Creatives Collaborate – Veneto’s Chef Jamie Huynh and Toptable’s Chef Kristian Eligh

Creatives Collaborate—at first glance, the title suggested storytelling, workshops and artistic endeavours. A hotbed of artful storytelling in food, flavours, drinks and company it was, on Thursday, July 25, at Veneto Ristorante. Eighty people were drawn into a surprising, compelling and delicious seven-course pairing meal with Veneto’s Chef Jamie Huynh, coming-not-soon-enough Toptable restaurant’s Chef Kristian Eligh, and Coastal Craft Beverages.

Fortunately for us in Victoria, there must be something in the water here, as we’ve scooped a number of Vancouver’s excellent chefs in recent months. Kristian was Jamie’s mentor at Vancouver’s multi-award-winning Hawksworth Restaurant. This meal was a collaboration between the two. The roots of the idea lay in inviting collaboration between several chefs in mid-town eateries, and also introducing Kristian to Victoria.

We began with Kristian’s amuse-bouche. Fresh Dungeness crab arrived with tart green apple, aromatic kaffir lime and cilantro with a scoop of coconut ice cream on top? Yes. It was unexpected, curious and intimated “we’re all going on an adventure here; sit back, enjoy, and pay attention”. The ice cream finished the flavour, but the delicate crab remained centre stage. This was paired with a crisp Fitzpatrick Blanc de Blancs 2014, one of the seven libations from Coastal Craft Beverages.

The first course was Jamie’s Marinated Peaches with lime, black pepper jam, burrata and Thai basil. The peaches were tender and sweet, the burrata with Thai basil luscious, spiked with the pepper jam hiding beneath it. With both the amuse and this course, we were clearly on an international tour—Canada, Thailand, then Italy and Vietnam. It was paired with the Roche Pinot Gris 2017.

Kristian’s courses were designed to showcase ‘New Canadian Cuisine,’ the heart of Toptable, opening later this year. Toptable Group brought us all Whistler’s Araxi, Vancouver’s Bluewater Cafe, CinCin, West and Thierry. So there’s that. Lucky us.

Jamie’s courses drew from his extensive travel and Vietnamese heritage—very exciting prospects as there’s no exploration of fine Vietnamese cuisine and flavour in town. As the Executive Chef at Veneto Ristorante, fine Italian is his focus. Once again, lucky, lucky us.

Next came Kristian’s Ahi Tuna Tartar with yuzu kosho, avocado, puffed rice, and furikake. A gorgeous Canada/Japan synthesis. It was both savoury and robust. The combination of the yuzu kosho (a fermented chili pepper, yuzu peel ((think a cross between grapefruit and lime)) and salt paste), furikake (seasoning usually for rice with dried fish made up of sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar and salt) and avocado Kristian presented with the tartar culminated in an exceptional dish. With it, we enjoyed tasty Blue Grouse Ortega 2018.

On the next leg of our trip, the third course, Jamie crafted a Coconut & Mung Bean Crepe with pork belly, clam, Vietnamese herbs, fish sauce gastrique (caramelized sugar, deglazed with vinegar, French in origin). Vietnamese crepes, or Banh Xeo “happy crepes”, are classic yummy Vietnamese. Usually made with shrimp and pork, the clams worked well with the pork belly. As a midpoint in the meal with quite a lot of libations, it was both tasty and smart to devour (which we did) something substantial. This was paired with Nomad Traditional Dry Cider, which was also a welcome and unexpected shift.

Kristian presented Pacific Sablefish with silver rill corn and tomato fondue for the fourth course. He went from table to table grating black truffle, a nice touch. The bright yellow corn sauce was sweet and rich, the crimson tomato fondue was intense, the truffle quite mild. This was paired with the unconventional Ricco Bambino Rose 2017.

Slow Roasted Bison Striploin

Time stopped for a moment with the fifth course, Kristian’s Slow Roasted Bison Striploin with smoked Yukon gold potato, summer brassicas, and natural jus. Throughout the meal, we all had our favourites, the sablefish for one person, the crepe for another, the peaches, the crab, etc. But we all agreed on the bison. Slow-cooked, so soft that some wondered if it was sous-vide. The “smoked Yukon gold potato” was a pavé. From the French word for paving stones, pavé is a term for any rectangular or square food preparation. Thin layers of smoked potato. One morsel of that. Then back to the bison. Repeat. I heard this pairing with Stag’s Hollow Teroldega 2017 was the favourite for a few sommeliers in attendance.

For dessert, we enjoyed Vietnamese Coffee Cake with condensed milk ice cream, mulled cherries, and Italian meringue served with Sheringham Distillery’s espresso martini. God love this Vietnamese Coffee Cakereinvented and refined Vietnamese coffee. The sheets of meringue, with the soft cake and cherries and the heart-of-decadence ice cream coupled with the toasty, slightly sweet martini were a perfect finale.

Looking back at this feast, the coconut and condensed milk ice cream were like bookends holding this international event for the senses together, from edge to edge. It was wonderful to meet the chefs, and the service and company were excellent. Welcome Chef Kristian Eligh and a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Chef Jamie Huynh. I look forward to our next destination(s) with Veneto Ristorante’s Creatives Collaborate.

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