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World chefs: Goldstein aims to be truffle king

New York-born Harlan Goldstein, known to many foodies as the best Western chef in Hong Kong, can thank his mother for his culinary career.
/ Source: Reuters

New York-born Harlan Goldstein, known to many foodies as the best Western chef in Hong Kong, can thank his mother for his culinary career.

Despairing of her 14-year-old son's propensity to get mixed up with the wrong crowd, she put him to work in his uncle's restaurant to keep him out of trouble. He went straight from high school to an apprenticeship arranged by his uncle at the Montreux Palace Hotel in Switzerland.

Now, after 17 years in Hong Kong and 14 months after he had started Gold by Harlan Goldstein in Lan Kwai Fong, Goldstein is opening his second restaurant in Hong Kong next month, a 1940's style New York steak joint called Strip House.

Goldstein, 51, spoke to Reuters about his ambitions in Hong Kong, his interest in fine wines, and his obsession to become the reigning king of white truffles in the city.

Q: How has your cooking evolved in Hong Kong?

A: "I wanted to create a taste that was welcome by the local community, so I created a dish like red prawn pasta with baby shrimps, garlic, chili, which is like a Har Mein (prawn noodle) from Singapore, which has a good flavor and taste.

"And my sauces are very light and tasty. They're not over-reduced, so they don't have a lot of salty flavor, because the Chinese palate is very light, because Cantonese food is freshness, light and cooked simple, so I would say my flavor is very bold, very rich and I work on presentation and taste. You don't see meat loaf and mashed potatoes on my menu."

Q: And then the wines come in.

A: "Listen, when you eat you've got to have wine, and wine and dine matching is very important. I tend to recommend to the diners that if they're going to eat these dishes they should drink it with this wine. It's a perfect match, like a good marriage. I like a lot of Napa wine, and I enjoy Italian wine and Spanish, a little bit less on Burgundy. Burgundy is a really hot trendy wine to drink now, but I haven't had enough of it to learn. I still need some time."

Q: So what have you got in your cellar?

A: "We have 580 wines on our list, a lot of the French Burgundies, the Bordeaux wines."

Q: What about your other passion, the one with white truffles. How did that develop? You've got an ad boasting you're the "New Truffle King in Town"?

A: "Well (chef Umberto) Bombana thinks he's the truffle king for 13 years here. I started my first year here and for the first year I sold 35 kilos (77 lbs), so I'm trying to take over his throne, and by next year I think I'd be able to do it."

Q: How are you going to do it?

A: "I'm going to sell a lot more truffles."

Q: How much more truffles?

A: "Probably 70 kilos. I have about eight specialties that'll go well with truffles and I shave them at the table, and people enjoy the experience. I have a slow-cooked egg on a brioche, with goose liver sauce; a traditional dish which is scrambled eggs; Italian eggs with shaved white truffles on top. I also have a tagliatelle with white truffles, a slow-cooked veal cheek, braised for 14 hours, and I shave white truffles on top with a puree of cauliflower. These are some of the dishes."

Q: Do you weigh it at all when serving the white truffles?

A: "No. I understand and I'm more generous. So if I say that I give you four grams, I end up giving you eight. White truffle is a specialty, and I think it's really, something exotic, so that's why I concentrate on that."

Q: The white truffles -- how much do they cost?

A: "An average of $40,000 a kilo (2.2 lbs), all the way up to $60,000."

Q: What else do you want to do?

A: "My ambition is to open five more restaurants, I used to have six, and that's about the right target for me to keep me very occupied. I have a few new concepts I want to do after Strip House."

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