Maria Elia writes about the Pattaya Gourmet Festival

AMG asked the Executive Chef at Joe’s Restaurant to write about her recent experiences in Thailand.

My name’s Maria Elia and I am a chef from the UK. Here’s a little bit about me…

Currently I cook at Joe’s Restaurant in London, and before this I was the Head Chef at the Whitechapel Dining Rooms and Delfina. I’ve also worked in various other restaurants in the Uk and abroad, including El Bulli and Arzack (highlights of my culinary career). I’ve written two cook books: ‘The Modern Vegetarian’ and ‘Full of Flavour’, a third’s on its way oh and I also do a bit of TV!

I was one of four lucky chefs invited to take part in the Pattaya Gourmet Festival in Thailand this March hosted at the stunning Amari Orchid Pattaya Hotel. www.amari.com/orchid

I’d first been in Thailand fifteen years ago when I spent eight weeks back packing around the country. It was my first introduction to Asian food and I instantly loved it. I met some amazing people who taught me all about the ingredients and how to cook authentic Thai food. I’ve been fascinated by the country’s culinary offerings ever since, so I was absolutely delighted to go back.

This year’s event was a fantastic week long celebration of great food and wines, held in the hotel’s Mantra Restaurant.

Throughout the week, chefs ran their own four course a la carte menu. I decided to base mine around vegetables, as I knew the fresh produce in Thailand would be great. My starter a spiced red lentil and raw carrot salad sprinkled with dukkah and served with tahini yoghurt and baby roasted carrots. Next up a sweet corn and lemongrass soup with charred corn relish, followed by one of my signature ‘textures of’ dishes for main. In this case it was tomatoes- in the form of Baklava (with feta, almonds and dates), keftedes, chilled tomato, peach and ginger soup shot and green tomato and lime leaf jelly. For dessert – dried fig leaf and goats milk panna cotta, fig and polenta biscuits, fresh figs and honey.

It was a great experience to share a kitchen with the other chefs: Australian Steven Snow, Chan Kam Yuen from Hong Kong and the very handsome Yannick Ollivier Cayrol from France!

I finally got to see what finger limes were too. Stephen used them as a garnish for one of his dishes. They’re small thumb size limes, oval in shape with a brownish skin. Inside are the most gorgeous tiny pink seeds that just burst with ‘limeness’! The flavour is incredible; I ‘borrowed’ a few to use as a garnish for my oyster canapé. (Oyster’s with beer jelly, crisp apple, chilli and micro coriander).

Throughout the week, we each devised dishes and canapés for various wine tasting dinners; one of my favourites was the Stonefish Australian wine dinner. I served seared scallops with hot slices of soutzouki (a spiced Greek sausage) on a chilled watermelon slab, all bought together with an oregano raisin dressing. It matched its paired Stonefish Sauvignon Blanc beautifully.

My char grilled radicchio and strawberry risotto caused a bit of a stir at the Perrins and Fils wine dinner! I know it sounds different, but the proof is in the eating and these ingredients compliment one another beautifully. Click on the name of the dish for the recipe so you can try it for yourself! It was teamed up with ‘berry’ juicy Cote du Rhone.

I used some gorgeous white asparagus for another wine tasting dinner. Served raw and delicately shaved with fennel then tossed with vanilla oil. Served on a lemon crème fraiche scattered with the plump white crab meat and garnished with edible flowers. The accompanying Chablis premier Cru was a harmonious match.

For the Grand Finale dinner I got to cook the main course. I chose to play on my Greek heritage and cook rabbit from nose to tail! The hind legs confit’d for a baklava made with butter beans, cinnamon and oregano and served on a parsnip skordalia with tatsoi leaves. The fore legs were cooked down for a Greek inspired rillette that I piped on to home made anise flavoured lavoush crackers. Topped with honey, sesame seeds and figs. The saddles were marinated in red wine, bay and aromats, which became the ‘stifado’, a Greek stew, cooked with baby onions and rabbit stock (made from the carcass). I served a mini portion of stifado on a little Kalamata olive potato puree.

It was a perfect way to end a spectacular week and all of us were sad to leave and say goodbye and to our wonderful Thai chef assistants- who couldn’t of helped us more.

It was a wonderful experience and great opportunity to showcase my cooking in Thailand.

For more about the Amari Hotels go to www.amari.com

You can find out more about Maria at her website www.thisismariaelia.com or you can follow her on Twitter @thisismariaelia

Maria has wriiten two books which are available on Amazon
The Modern Vegetarian: http://ow.ly/afd4u
Full of Flavour: http://ow.ly/afcVU

You can also read Maria’s tip in the AMG Top Tips from Top Chefs series by clicking here…

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