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People enjoy Chinese delicacies, but they know little about the cuisine of this huge country, due to its extraordinary diversity and richness.
As the late celebrity chef, author and TV host Anthony Bourdain said in his CNN series Parts Unknown, Chinese restaurants and Chinese food were really an essential part of being a New Yorker, and you were a terrible New Yorker if you didn’t know how to use chopsticks decades ago. However, he admitted he knew little about Chinese food.
China has 56 ethnic groups, each with unique culinary cuisine traditions. There are officially eight regional cuisines: Cantonese, Sichuan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Min, Hunan, Anhui and Lu. Each represents the specific flavour of the region, for example, Lu Cuisine refers to the northern regions’ dishes featuring dense flavours of shallot, garlic, meat and seafood, while both Jiangsu Cuisine and Zhejiang Cuisine symbolise the dishes around the Southeast provinces, where tenderness and sweetness in food are favoured.
As New Chinese Cuisine is becoming trendy, people are showing incredible curiosity towards and expectation of flavours inspired by traditions, and in Shanghai, one of the world’s most dynamic cities, which attracts locals, expats and Westerners alike, they can indulge in culinary innovations with global perspectives.
Here are the chefs and restaurants innovating the classic dishes of Chinese cuisine in this bustling megacity.
In the picture above: L’oeuf (Zhejiang)
This one-Michelin-starred restaurant is led by Alvin Leung, who's nickname is the 'Demon Chef.' He's a celebrity chef, known for fusion food in a modern molecular gastronomy style, whose restaurant Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, serving 'X-treme Chinese Cuisine,' was awarded three Michelin stars.
Unlike Bo Innovation, Alvin Leung’s Bo Shanghai pays tribute to the eight great regional Chinese cuisines, with French and Italian influences. More precisely, Leung does not recreate the eight classic cuisines, but presents his gastronomic ideas with specific elements from them.
Bo Shanghai’s executive chefs are Simon Wong and De Aille. Similar to Leung, the couple were born in Hong Kong, grew up in Canada, and then changed careers to become chefs. Discovering the secret of umami through a new rendition of the eight great regional cuisines, Wong says the challenges are knowledge of the eight cuisines, training staff, and making sure all the best ingredients arrive in the kitchen. Additionally, guests do not always understand well what they're trying to do at the beginning.
“Dishes from the past, we modernised [them] with French cooking techniques last year and evolve [them with] Italian influences now,” says Wong, who added that they are expecting to update them year by year. For instance, a new dish of Hunan-wagyu carpaccio was inspired by a classic dish form Central China’s Hunan province where the locals make it with smoked bacon and fresh chili. For another, the authentic Sichuan Jellyfish dish, Wong not only maintained the special Sichuan red oil, but also combined the grouper fish broth with chicken broth, to create Bollito Misto.
The Pine at Rui Jin
In the picture above: Iberico pork & Sichuan pepperpeg
Singaporean chef Johnston Teo worked at the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Odette in Singapore, before being appointed as the executive chef for the brand new restaurant The Pine at Rui Jin in Shanghai.
Teo has thrilled diners with his nostalgic Chinese flavours and Western culinary influences, and as a newcomer to Shanghai, is working hard to understand Chinese palates.
"It is not fusion cuisine," says Teo, explaining that fusion is about combining Western and Eastern elements, whereas his passion is to present something unique for Chinese diners to enjoy. More importantly, Teo wants to put Modern Chinese Cuisine on the global gastronomic map.
Take the toothfish soup, for example. Teo knows that savouring a bowl of soup before or after a meal is a dining habit for the Chinese, so he insisted on inventing a fish soup rather than a creamy or thick broth in a Western style. In terms of preparing the toothfish and sturgeon, Teo prefers to utilise the French cooking techniques that he has been taught. For another dish, of Iberico Pork, Teo not only uses Sichuan peppers and capsicums, but also garnishes with the deep-fried pork skins that remind Chinese people of the tough, but wonderful times in the old days.
Wujie (The Bund)
In the picture above: Rosemary Salt-Baked Yunnan Porcini and Ginkgo with Porcini Jus
This vegetarian restaurant was awarded one Michelin star in Shanghai in the 2018 Guide and creates beguiling vegetarian dishes using various cooking techniques underpinned by Chinese nourishment philosophies.
Exquisitely creative and artistic, it is the first ever vegetarian restaurant to offer wine pairing in China, which was inspired by Sidney Schutte, executive chef of the two-Michelin-star Librije’s Zusje restaurant in Amsterdam, who visited Wujie (The Bund) in January 2017.
As a matter of fact, the restaurant has created a kind of modern Chinese vegetarian menu that appeals to locals and foreigners. Manager Cheryl Lin says that many guests from overseas posted on social media about their fantastic dining experiences, saying that the modern Chinese vegetarian dishes surprised them and helped them to learn about Chinese ingredients.
For instance, lion’s mane mushroom, Chinese mountain yam, and peach tree resin were used to create a dish, paired with the wine of Domaine Anthony Thevenet, Cuvee Vieilless Vignes 2015, Morgon, France.