Since appearing on the seventh season of Masterchef Australia, the young chef Reynold Poernomo has embarked on many of what the television program would deem – ad nauseum – a ‘food journey’.
Poernomo, who was also accorded with the well-done title of ‘Dessert King’ during his televised tenure, has travelled widely throughout Asia since his 2015 star turn. Mostly recently, he travelled to France to learn more about the world of an industry-facing purée brand nonpareil – one of the many perks of a post-show career that classifies him as being amongst the most successful of the franchise’s alumni.
In July, Poernomo travelled to Tain, a parish in the Highlands of Scotland, for three days. Having only ever visited Edinburgh, a chance to travel to the remote northern highlands to see more of the country proved to be both “stunning [and] amazing”, he reflects. While in Tain, Poernomo stayed at the Glenmorangie House, so named for the nearby single malt whisky distillery founded in 1843 and which boasts the tallest malt whisky stills in Scotland. The 24-year-old chef’s visit coincided with what’s been deemed ‘Signet Week’, a near two-week period (and a very expensive one at that) that doubles as the only time of year at which the distiller produces, ferments and casks its signature Signet blend. “They’ve got to clear our everything in the distillery just to make that one whisky,” Poernomo says of the process, which was as much a hands-on education as it was an immersion in the distinct colours, smells and flavours of an unusual process for both the manufacturer and fans of the spirit alike. There, Poernomo witnessed what makes the Signet blend so unique, a high roast ‘chocolate malt’ barley which is tumble-roasted in small batches to coax out its palpable coffee and butterscotch notes. He also saw firsthand the Tarlogie spring mineral water that is later used in the distillation process before the spirit is casked in bourbon, sherry and charred oak barrels to provide depth and complexity.
Poernomo is no stranger to taking cues from the back of the bar. Many of the deserts he devises at KOI, the Chippendale dessert bar he owns and operates alongside his brothers Arnold and Ronald, make use of lychee, elderflower or blackberry liqueurs. Last year, Poernomo and his brothers opened a small tapas bar, Monkey’s Corner, also in the Sydney suburb of Chippendale, that he describes as straddling the increasingly popular dichotomy of Scandinavian and Japanese influences. It was there, where an emphasis falls squarely on whisky in its many global iterations, that the chef first whet his appetite for the tincture. “I drank a lot of whisky at that time,” Poernomo recalls, “as you would! My whole love of whisky started [on the] fruitier, more fragrant side of whisky.
“Once you start to drink a lot more whisky, you start to see the layers and complexity of it. That’s where I am right now,” Poernomo continues. “You can taste so much more flavour. Your palette grows into it.”
Once his palette grew accustomed to the distinct flavour profile of the spirit, it was inevitable that it should eventually find its way from the bar to the kitchen. “To use whisky [in a dessert context] is something much more unique,” Poernomo explains. “You can pair whisky with deserts perfectly – chocolate and orange is the typical way to go, but I’ve also made [a recipe] with mandarin, tonka [beans] and espresso with roasted milk chocolate that pairs perfectly [with the profile of] the whisky but [also] enhances and compliments the profile of whisky.”
Ordinarily reserved for stout beers, the incorporation of chocolate malt barley into the distillation process for the Signet blend was a flourish provided by Dr. Bill Lumsden, the Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation at Glenmorangie. From a resulting flavour profile that encompasses coffee and chocolate with a hint of citrus, Poernomo then devised three recipes on occasion of a pop-up bar staged in conjunction with the distiller that seeks to illuminate the affinities shared by the whisky and its three distinct dessert flavours. The trio of dishes on offer at the Barangaroo pop-up includes The Chocolate Delight, a dark chocolate, hazelnut and almond crunch with citrus and vanilla mousse; a globular Fire and Ice dessert with mandarin mousse, roast milk chocolate ganache, espresso and white chocolate; and KOI’s signature Nomtella, a glazed pillow consisting of espresso mousse, salted caramel and a dark cocoa glaze on a brownie with dried citrus. All three have been paired with one of three specialty cocktails crafted by a selection of Sydney’s eminent cocktail bars, Kittyhawk, Button Bar and Barangaroo House.
Poernomo says that while he relished the task of bringing those flavours to life through his sphere of expertise, he was wary, however, of replicating the whisky’s exact profile out of a fear of “eating the drink, in a way.” He needn’t of worried – that would do little to temper the enthusiasm of his considerable fanbase, who no doubt will follow him wherever he decides to go next, wherever in the world it so happens to be.
The KOI x Glenmorangie Signet pop-up bar opens today at Exchange Place, Barangaroo from 12pm – 10pm, until September 28.
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