Shaun’s creation is living proof of Hennessy cognac’s versatility to not only meet the requirements of a local dessert recipe, but also in elevating it for a stronger, bolder iteration.
Cognac – to have it neat, on the rocks, as an aperitif or digestif?
The answer is simple: all the above.
During the unprecedented global Covid-19 pandemic, Hennessy Malaysia launched a campaign called #HennessyMyWay which supported 1,000 selected bartenders from around the world, many of whom had lost their sources of income. Providing them with cash incentives to encourage them to stay creative and connected during the lockdown, these bartenders, in return, came up with their own original cocktails using two of Hennessy’s iconic offerings – Hennessy V.S and Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège.
In Malaysia, 15 bartenders from various establishments were selected to participate in this CSR initiative. One of the 15 bartenders is Shaun Ong from Skillet 163 who created a cocktail based on the East Meets West concept as he fuses Chinese herbal ingredients with Hennessy in his cocktail named Leng Chee Kang. His is creation that is living proof of Hennessy cognac’s versatility with its ability to not only meet the requirements of a local dessert recipe, but also in elevating it for a stronger, bolder iteration.
Shaun walks us through his inspiration for the cocktail.
Cognac may have originated from Cognac, France, but its biggest market is in fact in China. Why do you think it’s such a palatial preference of the market there?
Yes, cognac may originate from the Cognac region but there is a noticeably big market in China due to the history of China and cognac and China is a country with a large population. According to the Chinese tradition, dining and socialising are common practice in China. As Christopher Lowder General Manager of Proof & Company China once said, “in traditional China, eating, drinking and socialising are closely tied together”.
As for that, cognac is also seen as a symbol of power in the China business world, where Olivier Verot, Founder and CEO of Gentlemen Marketing Agency mentioned in one of his articles before, “whereby cognac is commonly served in bar, karaoke or dinner occasion. Cognac is a drink of celebration and it is also seen as a symbol of power in the business world in China”. This has brought up the popularity of cognac in China.
Why do you think it works so well with Chinese food in particular?
Chinese always ties eating and drinking closely together. There are ranges of Chinese food around, where some of the Chinese food have strong and bold flavour where it goes very well with cognac in general.
As for Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège, its notes are fruity, vanilla and spice. These flavour profiles match the Chinese food well as Chinese cuisine uses elements of spices, herbs, and umami flavours such as oyster sauce. For example, roasted duck or goose will be marinated with some herbs and spice and glaze it with some maltose sugar.
The fruitiness and vanilla flavour will balance with the gaminess of the duck and the hint of spices will bring another layer of essence to the duck. As for stir fry beef or pork with peppers, this dish will bring out the smoky and peppery flavour and by pairing this dish with the elegant fruity, spice notes of cognac, this combination complements each other very well and elevate the flavour for both food and drinks.
As a bartender, you work with flavours and palates to create drinks. What are your favourite notes about Hennessy V.S and V.S.O.P that makes it so popular in your line of work?
The flavour that makes it so popular will be the vanilla and spice in my opinion, whereby it gives us the room to create sweet or savoury drinks. For example, currently in Beta KL we choose to use Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège to pair with pepper in our Pepper-Groni which is a peppery and boozy drink and for my version of Leng Chee Kang which is a sweet yet boozy cocktail.
You created a cocktail with Hennessy V.S.O.P called the Leng Chee Kang. Share with us the breakdown of the drink.
Leng Chee Kang is a dessert I enjoy during my childhood and I still enjoy it till today. Leng Chee Kang contains ingredients such as dried longan, red dates and lotus seed. I choose to use Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège for this creation because of the character and flavour that bring this drink together. s
For my cocktail creation, I simmered the red dates and dried longan with brown sugar as the sweetener into a mixture. After the mixture has cooled down, I placed it in a balloon and freeze it with liquid nitrogen to create a round ice longan sphere. As for the red dates, I choose to infuse them in Vermouth Rosso to complement the cocktail when you bite on the red dates.
As for the lotus seed and white fungus, I lightly cook them in sugar syrup to give a light sweetness to the cocktail. Finally, adding in Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège for its hints of vanilla and spice to combine with the rest of the ingredients.
How did the Hennessy V.S and V.S.O.P complement and bolster the traditional crowd favourite dessert to bring it to new heights?
Both Hennessy V.S and Hennessy V.S.O.P Privilège are versatile due to the flavour profile of fruitiness, floral, vanilla and spice. These types of flavours are easy to blend with classic desserts and it will add a layer of complexity to the dish, bringing it to new heights.
Your creation is proof that old and new can work in harmony to bring new surprises for the palate. What is your favourite part about creating something new from something new and something old?
For this version of Leng Chee Kang, I would like to reserve the looks and flavour of the dessert with a twist of modern touch to attract crowds to enjoy an old classic dessert in a very fun and modern way. As for me to curate this cocktail, I thought of my childhood drink, food and dessert where I’m allow to showcase the drink as well as my childhood memories just like how Beta KL and Skillet KL showcase their food.
Drinking and eating is no longer the same, it needs to be appetising, presentable, attracting and a story behind the creation. I like to reinvent things that are timeworn and in light to bring it back to life in a fun and memorable way.
It is always fun to witness smiles when someone experiences and recalls an old taste in an innovative way. With this, I thought of my late grandmother. When I was young, my late grandmother will cook Leng Chee Kang for the family during festive seasons such as Chinese New Year or birthdays and I always enjoy watching her cooking while waiting for the dessert to be ready.
My late grandmother likes adding a shot of brandy whenever she cooks this dessert to enhance the flavour which I did not get the chance to try due to underage back then. Hence, I created this Leng Chee Kang cocktail with cognac and at the same time reminiscing memories of my late grandmother. Trust me, Leng Chee Kang and cognac, it works so well together!
In Malaysia, what is the trend with cognac-based cocktails and how do you as a bartender rise to meet it?
By looking at the cocktail scene in Malaysia now as compared to 3 to 4 years ago, the drinking crowd is getting more adventurous and educational towards food and beverage.
As for that the acceptance level of new cocktails vs classic cocktails are relatively approachable. Same goes to the perception of cognac-based cocktail. In the restaurant and bar that I’m working in, I’m able to observe customers showing more interest to know about the story and philosophy behind every single creation, where my team and I believe it is important for the customers to know and enjoy better.
As a bartender and restaurant manager, I have the privilege to gain more knowledge and it has definitely helped with my creation. We always share with our customer the right pairing between cocktails and food. I will continue to advance myself with my creativity in cocktail creation and good pairing, which my team and I strongly believe it will be a new trend in Malaysia in times to come.