American cuisine gets a French twist
this spring, none specialize in American staples like cheeseburgers, French fries or apple pie. But there are some creative new offshoots.
Pop at Three on the Bund bills itself as the “first and only American Brasserie in town”. It opened earlier this year and has a decidedly French inflection.
“I don’t see why a French chef cannot make American cuisine, just as downstairs, there is an American chef running Jean-Georges,” said David Chauveau, Pop’s executive chef.
Chauveau, who hails from western France’s Montrevault, was referring to the eponymous eatery run by Michelinstarred French chef JeanGeorges Vongerichten, which is housed in the same building.
“French cuisine dominates the city, together with Italian cuisine, only because French food is for celebration,” added Chauveau, who spent over five years with Sir Elly at the Peninsula in Shanghai.
Pop is based on the premise that diners in the city increasingly want refined food in a non-fine-dining environment. As an American brasserie, it serves “a melting pot of cuisines with a casual style”, said the chef.
It sits at the top of a century old building overlooking the Huangpu River and offers premium burgers made from Wagyu beef, among other treats. Locally based “foodies” apparently can’t get enough of it.
Austin Hu, the American chef who started one of the first restaurants offering American cuisine in Shanghai, demonstrates a similar passion with his dishes.
After graduating from the French Culinary Institute in New York City and working at restaurants like Gramercy Tavern, the 32-year-old decided to open the restaurant Madison promoting “new American cuisine” in Shanghai in 2010.
He defined this as dishes that taste good and which are made from locally sourced ingredients.
“When we first opened, no one was ‘foolish’ enough to do that,” said Hu, who is ethnic-Chinese. He was born in Wisconsin.
Five years later, he has brought local specialties like
( three- yellowchicken) back to the dinner table and helped to re-popularize the idea of Sunday brunch. Sanhuangji is made from a local breed of chicken with a yellow beak, feathers and claws.
It is hard to say exactly how many American restaurants there are in Shanghai, but many put the number below 50. In contrast, there are over 90,000 restaurants in total in the city.
On the country’s largest review website, dianping.com, there are 3,800 Western restaurants listed in Shanghai. These are classified into nine categories including French, Italian, Middle Eastern, Steakhouse, Pizza Shop and “Other”. There is no category for American cuisine so it gets slotted away under “Other”.
Not that Shanghai locals have lost their taste for American food. Hamburgers sell as quickly as Chinese buns during breakfast time at many of the city’s 24-hour convenience stores.
But Huang Jiayun, who has worked in the food industry for over a decade, agrees with Chauveau that many locals are just waiting for the right excuse to fork out on top-notch US dishes.
“We’ve all known how ‘foodstagramming’ (taking pictures of your food and posting it on Instagram or Twitter) has affected the way people eat, or decide what to eat,” she said.
“So French and Italian here are (for) showing off fancy eating. Middle Eastern fare is more exotic, street food is kind of freestyle and American food … is for maybe when you are busy or eating unhealthily,” Huang said.
Han Han, perhaps China’s most prominent blogger, has invested in a fusion restaurant chain called Nice to Meet You.
One menu item has proved a hit since the restaurant opened. Billed as“The ribs from House of Cards”, it refers to the comfort food enjoyed by the devious politician (played by Kevin Spacey) in the Netflix series of the same name.
Like the fried chicken from My Love from the Star, the city’s favorite South Korean soap opera, the 32-year-old is growing his restaurant at a fast clip. There are already 20 new branches in his hometown, just one year after it first launched.