Jacqueline Qiu: 'Talent is first and foremost'
Jacqueline Qiu is well known as a trailblazer on Shanghai’s vibrant food scene. She has a wealth of experience working in top hotels and restaurants, including five years at Jean Georges at the Park Hyatt, and most recently at the Andaz Xintiandi Shanghai, where she became the only female executive chef at an international five-star hotel in Shanghai. From humble beginnings at culinary school, to owning four restaurants, Qiu has risen through the ranks in a world dominated by male chefs, and continues to inspire young female chefs in China and beyond today.
About being a chef, she jokes: “I like food and I like to wear a chef’s jacket! It’s so beautiful and different to all the others. Plus, hard work is fun.”
Liu was a jury member at the China regional final of S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2016, and she returns again this year as both jury member and mentor to the winner, who will go on to compete in the global final. She spoke to Fine Dining Lovers about women chefs, Shanghainese dining culture and the future of Chinese food.
The Shanghai food scene is incredibly vibrant and diverse – how do you see it evolving over the coming years?
It’s already quite healthy and high-end. It has become much more appealing to younger people and it is a part of their recreation. It still has the regional characterization, but it is diversifying widely and spreading to new places. The Shanghai food and beverage market will continue to provide consumers with quality food to meet individual, high-value demand. High levels of safety and value-added service will be important. But we will also see lots of small, exquisite speciality foods. There is a market for light and casual themed dining, as well as more home consumption. More people will want to taste the food and drink of this unique food culture. A new era of catering requires Shanghai restaurants to have a new way of thinking – a new vision and a new realm. It has substantial potential to be the trendy food of the moment, to be a winner. The most important factor is the human influence – talent is first and foremost.
What are the main differences and analogies between Chinese and Western kitchens, in your opinion?
Different countries, different food, different cooking methods. But there is one thing that is the same: you have to grasp solid basic skills in order to make good dishes and carry them forward.
You worked working alongside Jean-Georges Vongerichten – what did you learn from him?
After five years at Jean-Georges I learned a lot. I learned to understand more about ingredients and how to match them perfectly. I learned about the overall management of the kitchen and how to provide the best experience for guests.
As a mentor, what do you expect from your young chef?
Young chefs should be confident and active. They should be curious and have enough sensitivity and awareness. Young chefs also need to practice and practice again, whether they are basic ingredients or techniques - to strengthen their skills through constant practice, to study hard and find the right direction by setting goals.
What would you say to encourage women thinking of becoming a chef?
I think the lack of women in the kitchen is due to a problem with people’s perception about women. When a woman starts training she typically won’t be assigned to the kitchen. But I think anything men can do, women can do just as well.
What are you working on at the moment, and what are your plans for the future?
I am researching and developing more delicious food so that more people can enjoy it. My plan is to make a new platform to provide a butler service for people and families.