Just nuts about Brazil
THE tables are set with confetti and streamers and the party props used at New Year's Eve bashes. The white feather tiaras are an exception. The volume on the taped samba music threatens conversation. But, after a few rum drinks, Brazil's answer to Mexico's margarita, who cares.
The second you raise your fork to attack the bo bo camarao (shrimp in coconut milk), acaraje (Bahia's kidney bean appetiser) or the fried manioc cake, the floor show erupts.
The dancers preen, strut and twirl themselves around their partners' necks like hula hoops. Strings of pearls quiver against fishnet stockings, smiles are wider than the bikinis and the glistening rib cages warn you of bathing suit season.
During a search-and-destroy mission on the dessert combination plate, a gentleman dressed in a black feather head-dress, bathing suit and black suede boots to the knee, arrives with an invitation to dance before 70 pairs of eyes.
Suddenly, the white pudding with prunes and guava paste with sweet cheese feel like bricks in the stomach. The floor fails to open and swallow you up. The balloon tied to your chair is too small to hide behind.
He flashes a beguiling smile, you die, he disappears, your breathing returns to normal. Your friends empathise with: ''You chicken.'' Welcome to Brazilian Carnival and the dinner floor show at Gripps Restaurant at the Omni Hongkong Hotel.
What is a hard act to follow is also fun, giddy and a delightful way to forget a trying day at the office, a friend's motorcycle getting stolen and a dreaded missive from the Internal Revenue Department.
A group of chefs from the Rio Palace Hotel creates a taste of Brazil with a la carte and set menus at lunch and dinner. The Brazil-Asia dance troupe heightens the mood, not to mention the pulse rate.
When asked to spell the dishes of his country, Eduardo Chapoval obliges, slowly, like a seasoned teacher, not an assistant manager from the Rio Palace hotel.
When chef Milton Schneider talks about the regional specialities, such as vatapa (shrimps in coriander, peanuts and chili) or the national dish, black bean soup, he reaches for props.
Take, manioc, the root vegetable that looks like potato's darkest cousin. It is the dutiful servant in sweets and savouries. Then dende oil. No Bahian kitchen is without it, he continues, proffering a tall bottle with cloudy contents. He rubs some between his fingers, turning the tips orange. ''It comes from a plant.'' Then cachaca. The industrial-strength rum cuts black bean soup and ultimately extracts an extra hour of samba and silliness.
Trying to explain Brazilian cooking - ''not too spicy and very regional'' - is as difficult as translating joie de vivre as it is lived by Brazilians during Carnival, says Chapoval. It is a time when workers take five days off, drink too much and dance,dance, dance. It is an annual period that chefs and managers dread and endure, knowing that holiday time will follow.
After their arduous 26-hour flight from Rio and fussy details of getting a two-week food promotion off the ground in a strange kitchen, Schneider and Chapoval are feeling comfortable away from home.
But the cold weather is taking its toll on Schneider, the victim of chapped lips. His sous-chefs haven't been out of the Omni kitchen yet to see the tourist sights.
The scheduled trip to Macau will be a highlight.
''The chefs can't find too many people here who speak Portuguese,'' said Chapoval. The Brazilian promotion runs until March 14 at Gripps Restaurant and Piano Bar. The Brazil-Asia dance troupe has two shows nightly plus a matinee luncheon performance.