A couple of days ago, I trooped off to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf expecting brunch. Instead, I get a stand-up comic talking at warp speed while guzzling copious amounts of coffee. Oh wait. That’s Bobby Chinn. *facepalm* Minutes before the program started, the half-Chinese, half-Egyptian, mostly American chef, restaurateur and talk show host was quietly tapping away on his Macbook Air in a quiet corner. So, it was quite a surprise when he was called to the makeshift stage and he quickly switched to a very animated, witty, hyperactive, potty-mouthed coffeeholic.
After getting on stage, he started regaling us with anecdotes about brunch. About how originally, brunch was for the privileged because, after all, they were the only ones who had the resources to laze about in the mornings. He even did this routine poking fun at the French who apparently, refused to acknowledge the existence of brunch, instead coining a meal called The Grand Breakfast to describe something that combines breakfast AND lunch! It was funnier when he was delivering it, trust me. While all this was happening, our own brunch was carted in and good lord, it looked so good I had a hard time deciding what to do—mind my brunch or listen to Bobby. Great time to put my multi-tasking skills to use.
We were served Salmon Scramble, a dish that had perfectly prepared smoked salmon omelet heaped on herbed focaccia. Each bite was delightful, as the smoked salmon retained a nice texture that was firm, yet different from cooked salmon. It was something new for me because I’ve never tried smoked salmon in a cooked dish before. One the side was a helping of chicken sausages which, unlike other chicken sausages that tended to be on the bland, mushy side, was robust and had a firm, crackly skin. It reminded me of specialty sausages, like bratwurst and schueblig from my favorite delis. All part of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf’s new brunch offerings. Of course, if you’d like something light like pastry or something, you can still get that.
As I was surreptitiously digging in—I didn’t want Bobby to catch me not paying attention—he continuously regaled us with anecdote after anecdote about food and his life. How he used to work the stock market floor (he holds a degree in finance), how he got himself fired by swearing at his boss on a daily basis, how he started in the food industry as a waiter, how he broke his back working in the kitchen (‘Restaurant kitchens are full of assholes. With sharp knives.’) and eventually bounced back while apprenticing in France. Normal stuff, you’d think, but when Bobby relates the stories, you can’t help but keep laughing, especially as he does all these accents and caricatures. Stand-up comic material, I tell you.
It was probably the coffee. I think he had what, 4 or 5 large cups? The man loves his coffee. Each time he finished a cup, he’d ask for a fresh one. Half-soy, half-skim, he told us. Something about the combination has a certain thing going on. Of course, I made a mental note to try it next time. When a famous chef tells me to try something, I listen.
Capping off our brunch was dessert. On the plate, it looked like a normal Oreo cheesecake. After a bite though, I found myself having a hard time putting my finger on what was different. It has Camembert cheese, we were told, which made for the slightly different flavor. I am more used to cheesecake made with normal Philly cream cheese so the Camembert surprised me. Adding a bit of playfulness texture-wise were slivers of gelatin folded into the cheese.
After the end of his lengthy but entertaining talk, (“She handed me a piece of paper saying, ‘Wrap up in 5-7 minutes.’ I don’t know, my Chinese eyes read that as 57 minutes,”) they opened the floor for questions. Yes, he tried Filipino food, like kare-kare, champorado (‘like chocolate congee!’), balut, and his favorite, adobong pusit (‘that squid in black sauce’). He answered more questions—his favorite TV chefs include Jamie Oliver, Tony Bourdain and of course, sexy Nigella Lawson—but eventually, brunch had to come to an end. We got our photos taken (Wheee! I have a photo with Bobby Chinn!), said our goodbyes and had to leave. Oh well. At least we’ll always have World Café Asia.