A native of Galicia, Spain, Jacobo Astray honed his culinary skills at the famed elBulli, the renowned Michelin three-star bastion of molecular gastronomy that was operated by celebrity chef Ferran Adriá on Catalonia’s Costa Brava. When elBulli ceased operations as a restaurant, Astray decided to broaden his culinary experiences by travelling the world, a journey that brought him to Thailand where he operates as the Private Chef for Gula, a company that consults and creates unique dining experiences for individuals and companies.
We meet at the kitchen of the Ocean Bangkok Urban Resort where Astray is hunched over a stainless steel table working on a dish he has decided to call “prawn soup with Parmesan pearls.” He has never made it before and is reading from notes scribbled on a piece of paper. “I fried the legs of the prawns,” he says, holding up a shelled prawn with the legs intact. “I want the legs to be crunchy, but will have the body of the prawn cook in the soup.”
Behind him on the stove there is a saucepan of prawn bisque made from the heads and shells of the crustaceans. He samples a spoonful and nods in approval. I taste it and find it rich and full of flavour. Nothing far out or smacking of molecular gastronomy here, simply a well-constructed bisque.
The modern touches soon appear. Astray has created a creamy sauce flavoured with Parmesan cheese. He takes a dollop of the sauce and places it in an alginate bath created by mixing an algae powder with water. The bath reacts with the Parmesan sauce and quickly forms a solid but fragile gel-like sphere around the liquid. Before long he has several glossy little spheres nestled in a bowl.
He places one of the spheres in a spoon and gives it to me to try. I bite into it and the taste of Parmesan cheese suddenly fills my mouth. It is a delightfully unexpected tangy flavour hit.
Astray then places the prawns, but not the Parmesan spheres, in the bisque and quickly cooks them. “If we get the spheres too hot they will dissolve,” he explains.
He then places the bisque in a soup bowl and positions one of the prawns artistically in the middle. More bisque is added and then some of the spheres. The dish is garnished with crisply fried Iberico ham from Spain and some minced green onions to add bite and texture. The result is an attractive, yet simple creation. But how does it taste?
It is fantastic, especially when a
spoonful of the broth is suddenly enlivened with a rush of Parmesan. In all it is a salient demonstration of how traditional cooking with a modern touch can provide a memorable dining experience. It is also a great example of why Jacobo Astray is a master chef.
Chef Jacobo can be contacted at [email protected] or by calling 090 414 2005. See gulabangkok.com for more information