MYANMORE Chef of the Year 2018 award winner Chef Orng writes about the importance of organic fruit and vegetables.
Last month we held a seafood night using only local produce—lobsters, crabs, oysters, sea snails, shrimp and more, all from different parts of Myanmar. It was going to be a one-off, but people enjoyed the night so much they’ve asked for another one: join us Friday, June 22 for another seafood special!
Low season is a time to get creative, to experiment with dishes that will hopefully impress our diners and to train our team. We’ll probably be trialing some French-inspired creations (maybe using smoked eel or frog) and expanding our ‘farm,’ a plot next to the lake at our restaurant.
Under the watchful eyes of our resident ducks, we grow basil, celery, mint, coriander, lemongrass, chili, as well as spring onions, runner beans, and tomatoes are on the way. We have started to use a lot of this stuff. In fact, almost all of our herbs now come from the farm. One of the main reasons why we care so much about food sourcing and safety is because of the dangers of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, which are seemingly becoming more widely used in Myanmar.
Buying fruit and vegetables from the local market, you have to be extra careful, especially now with this head in the middle of summer. Wash them with salt water for a while. I can often taste the chemicals that have been used on some raw vegetables, like carrots and cucumbers. And it’s not as if you can go to the market and taste everything—sometimes you can’t tell until you start preparing and taste the produce. Fresco or Sharky’s are great, but their price range means they’re not available to everyone.
Fortunately we also get produce from our family farm in Mon State, such as our mangoes, which we pick ourselves. Of course, we will never be able to grow everything for the restaurant, which is why I’m working with farmers in Bago to produce specially made orders. I asked them to grow onions for me, something like 1,000 kilograms, I said, ‘just keep them for me, I’ll use it.’
For most of my team this is the first kitchen they have worked in. They have learned quickly how best to cook this organic produce—practically, they know what they are doing, and now I am giving them other tests. Using the proper chopping board, for example. And I explain why. I don’t train them to work, I train them to be creative: don’t give a man a fish; teach him how to fish! And in our case literally teach him how to clean, gut and cook a fish.