HONG KONG Philippe Orrico isn't afraid to take risks. He abandoned a fledgling career in art at the age of 24 to venture on a culinary journey with French chef Pierre Gagnaire.
This apprenticeship with a leader in the fusion cuisine movement whisked Orrico, who was born on Reunion Island, to Paris, London and Hong Kong, where finally - after seven years under Gagnaire - Orrico has struck out on his own.
Now executive chef of the Michelin-starred St. George at Hullet House along Canton Road in Hong Kong, Orrico is once again taking risks, this time on the white truffle - showcasing its intense pungent aroma on his beef carpaccio and its savory qualities in a ricotta parfait.
Reuters caught up with the 39-year old and asked him about how he's developing his own culinary style beyond Gagnaire and his obsession with white truffles.
Q: What's your favorite memory involving white truffles?
A: "I remember the first time I smelled white truffle, I thought it was a kind of garlic. It was not. I am still dreaming about the day I will eat the perfect white truffle risotto."
A: What's with the obsession over white truffles?
Q: "White truffle is something definitely unique, nothing else smells like white truffle. The season is short, each year is different and it is expensive. When you taste a good truffle in a good year it is like a good wine in a good year. Those kinds of moments can be moments of grace, when time stops and you fly somewhere else..."
Q: White truffle season came late, but I hear the quality is so much better?
A: "The quality is better at the beginning of the season but it's still not a big year. After saying that, white truffles are always good. I just need to put more slices on my dishes to make everybody happy."
Q: What traditional and innovative dishes do you like best with white truffles?
A: "A good risotto is still the best for me and for something less traditional I really like the desserts with white truffle like an apple tart and vanilla ice cream with a big amount of thin slices of truffle."
Q: What lessons do you think you've learned so far about the culinary scene in Hong Kong?
A: "In my six years in Hong Kong, I saw many restaurants open...and close. Hong Kong is very dynamic, things move very quickly and to survive you need to always try to improve. Hong Kong pushes you always forward. More and more good ingredients, more and more good chefs, more and more fun...it is challenging. I love it."
Q: What's your favorite recipe?
A: "My mushroom soup. This is the only dish which hasn't ever quit my menu in the six years that I've been in Hong Kong.
This soup comes from a mistake of one of my suppliers which forgot my overseas order. So quickly I went to the fridge, I found some local mushrooms and decided to do a soup. Pierre Gagnaire thought the soup was good and added the Beaufort cheese. I added the white truffle foam and some dry mushroom on the top. And the guests have loved it since day one. Since that it is impossible to take it out of my menu."
Sea Urchin Bake in Shell with Quail's eggs
3 sea urchins
9 quail's eggs
10 g (2 teaspoons) butter
20 g (4 teaspoons) cream
Juice of 1/2 lemon
5 cl (3.5 tablespoons) truffle juice
2 slices of brioche or sourdough bread
1. Open the sea urchins and separate the meat and liquid.
2. Wash the shells, then break three quail eggs in each. Put the sea urchins in the oven for a few minutes at 100 C until they are cooked.
3. Then add the sea urchin meat and cook for 30 more seconds. Just until the meat is warmed.
Keep the sea urchin liquid separately. Pass it through a stainer. Then put it in a sauce pan and add a little bit of cream, butter, truffle jus, lemon juice and black pepper. Whisk it into an emulsion and put a bit of this emulsion on the top of each shell and it is ready to eat.
This dish is perfect with a few slices of white truffle on the top or with white truffle on a nice piece of toasted sour dough bread on the side.
(Writing by Elaine Lies, editing by Paul Casciato)