Four hands, two cultures and five courses collided at Sevensea Seafood Restaurant to highlight the renaissance of two emerging Asian culinary traditions.
The four hands, belonging to “Cambodian Master Chef” Luu Meng and Singapore’s Michelin-starred Malcolm Lee, allowed 70 distinguished guests to embark on an exclusive dining experience using local ingredients.
The event took place on February 16 to coincide with the celebration of 55 years of Cambodia-Singapore diplomatic ties.
The “Four Hands Dinner” saw the two celebrity chefs trading turns to deliver five unique courses complemented by fine wine pairings, delighting the guests before the dinner culminated in a united delicious dessert course.
Luu, the founder and CEO of the Almond Hospitality Group, says his goal is to represent authentic Cambodian cuisine with keynote “sincerity” – being sincere in keeping the original taste while evolving presentation; sincere in propelling Cambodian cuisine onto the world stage to join better-known international cooking; sincere in using home-grown local produce on his menus.
He highlights the Samlor Korko Trei – featuring a marinated goby fish fillet with seven fresh herbs and Cambodia’s award-winning jasmine rice – as a perfect example.
Luu has established 11 outlets under the Almond Group Hospitality brand, including Yi Sang – Chinese cuisine; World Dining – international cuisine; Kanji – Japanese cuisine; Sevensea Seafood, Uy Kuyteav and Kroeung – Cambodian cuisine; and Almond Hotels.
Lee, visiting chef for the dinner, won the coveted Michelin star for his pioneering Peranakan menu at Candlenut in Singapore.
Diners savoured the 35-year-old Lee’s interpretation of the classic Singaporean crab curry, which incorporated the use of local fresh rice noodles and coconut milk.
Lee embraces the idea of his dishes being called fusion, noting that the birth of Peranakan culture can be traced back to Singapore’s humble beginnings as a Malay fishing village.
“Peranakan food is a fusion of Chinese and Malay flavours. I am a fifth-generation Peranakan, and the recipes I love to eat and put on plates in my restaurant are passed down from my family.
“The food is very interesting – you look at the table and see something similar to Malaysian-style dishes like curry and sambal chillies, but you also have Chinese braised dishes, and mushrooms and soybean pastes, and Chinese-style soups,” Lee tells The Post over a cup of jasmine tea.
Paired with wines from New Zealand and Australia, wine master Darren Gall enthusiastically shares his thoughts behind his pairings.
Gall is unabashed regarding his love of wine, and proclaims the perfect pairing results in a “harmonious symphony of flavours”.
“I want the wine to heighten enjoyment of the dish; I want the palate to be rejuvenated by the wines, with complementary flavours and contrasting textures elevating the entire dining experience,” Gall says.
New Zealand wines Catalina Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough and Nanny Goat Vineyard Pinot Noir from Central Otago were enjoyed before a crowd-pleasing Mojo Moscato was presented to accompany the desserts – which included caramelised banana representing Cambodia and Buah Keluak Bon Bon representing Singapore.
Lee and Luu say the “Four Hands Dinner” was more than an opportunity for the pair to exchange ideas – it is also a chance to further their craft.
To that end, Kampot pepper may find a place on the menu at Candlenut, while Peranakan flavours may make their way into Luu’s dishes.
“We as chefs have the opportunity to become ambassadors for products. We share ideas by meeting and talking. Some 70 per cent of dish creation comes from others, while 30 per cent is our own, so that is something I am always chasing to elevate each dish we serve,” Luu says.
“The main ingredient is always love,” confirms Lee, as Luu enthusiastically nods along in agreement.
Sevensea Seafood Restaurant is located at Almond Hotel Bassac near Rainbow Bridge in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district.