For centuries, caviar production has been centred in Europe and the Middle East — with the best widely agreed to come from Russia and Iran. As Chinese caviar began being shipped worldwide in the later half of the 2000s, the product was met with scepticism. After all, the country is better known for poor-quality imitation goods and food safety issues than luxury produce.
Then, chefs tasted the product. Today, Chinese caviar is almost ubiquitous in fine dining and Michelin-starred restaurants from Paris to Singapore. It just goes to prove that the value of produce lies in its flavour – no matter where it’s produced. While the gastronomic world places a premium on white truffles from Alba, beef from Kobe, and asparagus from Pertuis, there’s an entire world of other high-quality produce out there.
Take Korea. While the country has a rich culinary history, much of the best it has to offer is largely unfamiliar to foodies outside of its domestic market. Chef Olivia Lee, founder of Korean produce import company Brandfit, shares: “What I am trying to do is extend the perception of Korean produce outside of the country.
“Ultimately, people will only understand the value of a premium ingredient when they have tasted it.”
My goal is to help chefs and consumers understand that we have been cultivating a great deal of delicious produce of the highest quality in Korea for many years.” Lee has been working with some of the best chefs in Singapore to create recipes – available to the public – utilising Korean produce like abalone from Jeju or yellow pine nuts that are native to the country, allowing them to discover the value of these ingredients firsthand. They include Sun Kim of modern Korean joint Meta, pastry chef Cheryl Koh and Odette’s Julien Royer, who has put together a dish of slow-grilled abalone with songi mushrooms (also known as matsutake), glazed with pine butter and served with grenobloise potatoes.
Abalone liver sauce, fried capers and garlic croutons complete the plate. “The quality of the pine nuts is outstanding. I’ve never tasted pine nuts that leave such an intense and clean flavour on the palate,” says Royer. As for any kind of exceptional produce, great care has gone into growing them. For instance, the muskmelons Brandfit brings in come from one Master Cho, who’s been growing them for 40 years. “[His] muskmelons are special because each tree is farmed to bear just one fruit. This is why they are so sweet, juicy and aromatic,” reveals Lee. “Ultimately, people will only understand the value of a premium ingredient when they have tasted it.”