As we lined up for our second Culinary Cinema adventure, we were not sure what awaited us. The film, HEAT, which we had seen the day before, was a fusion of food and politics targeting the trials and tribulations of women chefs in star kitchens. One of these chefs, Angela Hartnett, a Michelin Star British chef with an Italian father, had created a Mediterranean meal to please our palates on the first evening and now The Duc Ngo, was going to prepare an Indonesian delight, even though he had never been to any of Indonesia’s 1,700 islands. The film, ARUNA AND HER PALATEA, which began at 7:30 PM, not only prepared us for our dinner but after 106 minutes (34 minutes longer than the night before) of watching Aruna and her friends try numerous delicious looking dishes, we were famished and more than ready for our meal.
The film ARUNA AND HER PALATE, which was based on the book, The Birdwoman and Her Palate by award-winning author, Laksmi Pamuntjak, was entertaining but certainly not number one on my list. It tells the story of Aruna, an epidemiologist, who is assigned to investigate cases of bird flu on various Indonesian islands. Together with her friends, a cook and a culinary journalist, she decides to combine business with pleasure and launches out on a trip that takes them to four different islands. During the day Aruna investigates the causes of bird flu and in the evening enjoys yummy menus and thought-provoking discussions about politics, love, work and food. Her daily work is not exactly the tastiest preparation for her evening enjoyment but after a former colleague (and former flame) joins the group and sheds some light on the “cause” of the bird flu, the way is paved for a romantic and appetizing adventure.
Much more inspiring than the movie was the dinner that followed and the chef, The Duc Ngo, who created our gourmet gala. After satisfying our appetites with Duc’s delectable menu selections below,
Gado Gado (blanched vegetables with a spicy peanut sauce)
Sambal Matah Ceviche with chili, cured raw fish and lemon grass,
Fried Salmon with hot and spicy sambal oelek
Little Indo Noodle Soup with shrimps, squid, fish balls and krupuk
No Fish Head, but Curry, golden corvina fish curry
Pineapple Lychee Passion, a scrumptious dessert of pineapple and lychee sorbet in a bed of passion fruit sauce
Accompanied of course by fine wines
I began to ponder over how a man born in Hanoi to a Chinese father and Vietnamese mother could end up in Berlin at the Berlinale and create a delightful Indonesian meal for 200 people, even though he had never attempted to cook even one dish from Indonesia before. With this in mind, I began to do a little fieldwork of my own.
Duc and his family arrived in Berlin as refugees when he was just five years old. He learned German and about German cooking from his day care but his true love became the Japanese cuisine after he worked in a Sushi Restaurant as a teenager. In fact, after his Abitur, he decided to try Japanese Studies at the Freie Universität in Berlin. Full of energy and ideas he opened his own Sushi restaurant, Kuchi, in the modern Izajaya style, in 1999. It was a hit, “The Place to be” and so he created Kuchi II. Between then and today, he has added eight more restaurants in Berlin and one in Frankfurt to his imperium. Some people even refer to him as “Herzog Duc” (Duke Duc). All of these restaurants are fusion oriented, such as his very successful Asian-Peruvian restaurant, 893 Ryotei, the French-Vietnamese Brasserie, Madame Ngospecializing in Phoand the elegant Provocateur Restaurant where Paris meets Shanghai. Here Duc successfully fuses the traditional French finesse with the aromas of the Chinese cuisine--- always keeping in balance, “salty, sweet, bitter and sour”. Duc’s last inspiration, Funky Fish, a Portuguese-Japanese fish fusion was originally supposed to be a chicken and beer place but when they cleaned up the walls, they discovered a paneled ceiling and colored glass which made Duc think of an aquarium. Being flexible, Duc quickly changed his plans and transformed the building into a stylish fine fish restaurant.
Now I understand why Duc won the 2017 Master Chef Culinary Innovator award. In an Interview he even mentioned, “Yes, that award fits me,” since he is always looking for something new. What will be his next project----maybe an Indonesian-German restaurant with a Japanese touch?
After the Berlinale, I returned to Berlin with my husband and hoped to finish my fieldwork by trying out Duc’s first restaurant endeavor, Kuchi Kant. Unfortunately, it was not as good as I had hoped. Although the Sushi Bar did look delicious, we regrettably ordered a mixed appetizer for two (the Dim Sum was too well done and dry) followed by Miso Duck with Sesame (a huge portion of only duck and sauce). Maybe Duc has been spending too much time on his new restaurants!? Nevertheless, I would like to finally wind up my fieldwork and give Duc and his restaurants another chance. On my next trip to Berlin, I plan to find my “foodie fusion” dream in Duc’s newest restaurant, Funky Fish.