Pairing champagne with hotdogs

Yin and yang is how British chef James Knappett sums up his working relationship with his wife Sandia Chang, a Chinese-American sommelier and restaurant general manager.

The couple co-founded the popular split-concept Bubbledogs and The Kitchen Table - the first serves gourmet hot dogs with champagne while the other does intimate fine dining - in Fitzrovia, London, 1 1/2 years ago.

Their working styles balance each other, says Knappett, 32, referring to the Chinese philosophy of harmony and interconnectivity.

He adds of Chang, 34, whom he married seven years ago: "She's the super cool person who helps people and talks to everyone, and I'm the one who's a bit more strict, who likes things done a certain way.

"Her knowledge of service and wine, combined with mine of food and the kitchen, is a great partnership and we know it."

Another bonus, he adds with a laugh, is that she will never need to look for a chef, and he will never need to look for someone to handle the front of house.

The couple will be in town this week for gourmet event Savour, and those keen to taste Knappett's cuisine or attend his masterclasses can head to The Promontory at Marina Bay from Wednesday to Sunday.

His offerings may include the 4th Of July hotdog, with Southern barbecue sauce, creamy coleslaw and bacon bits, although dishes are subject to change.

Bubbledogs is a hip and casual eatery that serves gourmet hotdogs in house-baked buns alongside grower champagne - champagne made by the owners of vineyards from which the grapes are harvested - while The Kitchen Table, located at the back of the premises, is a 19-seat chef's counter that serves 12 to 14 courses.

These are no ordinary hotdogs, of course. They are handmade and include options such as the Date Dog, served with roasted garlic, pickled onions and chive cream cheese, and Small Eye, a hotdog topped with coriander and pickled vegetable salad with Sriracha mayonnaise. Each dog is priced between 6 pounds and 7.50 pounds (S$12.75 and S$16). A degustation meal at The Kitchen Table is priced at 78 pounds a head.

The couple met while working at celebrated American chef Thomas Keller's three-Michelin-starred restaurant Per Se in New York. Later, they both landed jobs at three-Michelin-starred restaurant Noma in Copenhagen. They have no children.

The concept for hotdogs and champagne came about because they wanted to make grower champagne more accessible to diners.

Knappett says: "We didn't want champagne to have any stuffiness about it. With a champagne bar, you can really only go there for a special occasion, but we wanted to change that."

So instead of caviar, the usual accompaniment to the bubbly tipple, they opted for hotdogs instead.

"We wanted to make it fun, and there wasn't really a hotdog scene in London at the time so we just went for it. There was no real over-thinking or long debates about the concept."

Bubbledogs, which is at the front of the restaurant, has a loud and buzzy vibe, whereas The Kitchen Table at the back of the restaurant is calm and quiet. Diners there can enjoy a two- or three-hour meal, but still feel the energy of the casual eatery whenever they use the restroom or when they leave the restaurant, he says.

"One moment, it can be quiet, then just absolute chaos when you walk into Bubbledogs. It's really cool," he adds.

He says he wanted a sushi counter- style degustation chef's table to showcase the modern and innovative style of cuisine he was trained in.

Knappett grew up in Soham in Cambridgeshire and went on to Cambridge Regional College, a catering college where he studied culinary arts.

It was only after tasting foie gras for the first time at the now-defunct Pink Geranium restaurant in Melbourn, Cambridgeshire, when he was 18 that he knew for sure that he wanted to be a chef.

He says: "I started realising that I wanted to be the best in what I was doing. I started to realise crap food from great food and I just got more and more into it."

Ask about expansion and Knappett says he and his wife have "started thinking about it" but have no plans yet.

He is keen on venturingoverseas, he says. "There is a big list of countries that I think our concept would work in but unfortunately, there is not a big list of staff who can work in them. We'll see."


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