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Jam-Packing The Seasons' Best With The Mira's Sheldon Fonseca

The luxury hotel’s executive chef shares the vision on his first artisanal jam series.

By Wilson Fok
December 1, 2021

The perfect fruit jam is an acquired taste, with varieties as numerous as the types of fruits out there. The best jam-related experience, however, begins when you open the jar, turning the lid and hearing that ‘pop ’sound that breaks the seal, revealing a deep jar of glossy set of fruit spread. Jams come in different consistencies. Some, like citrus marmalades, are firmer whereas jams or preserves tend to be softer in the set. They all have one thing in common—these jarred sweet treats capture the best the season offers. At The Mira, executive chef Sheldon Fonseca is starting a new project at Coco, the hotel’s dessert cafe, as the hotel is set to launch a new line of artisanal jams.

Photo: The Mira Hotel

Making jam, as Fonseca points out, is something that runs in the family. Growing up in India under the influence of his mother and grandmother, Fonseca’s childhood is richly surrounded with an abundance of tropical fruits, particularly mangoes, which are easily transformed into a gloriously golden spread of love. “Of course my favourite is mango. You cannot go wrong with mangoes, they are great to eat as they are to preserve, and my mother makes the best mango jam, I could literally enjoy them on their own,” Fonseca recalled. The executive chef of The Mira Hong Kong has had plenty of experience making his own preserves throughout his career. When he worked in Switzerland, he designed a collection of savoury fruit chutneys as part of the pairing for the restaurant’s cheese course. During his tenure at Seychelles, where tropical fruits flourish, Fonseca worked with local farmers to create fruit sauces and preserves for the various dishes offered at his restaurants. Prior to launching his artisanal jam debut at The Mira, the chef has kickstarted the luxury property’s own preserves, which make an appearance at the hotel’s breakfast spread. “We start small with a raspberry jam and a chocolate hazelnut spread. These two varieties are crowd favourites,” shared Fonseca.

Photo: The Mira Hotel

Fonseca takes great pride in his own raspberry jam, a preserve quick to make even for novices at home. “The key of a good jam is good fruit. You want fruits that are of good quality and consistent throughout the year,” the chef explained, “which is why we taste-tested jams made with fresh raspberries and flash-frozen raspberries, they make little difference, and the frozen ones are most consistent throughout the year.” Watching ruby red raspberries yielding to heat inside a stainless steel pot is oddly therapeutic, as the berries slowly melt into a seedy pool of red velvet. Jams require pectin to set. As raspberries are low in natural-occurring pectin, Fonseca opts for commercial powdered pectin, mixed with sugar before being added into the rapidly boiling jam. The addition of pectin powder and sugar quickly set the boiling sweet lava before turning glossy like a molten jelly. Instead of lemon juice, Fonseca uses juice from the Japanese yuzu, adding depth to the preserve and a much needed zing to cut the sweetness of the jam. When the simmering jams reach 105°C, known as the setting point for preserves, they can undergo a jam setting test. Fonseca spoons some jam onto a previously chilled saucer. When the jam is ready, the fruity spread will stay stationary and form a thin film across the top, indicating success.

Photo: The Mira Hotel

A hotel’s breakfast staple, Fonseca’s raspberry jam is popular with toast as well as yoghurt amongst guests. His chocolate hazelnut spread, a homemade version of the widely popular Nutella, is made with toasted hazelnuts, cocoa powder, sugar, and dark chocolate. “The key is to create that nostalgic flavour that everyone enjoyed when they were growing up, as it was Nutella for me.” Fonseca is spot on connecting his preserves with memories and fondness for sweets, as the chef is set to expand his scope for these preserves beyond an appearance on the breakfast spread at the hotel, into retail on the shelves of Coco.

This December, Coco, The Mira’s one-stop coffee and dessert destination is set to be revamped into a cafe featuring the hotel’s signature afternoon teas, whole and individual cakes and Fonseca’s first artisanal jam series. “We will start with a series of six rotating varieties, with occasional seasonal fruit preserves in limited quantities,” the ambitious chef continued. In an early invited tasting we got a first taste of Fonseca’s more delicate preserves, set to include unique flavour combinations that are rare to the local market for jams.

Photo: The Mira Hotel

Fonseca begins his artisanal jam series with a December-exclusive: The ‘Jingle Bell’ Lingonberry Marmalade, prepared specially for the holiday season with the red tart berry from the Nordic regions, imparting a sweet-and-sour sensation in every bite. Other jam staples include ‘Sunny Seville’, an Oxford-style marmalade made with Spanish oranges flavoured with ginger and Scotch whisky; ‘Pina Colada’, Fonseca’s reminder of his old tenure in Seychelles where pineapples flourish, complete with Tahitian vanilla, market lime and rum; ‘Tropicana’, a preserve where gingerbread spices and salted butter caramel enrich a sweet banana jam; ‘Passionately Mango’, where Taiwanese mango mingles with passionfruit and Jade Gianduja hazelnut paste.

Aside from zesty fruit preserves, Fonseca has also stayed true to his jams’ plant-based properties with ‘Singapore Swing’, his answer to an egg-free coconut kaya flavoured with pandan, or screwpine leaves. Instead of creating the kaya in a traditional water bath method, Fonseca’s version is a caramel, flavoured with pandan leaves and coconut milk for a spreadable caramel that melts in the mouth. “The Pandan jam really makes a difference here. It is like candy and jam all rolled into one, “ explained Fonseca. The artisan jam series be available starting December 2021 just in time for gifting season.

Photo: The Mira Hotel

All six varieties of The Mira’s jams are available in 275-gram jars and are priced at HK$108 each (‘Passionately Mango’ and seasonal ‘Jingle Bells’ Lingonberry Marmalade both at HK$128 each), available on the hotel’s online boutique as well as on premise at Coco. Guests can look forward to more jams to be launched early 2022, including Fonseca’s proud ‘Strawberry High Tea’, ‘Berry & Balsamic’ (Berries and Modena white balsamic vinegar) and ‘Caramelito’ (caramel hazelnut spread).

Coco, G/F, Lobby, The Mira Hong Kong, Mira Place, 118-130 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong; +852 2315 5566, mira-eshop.com/en/coco

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