When a chef who grew up in rural Wales says he developed a love for fusing Asian flavours with Western techniques, you would think the trigger was his travels to Asia or encounters with Asian culture.
Not for Paul Hallett. The chef de cuisine for two years at Swissotel The Stamford’s Equinox Restaurant was introduced to Asian food by an Australian co-chef, while working in London 15 years ago.
“He made a Thai dressing called nam chim,” Hallett explains. It’s a dipping sauce made with fish sauce, garlic, sugar, lime juice and chilli that’s a balance between spicy, sweet and sour. “I loved it.”
The term “fusion” itself has become a scratching post for diners disenchanted by ill-conceived creations since the style came in vogue in the ’70s. But the key, according to the 38-year-old whose base-style is classic French cooking, is in finding and understanding the balance and going slow. “It’s adding dribs and drabs here and there to lift the dish, rather than introducing an entire Asian item to the menu.”
Equinox’s menu showcases his style. There is the South-east Asian-influenced tuna tartare with chilled coconut and a lemongrass broth, for example, and the Japanese-inspired miso-roasted cod with sweet pickled vegetables and puree of horseradish and edamame. Both are light dishes and the flavours are pleasantly unexpected as the food is presented with conventional Western plating.
“It’s sad when anyone thinks introducing Asian flavours to pasta is a disgrace,” he explains. “If I thought that way, my food would probably be narrow-minded.”
Level 69, Equinox Complex, Swissotel The Stamford. www.swissotel.com