Dinner with Chef Sean Connolly of the Asian Food Channel

SPOT.ph blogger Yvette Tan asked the celebrity chef: "What’s the secret to cooking a good steak?"

(SPOT.ph) Award-winning Australian Celebrity Chef Sean Connolly was in Manila for a few days as a guest of the Asian Food Channel. Chef Connolly was the host of Under the Grill, where he gave viewers a glimpse of what it's like to open a restaurant. His latest show, On the Grill, just began airing on AFC. Chef Connolly whipped up a special five-course dinner at the EDSA Shangri-La, some of which were paired with Glenfiddich Single Malt Whiskey's special blends. He also gave a brief demonstration on how to cook his extremely popular steak. "I'm so happy I'm here in Manila, cooking. I came here 20 years ago with some friends and I've got some Filipino friends here too, so I just love the place," he said.


Chef Connolly has been quite busy. He's about to open an Italian restaurant next to his steakhouse The Grill in Auckland, New Zealand. He's also opening another restaurant called Sean's Kitchen in Adelaide, Australia in a few months, and has just launched a YouTube channel called Sydney Harbour Kitchen where he offers viewers a new recipe each week. And he still has time to cook. "The type of food I served tonight was very produce-driven," he said. "I find that in all my restaurants, it's all about making my food really simple."


Guests were asked to choose from either the regular menu or the vegetarian option. I picked the latter, one of only two in the entire dinner party to do so, and I'm glad I did.



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Honey Roast Baby Carrots with Raspberries and Creme Fraiche


The first appetizer was the Honey Roast Baby Carrots with Raspberries and Creme Fraiche, the baby carrots perched delicately on a ridge of creme fraiche, with whole raspberries punctuating the tableau. The carrots were sweet with a hint of spice, the roasting giving it an unevenly charred flavor that's lovely on the tongue. "I slow roasted the carrots with honey and cumin," Chef Connolly explained. "Dead simple."



Baby Beetroot Salad with Labne and Chili Vinaigrette


Simplicity is at the heart of Chef Connolly's cuisine. The magic is when he turns the most basic ingredients into the most impressive dishes. The Baby Beetroot Salad with Labne and Chili Vinaigrette looks, as Chef Connolly says, 'dead simple,' and yet contains complicated flavors, the slightly spicy vinaigrette working surprisingly well with the beetroot, the dots of yogurt just enough to balance the spice. The dish was paired with the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, which has subtle notes of pear and oak.


Mushroom and Miso broth with Coriander and Daikon


Next came the Mushroom and Miso broth with Coriander and Daikon, a novel way of serving both mushroom and miso soup. The mushrooms were fresh, a testament to the importance Chef Connolly places on using the best, freshest ingredients.



Grilled Eye Fillet with Miso Hollandaise, Fondant Potato, and Watercress


Spiced Pumpkin, Pecorino, and Pistachio Lasagna


For the main dish, everyone else got the Grilled Eye Fillet with Miso Hollandaise, Fondant Potato, and Watercress, while I got the Spiced Pumpkin, Pecorino, and Pistachio Lasagna. Steak is probably my most favorite food in the world, but I didn't feel deprived because the lasagna was excellent. Lasagna sheets were loosely draped over chunks of spiced pumpkin, the whole thing covered in a velvety cheese sauce. Served warm, it was like a hug from the inside. I didn't miss out on the steak either, as my seatmate generously let me try some of hers. Chef Connolly is known for his steak, and with good reason. The beef was beautifully rare, standing well on its own, not needing the sauce to taste good. "Just buy the best possible meat you can afford...and cook it with love and respect," Chef Connolly says about the secret to cooking a good steak. The main courses were paired with the Glenfiddich 15 Year Old, which has complex notes of honey and raisins.



Wild Strawberry Sorbet with Strawberry Soup and Goat's Milk Jelly


The dinner ended with the Wild Strawberry Sorbet with Strawberry Soup and Goat's Milk Jelly, with Chef Connolly pouring the soup into the bowls himself. The jelly was covered in 24-carat gold leaf, adding extra luxury to an already delicately decadent dessert. This was paired with the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old, the world's most awarded single malt, which has rich notes of apple and cinnamon.


The dinner gave me newfound appreciation for vegetarian cuisine. Chef Connolly showed that vegetables are extremely versatile, and can offer more flavor than your usual salad or stir fry. "Vegetarian is a challenge to make because I'm a meat-lover, but I do enjoy making vegetarian food," he says. "I love vegetables as much as I love meat and I do say to my staff...that vegetarians are the most important meals in the restaurant. You're only as good as your vegetables."



And just so you know, Chef Connolly's vegetables are mind-blowingly good.


On the Grill airs every Thursday at 9 p.m. on the Asian Food Channel

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