A Welsh-speaking Japanese cook from Conwy teamed up with a TV chef to create a cosmopolitan Christmas feast with an East Asian twist.
Noriko Vernon’s recipe for Chicken Karaage, learned from her mum back home in Japan, has been given a Welsh flavour by Caernarfon-based culinary star Chris Roberts for the festive special, Bwyd Byd Epic Chris for S4C.
In the shadow of the town’s historic castle, barbecue pit master Chris fired his Yule logs to serve up a four-course gastronomic world tour that as well as Japan, took in exotic recipes from Jamaica, the Philippines and Syria.
All the global taste bud teasers – made with Welsh produce and with Flamebaster Chris’s special touch – can be seen on hour-long special which airs on S4C at 9pm on Wednesday, December 22.
Noriko lives in a converted chapel in Llansannan with her rock musician husband Richard, originally from Anglesey, and their family and often serves the dishes her mother taught her to friends.
Series producers Caernarfon-based TV company Cwmni Da, had posted an appeal on Facebook for someone with a knowledge of Japanese cuisine and when Richard, former bass player with The Mission, responded, Chris was soon in touch and was invited to their home for a Japanese feast.
“I prepared sushi and chicken and we drank some sake and we all enjoyed it,” said Noriko who has learnt Welsh since moving to North Wales 15 years ago.
Larger than life Chris lent a hand with the cooking and was blown away by the flavours and Noriko said: “Chris and I cooked the Chicken Karaage together and I was invited to Caernarfon to record the programme and we prepared his version of the dish for the Christmas special.
“It is chicken marinaded in soy sauce, ginger, garlic and sugar, dipped in flour and corn starch and then deep fried and Chris has added some extra twists to it with more chilli and grated wasabe which is like horse radish.
“It’s absolutely brilliant and I’ll be adding some more of his flavours in future. I’m going to pinch the recipe back off him.”
Chris’s karaage, served in buns with lettuce and a garnish of grated wasabi and nori, Japanese seaweed, went down a storm with the audience of 100 for the filming at Caernarfon’s Slate Quay.
He said: “This is just the time of year for a barbecue. Winter is perfect for cooking outdoors.”
Preparation started early though with Chris’s barbecue braziers glowing red as darkness fell and Geoff Miller, a former cruise ship steward originally from Kingston, Jamaica, but now of Holyhead, got to work early.
Geoff, a firefighter who also runs Cegin Caribi, cooked a West Indian menu of goat curry with rice with peas – actually black beans – and dumplings while Chris prepared a spectacular Jamaican starter of barbecued prawns for the feast.
He said: “I’ve been cooking since the age of 10 but on the cruise ships I was a mixologist, making cocktails, and then I married a girl from Denbigh and now I speak Welsh and live in Holyhead.
“I cook Caribbean and everyone loves it. It’s bendigedig – Welsh for wonderful – it brings some sunshine to your life.”
Chris’s prawns had the thumbs up from Geoff too: “They’re beautiful. This is the second time I’ve worked with Chris and his take on this is so brilliant.
“He has got the spices just right with the Scotch bonnet chilli and the smell of it was just fantastic.”
The main course was pork humba, a recipe Chris learned from Grace Windle, who came to Wales from the Philippines and worked in St David’s Hotel, in Cardiff, before setting up her own restaurant, Kalan Café and Noodle Bar, in Mountain Ash five years ago.
Grace said: “There are over 7,000 islands in the Philippines and so we eat lots of fish but humba made with belly pork is something we cook for special occasions.
“I think Cwmni Da spotted a blog a student from the University of Wales had done after visiting my restaurant and then Chris and the producer from Cwmni Da came down and tried humba and they loved it.”
The pork was cooked long and slow with fermented black beans and spices in the fire in a heavy cast iron pot, its lid covered in glowing hot embers before being served up with rice and salad.
Grace was impressed: “I was nervous serving it because there are some Filipino nurses who work for the NHS here but they loved it. It was very good – I’ll get the recipe from him and put it on the menu.”
Dessert came from the Middle East, courtesy of Syrian refugee Aboga Farka, from the city of Homs which was devastated in the country’s civil war.
He is now living in Gwynedd and prepared the delicious, sticky filo pastry from flour, pistachio nuts, clarified butter and a drenching of honey.
Chris said: “It’s gone really well and I’m sure everyone will enjoy seeing it on S4C over Christmas and having a go at barbecuing outdoors this winter.
“It’s fantastic to work with such great flavours and recipes from all over the world and to give them a real Welsh flavour with some brilliant local produce.
“I’ve loved putting my twist on their recipes from all over the world because I enjoy this fusion cooking but they’re things everyone can do at home themselves and let’s hope this inspires them to try.”