Lipsmacking: Tim Rostron keeps returning to Susur Lee's Singaporean-style slaw
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, May/June 2013
The chef Susur Lee—ponytailed at work, windswept in photo shoots—is a long-established star of Canadian cuisine. His small-plate fusion cooking is world-class and carnivore-friendly; but his masterpiece needs a large plate, is hardly cooked, and probably qualifies as vegan.
Lee’s Singaporean-style slaw was inspired by the traditional good-luck salad of the Chinese New Year. The charm worked for him. It’s been on the menu every night for years and his customers never tire of it. There are signs, though, that it may have lost some of its fascination for the servers. When asked if you’ve visited Lee before, always say "no". Otherwise you could have less than a second to admire the dish in its pièce montée pomp before the waiter’s serving forks wreck it.
What you’ll have glimpsed is a nest of taro root and flowers, sculpted on an armature of fried vermicelli. Razed, it looks more like a heap of chopped veg. Then you take a first mouthful and begin to plan a next visit. There’s a lot going on here. Is this health food or something far better, with the crunchy/soft, sweet/salty contrasts of confectionery? Yes, all of that. The slaw’s 19 ingredients range from standard greengroceries to Whole Foods Market exotics of daikon sprouts and jicama, and make for subtle shifts in taste and texture. Somehow a lot of detail emerges through the salted preserved plum—sweet!—in the dressing and the constant crunch of peanut and sesame. How did he do that?
You’ll finish your slaw, but you won’t get to the bottom of it in one sitting. This may be an everyday salad, but custom cannot stale its infinite variety.
C$20-30 (serves two); susur.com
Tim Roston is a senior editor at Doubleday in Toronto and a former rock critic of the Daily Telegraph
Illustration Holly Exley