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Test Kitchen, Hong Kong: Kwame Onwuachi at Man Mo Café


  17.03.15


“My cuisine is modern American with global influences. Which basically means that I can do whatever the fuck I want.”

Take a young, talented, ambitious chef who doesn’t have the physical space to let their skills shine. Provide them a venue – and an audience – to show what they can do. Host the evening somewhere that avoids the eye-watering rents paid by most restaurants in Hong Kong. It’s pretty clear, pretty quickly, that Test Kitchen is a smart and timely idea.

The inaugural evening featured 26-yr-old New Yorker Kwame Onwauchi. In addition to a hugely-impressive resumé and fascinating life story, he has a refreshingly no-bullshit way with words, as shown by his quote which started this piece – and also launched his one-off dinner at Man Mo Café in Sheung Wan.

Kwame was raised in The Bronx where his life in food began at the age of just five, helping his mom with her small catering company that she ran from home. After nearly falling off the rails as a teenager she sent him to live in Nigeria for two years but, on his return, he decided to enrol in the Culinary Institute of America before securing work at legendary venues Per Se and Eleven Madison Park. He was then invited to join a cooking tour competition, Dinner Lab, which he promptly won.

Along the way he met Vincent Mui, an affable fellow chef who had spotted a potential gap in the Hong Kong dining landscape and invited Kwame over as the first guest chef;IMG_1239

Unfortunately Kwame is returning to the US shortly as he’s opening his first restaurant in Washington D.C. but, on the strength of five very accomplished courses, we can only hope he’s back before long in Hong Kong.

Abalone was diced and served with a corn masala, more cream than spice but still clearly Indian, along with cashew nuts and flowers.

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Butternut squash was poured over pickled squash and toasted pepitas. Even if the parmesan foam alonsgside didn’t provide the expected umami hit, it was still a clever and damn fine bowl:

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The dish that stood out more than any other for me was the Pompano fish served with a lapsang souchong cream, red shiso, crushed and dehydrated tomato and burnt citrus. The burnt citrus was a DIY affair as charred mandarins, lime and lemons had been left on the tables as decoration and quickly became interactive dining:IMG_1232

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On paper, the ingredients shouldn’t have come together as seamlessly and beautifully as they did in the palate. Add in textural contrast, nuanced but complimentary flavours and bonding with your table squeezing citrus over perfectly poached Pompano to deliver one of the most successful fish dishes I’ve had in a long time.

A hard act to follow, but a hunk of A4 wagyu gave it a good run for its money next to a sauce soubise (onion), pickled quail egg, Marsala jus and Shimeji mushroom. It was a prettier dish than its predecessor and again showed utter confidence in excellent produce. The pickles hiding in the white of the egg were an unexpected but welcome addition.

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Rounding things off was Kwame’s version of the French classic île flottante or floating island. A toasted almond crème anglaise was sensational, poured over mangosteen and yellow pitaya, a type of dragonfruit. The meringue island floating in it was tiny but heady through the very clever use of thyme to lift it above the sweetness. I just wish there had been more of it.

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All told, Kwame Onwuachi is a young chef with a very bright future ahead of him and his mini tour of Asia (he was in India prior to HK and is heading to Thailand) will doubtless broaden his repertoire still further. It just means, of course, that the next chef taking up the challenge at #TestKitchen has a seriously hard act to follow.

For more on Test Kitchen go to fb.com/testkitchenhk