Zhu Wenyuan of Shanghai’s Lady Bund restaurant is the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 China region finalist. The executive chef will showcase his signature dish, entitled simply Tomato at the Grand Final in Milan, the 26th of June. He spoke to us ahead of the big event.
Tell us about your signature dish...
My signature dish is all about passion. I am totally into the culinary arts. In Shanghai, where so many restaurants compete, many people cook simply for work and to make money, but I believe that true culinary art must come from the heart. I’m confident I can delight you with each dish that I make, because you will feel my passion in it.
What made you decide to become a chef?
My father asked if I wanted to major in design, but I told him I wanted to be an artist. In my younger years, art was my life. My father and I talked about it. Then I thought: I’m very interested in cooking as well, I can learn cooking. I decided to focus on Western dishes.
Which chef or chefs inspire you daily and why?
Instead of a single chef, I’d say it’s a group of people who inspire me. They are lovers of the culinary arts, whose eyes shine when they talk about great food. They’d love to stay 12 hours a day in the kitchen. They love their job. These people really inspire me, and I’m one of them.
What’s the best dish you’ve ever tasted - where did you eat it, who cooked it?
The best food I’ve ever tasted was prepared by my grandmother, on my mother’s side. As a kid, I stayed two days a week at my grandma’s. A bowl of rice with baked pork and sautéed egg, often accompanied by some dry tofu. I loved it so much. She tried to put as much food as possible in my bowl.
What’s the most challenging aspect of S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 for you?
The biggest challenge is to be the best I can. I won’t compete with others using my specialty of Western dishes. I’ll leverage my understanding of Chinese dishes and see how I perform in the competition.
What kind of help/guidance would you like from your mentor?
I would love to learn more from the rich encyclopaedia of Chinese culinary arts. I’ll use what I learn to improve my cooking skills.
What will you do if you win this competition?
In China, we often serve iced tomato slices with sugar as a dessert. Tomato sauce is used frequently in main courses. Meanwhile, tomatoes are a key ingredient in Italian dishes. The two cuisines echo each other. If I can convince the judges that the perfect marriage of Oriental and Western cuisines can become a new trend in the culinary world, then it will be a great success.
Staff shortages are hitting the hospitality sector hard, prompting some restaurants to look outside the industry to train those without restaurant experience for life in the kitchen. Andrew Friedman finds out more.