So there I found myself, outside The Top's Grand Ballroom on Level 5 of the KOMTAR podium. Or what used to be the KOMTAR podium. At one time, this place used to have a very outdated food court which was accessible from the grand open-air staircase from Prangin Road or from the very inefficient internal lift outside the Pacific Hypermarket and Department Store. But since about six months ago when rejuvenation process was completed, the KOMTAR Level 5 has been transformed into The Top.
Just the day before, I was here at the very same place to buy my tickets to The Top's 65th and 68th floors of KOMTAR. But for now, it was to attend a very special seminar that would kick off the month-long Potatoes USA Fries Fiesta, organised by the Penang Chefs Association.
Let me make it clear from the onset that I'm no chef although I must admit that my kitchen skills have improved from boiling an egg to cooking a decent chicken chop. All self-taught over a period of about five years. Anyway, I'm digressing.
I was just in time for lunch, starting at 12.30pm. All around me were men and women in white uniforms. Not nurses but chefs. Professional chefs from the hotels and restaurants, to student chefs from the colleges in Penang. Not knowing what to expect, I sat down at an empty table but it soon filled up with other people. Luckily, a friend came around to put me at ease. Have your lunch, he said, but be forewarned that there will be more to eat until tonight! Ooo, what have I gotten myself into?
Lunch over, we adjourned to another part of the Grand Ballroom, partitioned off, where there was an hour-long presentation on Potatoes USA. Interesting information. Who would have guessed that potatoes could be so nutritious? And who would have guessed that US potatoes should be kept frozen in their packages at temperatures of between -12 to -18 degrees Celsius? And who would have guessed that frozen potatoes should be cooked, for example, frying them, without thawing? Well, all that - and more - I learnt from the hour-long presentation.
Balinese chef Henry Alexie Bloem in his element during the cooking demonstration. Bloem is also the president of the Indonesian Chef Association.
He started off with the US tater drums with sweet mayo and fried otak-otak US hash browns, and followed in quick succession with the US lattice cuts with stir-fried mackerel and ginger torch flower sambal, US potato wedges and prawn rolls with beef bacon and US tater drums with spicy chilli beef, before rounding off his demonstration with the US half shells with chicken sambal matah and US crinkle cut fry chicken sate. All I can say from watching the fascinating cooking demonstration was, burp!
Left to right: US tater drums with sweet mayo, fried otak-otak US hash browns, US lattice cuts with stir-fried mackerel and ginger torch flower sambal
Left to right: US potato wedges and prawn rolls with beef bacon, US tater drums with spicy chilli beef, US half shells with chicken sambal matah and US crinkle cut fry chicken sate
At the end of the seminar, we were brought to the main lobby of The Top for the official launch of the Potatoes USA Fries Fiesta by Joani Dong, the Regional Agricultural Attache of the United States Department of Agriculture who is based at the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Joani Dong (left) from the US Embassy launching the US Fries Fiesta together with Chef Audee Cheah (right) of the Penang Chefs Association
Ringing the audience were food presentations by 20 participating hotels and restaurants, namely, 45 Degrees Fahrenheit, Artichoke Café, Cititel Penang, Coco Cabana Bar & Bistro, D’Fat Mona Lisa Cafe, Escobar Wine & Deli, Hotel Royal Penang, Kaffa Espresso Bar, Kelawei, Lexis Suites Penang, Olive Pizza & Pasta, Perut Rumah Nyonya Cuisine, Pony Tale de Cafe, Richdad Coffee, Roxbury Pub & Bistro, St Giles Wembley, The LightBulb, The Northam All Suites Hotel, UMI Traditional Malay Cuisine and What the Duck Restaurant.
The month-long Potatoes USA Fries Fiesta runs from 1-31 May 2017, and customers who patronise the participating outlets during the fiesta month will get to enjoy US potatoes cooked in the inimitable styles of the different establishments. Bon appetit, you have a whole month to enjoy the bee kok huan choo!
Representatives from the participating establishments after they had received their certificates from the US Embassy Attache
Some of the unique creations showcased by the participating hotels and restaurants. The common denominator among them was, of course, the US potato featured in all the dishes one way or another.