has since been used to feed livestock as well as a sustenance crop for the less well-to-do during times of war and hardship due to its supreme ease of cultivation. Entirely appropriate, then, that the plucky Jerusalem artichoke should be given a final twist of fate as a staple ingredient in the kitchen of Shane Osborn’s Arcane, where it has been paired with herb-crusted Pyrenean lamb leg in rosemary jus.
“Jerusalem artichokes have an inherently beautiful sweetness, unique texture and natural earthiness,” says Osborn. “They seamlessly balance the mild taste of young, milk-fed lambs that can be sourced with more ease at this time of year, making this dish the perfect harmony of a restaurant favourite with highly seasonal ingredients.”
Photography: Samantha Sin
Styling: Ella Wong
CreditPhotography: Samantha Sin