“Can I tell you a secret?” Chef Kevin Ching has his hands wrist-deep in a large crab at a fancy hotel brunch when he proffers the classified data. “I think I created my best dish ever.”
The dish is called Zucchini Textures – nothing to do with the crab – and it’s one of the tasty small plates on the menu at the Paribawga Café, which opened on Thursday.
During a recent visit to the café, which takes up a corner of the Paribawga’s chic furniture showroom on Bogalay Zay Road, Kevin told me why this latticework of vegetation carries so much meaning.
“One of the reasons this is the best salad I’ve ever made is because I’m a textural eater. Some people are flavor eaters, but I’m very textural. So I crave textures,” he said.
Was that really a secret? Not at all. The zucchini tells a deeper story than that – one that sums up Kevin’s three years as Yangon’s resident tastemaker.
“It’s also a combination of a lot of the flavors I’ve worked with over the course of my career. You have an Italian base in there – some ricotta and some pesto flavors. You also have some Asian flavors – the gazpacho is made with lemon grass and Thai basil – drawing in Rau Răm. And then you have some Middle Eastern flavor with the tahini vinaigrette. That goes back to La Carovana, when I was using Italian and Middle Eastern and even North African flavors. And it just came together really incredibly,” Kevin said.
“It’s beautiful – the color palette is all shades of green. It’s one of the prettiest, tastiest dishes I’ve ever made.”
Zucchini Textures encapsulates a miraculous period of Yangon’s culinary history in which Port Autonomy, La Carovana, The New Boris, and another Port Autonomy flashed into existence, set the bar impossibly high, and then disappeared while our mouths were still watering.
Now it’s time for Kevin, one of the masterminds behind these little miracles, to pull off his own bittersweet disappearing act. He’ll be wanderlusting his way back to Bangkok next month.
“It’s been about three years, and what I think what I’ll take away most is getting the opportunity to try so many different styles of cooking,” he reflected. “We opened Port Autonomy as literally a food truck in a shitty warehouse down by the docks, and after that, we went to the whole other side of the spectrum with La Carovana – upscale Italian. Then we reinvented Port Autonomy as a garden setting, opened a bar, opened a Vietnamese restaurant. I’m so grateful that in such a short time I got to try out so many different concepts. Not all of them were financial successes – or at least successful enough to hold onto – but that doesn’t diminish the experiences of creating them.”
Kevin says he wants to work on smaller projects for the next few months.
“I want to live and work in different places – not be tied down to one place. I’ve been thinking about doing a supper club in Thailand with a friend,” he said.
Kevin will remain intertwined in Yangon’s future by coming back to work on a project-by-project basis. He also leaves us with some of his greatest triumphs: the updated menu at 50th Street, the tragically underutilized Rau Răm, the low-key delights at Rice & Ice, and – most importantly – Zucchini Textures.
“These flavors may not seem to make sense at first, but somehow I’m pretty good at bringing them all together in ways that turn out to be delightful. It doesn’t always work, but this salad kind of worked out for me.”