Baked Alaska: the ultimate Valentine’s Day dessert?

Vietnam’s own celebrity chef Jack Lee is probably best known for the exotic Chinoise cuisine that he serves up to the rich and famous back in the USA. 

Since touching down in his native Saigon to build up his brand here – cheffing at Compass Living’s Acacia Restaurant at 149 Nguyen Du – he’s been turning heads with bold French-Californian dishes garnished with his own groundbreaking Vietnamese tropical fruit sauces. What truly distinguishes Jack as a chef, however, is his culinary art: by using food as a medium of artistic expression, Jack literally fashions fine artworks on the plate, drawing inspiration from life and representing this in the textures, colors, and tastes of various food items to create intriguing matches and contrasts – taking ‘concept cuisine’ to an abstract level.

One of Jack’s sweeter creations now being served at Acacia is a dessert modeled after a baked Alaska recipe he picked up while working at the prestigious Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles – notorious for its predilection for dishes with dazzle. Inspired by the sunsets over Hawaiian volcanic landscapes, Jack’s recipe uses a carefully-prepared ice cream-filled meringue cone with a pandan cake base set on a fine Sauvignon Blanc & blueberry sauce (representing the ocean reddened by sunlight) and surrounded by a coral reef of chocolate rock candy. The flame is provided by a strong cointreau flambé (or cherry kirsch, when available) that is generously splashed over the slopes of the meringue and the candy as well – which in a dimly-lit romantic setting makes them glow like hot magma.

It’s a character dish that works a range of subtle flavors into some fairly standard base ingredients – try, for example, to pick up the orange accents of the cointreau as they sink into the brittle meringue shell between your teeth. Dip a scoop of the vanilla ice cream into the blueberry wine and see what games that plays on the tongue.

The magic of all baked Alaskas, of course, is the way the ice cream is insulated during the heating process, creating a contrast of fire and ice. This is nothing new — the dessert was written about back in 1802, although it only became known by its present name when New York’s famous Delmonico’s Restaurant served it to commemorate the American acquisition of the Alaskan territory in 1876. It’s traditionally oven-baked, although Jack’s flambéed version is technically a bombe Alaska, which has more of a kick. It’s not without its risks – when he first attempted the dessert back at Bel-Air, he managed to flambé his own hand. It’s fortunate for us that the chef has now owned this dish – indeed, it’s one of this season’s must-try delicacies.

For Acacia’s Valentine’s Day menu this year, Chef Jack is offering a heart-shaped version for sizzling couples. Try it out for the romantic season’s most volcanic taste sensation.

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