A book can convey so much – as scenes shift, plots thicken and readers become enmeshed in characters’ lives, emotions can range the gamut from horror to anguish, anger, sadness and so much more. But on Nov 22, chef Kim Hock Su of Restaurant Au Jardin in Penang will be attempting to do what few in Malaysia have done before: transform the emotions and scenes from a book into food.
The event is a collaboration between Singaporean food travel experience company NOSHtrekker and Kim, who will be morphing Penang author Tan Twan Eng’s Man Booker Prize-shortlisted The Garden Of Evening Mists (soon to be adapted into a movie) into four courses and a signature cocktail.
This is the first time NOSHtrekker is organising an event in Malaysia. The Singapore-based company designs food travel experiences, including Eat My Words, a series of experiences that converts fiction and non-fiction into edible moments.
“Tahnya Butterfield (co-founder of NOSHtrekker) and I have been wanting to develop special private dining experiences in Penang for a while. We thought hosting an Eat My Words dinner would be a good opportunity to connect with locals who love food and meet people who are interested in engaging with stories or might have a Malaysian story to tell,” says Sarah Tan, co-founder of NOSHtrekker.
Tan got in touch with Kim, a finalist in San Pellegrino’s Best Young Chef 2016, after he was recommended to her. Kim recently opened Au Jardin at the arts and culture hub Hin Bus Depot on Jalan Gurdwara in George Town and was instantly interested in getting involved. Although he hadn’t read the book before, he quickly got to work reading it, as he felt it was important to be able to produce a thoughtful menu only after he knew what he was working with.
“It is very common for restaurants overseas to interpret novels in a form of tasting menus. What interests me more is that this novel is written by a fellow Penangite and I wanted to contribute my part to make this more known to locals since it’s a good piece of work,” says Kim.
As the book is nearly 450 pages long, Kim decided to select only passages and scenes that represented the core essence of the novel.
“We tried to select only the prominent plots that represented the essence of the book. And subsequently, we tried to make every single dish relevant by incorporating elements like smoke, popping sensations and senses-tingling flavours,” says Kim.
Dinner guests can expect to feast on courses like bamboo charcoal battered barramundi, remoulade of fennel and cucumber, and tandoori powder. This meal derives from a passage in the book that reads “Lying in my bed at night, I listened to the army shelling a CT camp in a valley nearby. Some nights I would go out and stand on the verandah. The sky throbbed from the detonations, lit up by these unnatural Northern Lights ...”
“For this scene, we know for a fact there are elements of anguish, a lot of detonation, buildings burnt to the ground, so what we did was replicate black charred food by using squid ink. We also followed this up with cilantro seeds smoked in a cloche, to be released in front of guests to experience the moment,” says Kim.
Tan and her partner also got in touch with author Tan, who was totally supportive of the initiative and even went so far as to review the menu. “The menu reflects a penetrating insight into my book and the complex relationship between its two main characters,” he says about the final outcome.