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To Market Cafe We Go

Ultra-modern. Innovative. These are the last things one would associate with the word "market," a choatic, sometimes dank place where one's senses are assailed by every sight and smell, where hawkers sell every imaginable ware.

But if you happen to be at the Market Cafe of the newly opened Hyatt Hotel & Casino, you are likely to be taken in by its cozy interiors designed by no less than renowned Hongkong-based Bilkey Llinas, which revolves around an open/show kitchen concept that covers almost a third of the entire floor. Walls are covered in basket-weave stainless and brass tiles, while displays of colorful dried organic herbs mixed with folk art create a market feel, lending the place the warmth and vibrant local touch.

The gallery kitchens create the feeling of being in a market, where you hop from one store to another. They call it interactive dining, a self-service style market set up where, as marketing manager Sharon Samarista says, "cooking is elevated to performance art" using only the freshest ingredients.

"Everything you see on the counters, from the ingredients such as that row of jars that contain chilis, seeds and dried herbs, or that pile of plump red tomatoes, even the potted herbs, are used for cooking. I don't believe in putting ingredients on the counter for show or display," says executive chef Hubertus Cramer, a German national who has been with Hyatt International since 1997. Before Hyatt, his career highlights include working for two- and three-star Michelin restaurants in France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland.

When it comes to sourcing raw produce, which are 100 percent organic, Cramer deals with suppliers firsthand. "I don't go to the purchasing department right away if I'm looking for raw ingredients. I go by word of mouth. It's all about building relationships with these small, private suppliers. Because of the commitment they bring to their business, the effort they put in maintaining the quality of their products is different, more personal." For instance, the pig that lay roasting by the spitfire came from Tagaytay and the fresh oysters had just been flown in from Palawan, bred and cultivated by a foreign national Cramer has known for years.

"Do you know how long pasta can last after it is cooked?" Cramer asks. Okay, so no one knows exactly, especially in restaurants. The normal practice would be to leave it to soak in hot or tepid water until a guest orders a plate of spaghetti. Though they recognize the merits of cooking a la carte, which they also offer, Cramer stresses the importance of lessening the holding period of food, thereby retaining its natural flavor.

"We are not only talking about delicious food that is flavorful, but also the nutrition of food and how to lessen the time it takes to prepare and cook it, so that by the time you come in and order, until the time you walk to your table, the food would have already been sliced, prepared and delivered to your table with all the nutrients intact."

Contact with air, water and heat strips food of vitamins and minerals, not to mention making them breeding grounds for bacteria. All dishes are served a la minute, cooked in small portions, so that there are no chafing dishes required.

And since the kitchen is no longer hidden in a corner, one can get to talk to the chefs themselves who lord it over their immaculate kitchens, amid gleaming pots and pans and, if you're lucky, you might even take home a few cooking tips as well. On a good day, you might even catch Cramer himself going around the place and have your salad dresing especially prepared by him at the salad station. Or, learn to shuck an oyster at the Crustacean station if you prefer, a delicate process requiring the patience of Job.

The usual practice would be to use a pressurized clamp to force open the shell. But at the Market Cafe, they do it mano a mano, using a wire mesh glove and a knife. Patience has it rewards, quips another guest, as we watched Cramer lift open the shell to reveal an intact oyster. He then lightly brushes off the sediments with a soft brush dipped in sea water. "With this method, the oyster is left undisturbed," Cramer says, "and you can savor the natural sea flavor."

The 24-hour, all day dining restaurant has four main show kitchen where food is cooked right in front of guests. "Our understanding of the local culture and how we incorporate that knowledge at Market Cafe is not a coincidence. For instance, I am a German native, a chef trained in other cuisines, but I don't claim to be the authority in Japanese cuisine, or Italian cuisine, for that matter. If something (a dish) is good, you don't have to reinvent it," says Cramer.

The Western kitchen showcases authentic European and American cuisine served fresh from the grill, oven, pan, or spit (rotisserie). Pizza is prepared fresh, and so is with pasta dishes with choices of noodles and sauces. Prime meats like chicken, beef, pork, and lamb are slow cooked in the spit releasing its true flavor. The charcoal grill, which gives consistent heat in preparing steak, fish and skewer, is one of the features that make this kitchen "hot" and active. Soup, sauces and accompaniments such as mashed potato, ratatouille, beans, are kept warm in pans over a magnetic induction heater.

The popular Japanese kitchen is divided into four sections: Sushi, Yakimono, Tempura and Teppan. It emphasizes on the pure, authentic flavours of Japan's indigenous ingredients such as seaweed, vegetables, rice, noodles, soybeans and more. The sushi and sashimi station presents fresh tuna, ika, unagi, salmon, ebi, taco, tamago, nigiri, California maki, tomato and choices of pickles. The tempura choices consists of seafood and vegetables. The Yakimono or Yakitori grill offers an assortment of chicken, asparagus wrapped in bacon and meat balls among others. Teppan cooking is performed by experienced chefs out to impress guests.

An Oriental experience is well presented by the Chinese kitchen under Chinese chef de cuisine Choi Wing Ki. It is segmented into three key components: noodles and dim sum, Chinese wok and the Hong Kong barbecue fare. Colorful, aromatic and delicious are apt descriptions of the varied Chinese food served here. Chef Choi will also be in charge in the kitchen of the most awaited signature restaurant of the hotel called Lily, which will highlight the flavors of Cantonese culinary culture. Originally from Hong Kong, Chef Choi has worked all over Asia, and his last post was in Korea.

The Bakery and Dessert kitchen showcases the artistry of pastry chef Victor Hasting. Honored by the World Association of Cooks Society (WACS) as The Outstanding Pastry Chef for the Salon Culinaire Asia, he brings with him 13 years of experience in the pastry kitchen. His last post was as pastry specialist at Hyatt Regency Saujana in Malaysia.
Three food stations, Anti Pasto, Crustacean and Salad stations, add to the variety of the fare at Market Cafe.

 


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