Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Two Smoking Barrels at The Prime Society - WGS 2010 Masterclass Preview

Agent Dee laying out the ingredients of the homemade gunpowder
Feeling jaded with regular steaks? Damon Amos has something to reignite your interest.

The Head Chef at The Prime Society stirred some culinary buzz with his gunpowder steak that's become the signature of the steakhouse at Dempsey.

And for the World Gourmet Summit 2010, he is showcasing the benefits and versatility of gunpowder - for curing, seasoning and even sweetening. Intrigued yet?

There's a masterclass on April 21 where you'll get to see him describe how the gunpowder steak came to be, what goes into gunpowder seasoning and how it works with food. Most of all, you'll get to taste the daringly different creations he will assemble before your very eyes.

Incidentally, he's been codenamed Agent Dee for all this dancing with danger.

The Singapore Police are watching closely!
Seasoning with gunpowder is actually not new, but most are only used in dire circumstances. Recorded incidences of gunpowder used as bouillon seasoning in wartime as far back as 1809. Soldiers stranded in the Australian outback would cure and season rabbit meat with gunpowder from bullets.

So it is still quite novel as a food ingredient, and Agent Dee decided to get inventive with it when he joined The Prime Society. Procuring actual gunpowder proved a little difficult. There were run-ins with the local police force, and the slightly tricky issue of firearms and explosive licences, ...oh the usual, you know. So Agent Dee decided he had to make his own gunpowder.

The very tenacious Dee plowed through 18 generations of gunpowder steak before he found the perfect formula, which is closely guarded at The Prime Society.

He did share most of the critical ingredients.
- magnesium (a macromineral necessary for life, part of vitamin pills you can take)
- charcoal (if you get an upset stomach, it'll be taken care of already)
- maltodextrin (sugar!)
- potassium and sodium nitrates (same stuff that cures meat, and gives it that pink colour. Yes, it has its controversies, but how often are you going to eat gunpowder?).

Of course there is an extra secret ingredient. It looked like fine white crystals.

I did ask Chef Dee if he ever ignited or set off any explosions while cooking with gunpowder. The answer is no, because they omit sulphur in the formula. Without sulphur, gunpowder is inert. Thank god too, for sulphur smells and tastes like rotten eggs.

So anyway, enough talk. Let's get on with the tasting. (Do note that these are merely tasting portions. The real masterclass should be much more substantial.)

Hokkaido scallops cured with gunpowder, white pepper and caviar scrambled eggs, dehydrated wagyu and fried basil
Hokkaido scallops cured with gunpowder, white pepper and caviar scrambled eggs, dehydrated wagyu and fried basil
The first course featured Hokkaido scallops cured with gunpowder. It took about 60 hours to cure the scallops as nitrates take much longer than salt. The result? Extremely smooth and delicate scallops. I will admit the sandy texture of gunpowder (and its sooty appearance) can be a little unnerving at first, but just think of it as crushed Oreos or something. There was no foul or metallic taste to the gunpowder, surprisingly. Oh, I loved the soft scrambled eggs that tasted of the ocean. The dehydrated wagyu makes a great bacon substitute too.

Wagyu seasoned with gunpowder, placed atop eucalyptus salsa.
Wagyu seasoned with gunpowder, placed atop eucalyptus salsa
The main course is the famous gunpowder steak - 420-day grain fed, grade 9 wagyu (well, Australian Angus-wagyu crossbreed, so this could be why the "wagyu" flavour is a little muted and not overpowering). The meat has been marinated 24 hours, so the nitrates keep it pink even when the meat is cooked. There is still a bit of connective tissue, but for the most part, the steak is tender and tasty. It somehow manages to be rich and gentle at the same time, a nice balance of sweet, salty and umami. A tiny bit of beef seasoning is also used in the gunpowder formula for the steaks.

The eucalyptus salsa has tomato bread, cucumber salsa, Kalamata olive and soy dressing
The steak is paired with an unusual eucalyptus salsa which has tomato bread, cucumber salsa, Kalamata olive and soy dressing. They spoke of how eucalyptus oil can be toxic when ingested (how do koalas manage?). The chef told us they had to source a safe enough essence to use, and it is used sparingly. Just for the faint hint. Some of the media could not detect any eucalyptus scent but I could smell it before I ate it. I think it works best at this strength. Quite refreshing.

Chef Damon Amos scooping the gunpowdered mascarpone onto the dessert
So we've seen gunpowder used to cure and season meats. Now Agent Dee will demonstrate how gunpowder can actually sweeten things. That's because it contains maltodextrin. Here he's scooping out some gunpowdered mascarpone onto the dessert.

Ginger biscuit crumble, apple and fig, burnt butter, apple chip, micro coriander and gunpowdered mascarpone
Ginger biscuit crumble, apple and fig, burnt butter, apple chip, micro coriander and gunpowdered mascarpone
Every element in this dessert is delicious on its own and even better together. The problem is, the dessert is so pretty you don't want to mess it up! Now this is where the gunpowder tasted like powdered Oreos. Yummy! Loved the apple jelly strip (tangy!) and also the warm figs - oh how they coddle your tongue!

Prime Princess Ingrid Prasatya and Head Chef Damon Amos
Very warm-hearted thanks to the lovely Prime Princess Ingrid Prasatya (the businesswoman behind The Prime Society and the Society Group) and Head Chef Damon Amos for the masterclass preview. It was a pleasure and eye-opener.

The Two Smoking Barrels masterclass is on 21 April 2010 (3-5pm). Tickets available at S$88++ each. The Prime Society is also running an exclusive Two Smoking Barrels menu for lunch and dinner from 12-17 April. The five course menu features Tasmanian oysters, carpaccio of wagyu, and The Prime Society’s signature gunpowder beef. If you just want the gunpowder steak topped with eucalyptus salsa, it's available as a featured dish priced at $68++ from 19-25 April, 2010.

10 Dempsey Road, #01-20,
Singapore 247700
Tel: +65 6474-7427 (RIBS)
Monday to Sunday dinner: 6pm – late
Tuesday to Friday lunch: 12pm – 3pm
Saturday and Sunday brunch/lunch: 11.30am – 3pm


  1. Damon Amos is famous, but the question is ... Is he a tough cookie? ;) Am really intrigued by the gunpowdered mascarpone!

  2. Hahaha, well, he's certainly tough enough to handle the police! Yes, gunpowdered mascarpone - who would have thought it'd be this amazingly good.

  3. I never knew gunpowder could even be used for cooking! Thanks for the revelation, dear. :)

    P.S. Only now catching up on your posts from the past couple of weeks - I just got back from Tokyo and there are piles upon piles of stuff to read and wade through. Yikes! :P

  4. Kenny, TOKYO!!! You're so lucky!!! At least you've been busy with something fun! I shall look forward to those posts for sure!

  5. i nvr thought he was dat great.
    he look so simple and a little bit of naughty but shrek bhind that simplicity was a a superb great chef.. luckyy to met him.


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