It’s unlikely you’ll meet a chef like Michael Sang-Kyu Lee – the selfproclaimed crazy chef of Meisei who puts his heart and soul into every dish and thrives on his mad style of cooking. We indulged in a sit down with the chef, sampling his Asian delights…
“My expression comes from street food. It’s natural, affordable and for the population. A lot of people think it’s bad for you and unhealthy. But if you go to Japan and South Korea (where his roots are) you’ll find that it’s so fresh and seasonal.” Chef Michael is brimming with passion.
With every word he says, his eyes widen, his hands have a life of their own and his animated chat on food is addictive – his energy is palpable and you could sit and listen to him for hours. “Everything is nostalgia for me,” he says as he demonstrates how to consume the wildly fun Candy Passion drink where you push the plume of cotton candy above the rim of the champagne into the glass – “it’s like a lava lamp.” His motto around the art of cooking is to have fun and go off-piste with tradition because then it becomes that a much more enjoyable experience.
It’s all about the people and happenings of the past that create his interpretations. Having had a hybrid of cultures around him growing up, where he was raised in Toronto with Asian roots; he is able to bring a real flavour of styles to the table.
His culinary background also lends itself to where he is today: “I was taken under the wings of phenomenonally talented Japanese/Korean/ Cantonese chefs” who were the bedrock for his career which later took him around the Caribbean for over a decade before coming to Bahrain 14 years ago. But interestingly (yet somehow unsurprising given chef’s dynamic and unpredictable nature) cooking was not something that was on the cards – coming from a family of scholars, he calls himself “the black sheep of the family, but cooking just happened for me”.
And it is with this experimental, ‘let it happen’ attitude with which he cooks. When asking him what are the three main ingredients he most likes working with, he doesn’t have a definitive answer except: “anything fresh and vibrant. I’m not the type to say I want something from the land or the sea. When it comes to my recipes, I have no idea how they work, something just clicks with them.”
Chef Michael is extremely precise when talking about his dishes. As we dive into the Crispy Duck Salad, he highlights all the elements in both a haphazard and careful way to show how layered his dishes are. With Sakura mix truffle oil, roasted fig and shallot vinaigrette, black Hawaiian salt, yuzu grape seed oil, toasted pine nuts, dried berries and assorted citrus, this dish screams with flavour. “There’s no special way of eating it,” he assures us. He doesn’t want us to be shy or worry about being ‘proper’ eating his creations. When we “mmmm” he applauds our “howling and grunting noises,I love it, that’s what I aim for.”
As far as eating experiences go, you have so much fun at Meisei with chef Michael – no rules, no frills. We had a glorious selection of dishes including a Hamachi Salsa: marinated yellow tail, wasabi tobiko and jalapeno vinaigrette followed by a Grilled Serrano Baby Chicken: Apple wood salt, Peruvian mash (such a great novelty), Thai basilpuree, fresh spicy Serrano micro cress and Aji Amarillo chilli along with a Vegetaraian Dol Sot (wonderful presentation) which included black wild rice, grilled shitake, spring onions, zucchini, carrots and spicy gochijang sauce. The one dish that got us endlessly “ooing and aahing” was the Kalbi Gim: braised beef short ribs, scalloped potatoes, roasted vegetables and pine nuts. As chef Michael states, “this is a special dish, my mother’s recipe.” We’ve never actually tasted anything softer and insanely mouthwatering ever!
But if you really want to be wowed at the end of all that, the Grand Meisei Indulgence is a feat of sweet delicacies, in both presentation and taste. One word: Innovation.
For more information or reservations call: 1700 7770