Rise, Soufflé, Teach Me Perfection

DINNER with … a gifted storyteller who also happens to be a travel show host, model, producer, writer, yoga instructor, and perhaps the most fearless girl I know. She’s a dream dinner date, the quintessential wit about town, the girl who speaks as many languages as I do, and the conversationalist who could dive you into worlds as far and colorful as the Silk Road, or offer insights as sound as a sage on the nebulous emotional landscape of the heart.

Our soirée began exactly at 7.30PM—so precise and punctual in the style of Audrey Hepburn, whose one fine point of etiquette was that you never arrived late, or even early. But no, Hepburn had nothing to do with her punctuality or punctiliousness—though she seemed to have styled herself to Hepburn perfection in this one shot of herself she recently posted on her Instagram. It’s something else she just can’t shake off: “It’s the German in me.”

Punctual is always good because it takes away the anticipation, the useless, senseless puttering, the clucking and fussing. Besides, the host is usually hungry by now, after four, five hours of deep prep and deep focus in the kitchen. All she wants is a glass of wine, food, and conversation, pronto.

My guest, D., does the honor with the bottle this night, a champagne—I’ve only opened two in my lifetime, and I just fear them. They’re too excited, always bubbling over. This evening, our bottle didn’t just bubble over, it behaved like a mini geyser—how fun!—though not as exuberant as the sort Lewis Hamilton could excite at the F1 podium.

Over our rosé, we snacked on fried tempeh and curry leaves, musing on Maldives, which she had recently visited. How do you pronounce that, I asked: Mall-deevz or Mall-dives. The latter is the American way, the former the correct way. Then, there was the whole tongue-twisting bluest of blue island where her sojourn took her to: Gili Lankanfushi. I didn’t bother to get a tutorial on that one, and decided Chawanmushi was good enough for me.

The night’s menu was vegetarian, a devious challenge because of my profound dependence on meat. But I survived after several iterations and ideas all morning into the afternoon about how the menu should look like—a silly kind of indecision I always lapse into whenever I have a dinner guest. I’m too greedy, too ambitious, too enthusiastic, always wanting to do this, this, and that, and oh, that one too!

In the end, I returned to the quiet space of simplicity. D. approved, D. enjoyed, D. finished her first course and donburi faster than I did. She beat me at dessert too, the demon of a soufflé, which is still a work-in-progress. This night, I shared that I had made a new maneuver. And what would that be, she asked. Oh, it’s coupling yolks with the white, versus yolks with the chocolat like the last time. Her eyes twinkled, those sage eyes. She understood—totally, perfectly.

I, on the other hand, am still mulling over this new maneuver. I like it, for sure, I do.

But what I like best is the whole soufflé experience, how it breathes on me—which is what soufflé means—how it breathes the heaving, warm lessons of searching, seeking, going after that perfect rise, the perfect texture, the perfect taste, and that magical place called perfection.

. . .

Pre-Dinner Snack: Fried tempeh and curry leaves dusted with coriander powder

Dinner: 1. Mushroom two ways: porcini with garlic chips, Shaoxing-sautéed wood ear with fried julienned ginger, served on seared beancurd / 2. Sautéed asparagus and shiitake / 3. Onsen tamago-don with katsudon onion sauce and fried beancurd and tempeh

Dessert: Soufflé au chocolat

Champagne: Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé

Red Wine: François Chidaine | Touraine | Côt, Cabernet, Pineau D’Aunis, 2015

Après Dinner Beverage: Cumin tea

On the Jukebox: David Benoit | Fourplay | Buena Vista Social Club

On the Night of: November 1, 2017

Mushroom two ways: porcini with garlic chips, Shaoxing-sautéed wood ear with fried julienned ginger, served on seared beancurd

Sautéed asparagus and shiitake

Onsen tamago-don on Koshihikari rice with katsudon onion sauce and fried beancurd and tempeh

“Ooh, I love this sous vide egg!” says D.

Soufflé au chocolat: Breathe unto me your lessons on rising well and rising tall

Our “Dinner With …” series features in a bolder, sleeker, sexier format on Instagram. I invite you to find me there: @vivienneyeo

Dîner Chez Viv /dee-nay shay viv/ : Dinner at Viv’s

~ all photos by viv ~

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