On the menu: Art deco-style gems
The most interesting dinner of 2015 may have been served in Shanghai late last fall, when theWorld Congress on Art Deco convened for a vintage banquet at the Fairmont PeaceHotel.
The historic hotel on the Bund has been a symbol of the city’s architecture since its construction in 1929, part of the art deco surge that defined modernity in the early 20th century. Dozens of experts and enthusiasts of the style came to Shanghai for a week of talks, walks and stylish retro evenings, including the finale dinner at the grand hotel built by Sir Victor Sassoon, which was originally named the Cathay Hotel.
The hotel chef Jeremy Harris discloses how the banquet came about.
What sources did you have for developing the menu?
That was influenced by an old menu that was found in our Fairmont Peace Hotel Museum. The “old Shanghai menu”, as we call it, was most likely a daily menu from the Fine Dining Restaurant, which is dated from 1931. We took some dishes right off of this menu and replicated them and we also adapted a couple of dishes in a contemporary style.
How many courses involved, and how guests did you have? were many
We served approximately 160 guests a five-course dinner.
What compromises did you have to make to duplicate dishes from nearly a century ago?
We really did not make any compromises. However, we did enhance the dishes slightly as, in the old menu, the descriptions were not exciting. We added some flair to the dishes but stillkept the integrity of the old menu. For example, the Pomelo Fruit Cocktail on the old menu we converted to a prawn appetizer with
pomelo and organic greens.
Was there a specific dish that was a particular challenge?
None of the dishes were very difficult, but I had to do some research on the Nesselrode Pudding. I really had no idea what it was, honestly. The dessert is an almond cream pie with dried fruits and a graham-cracker crust.
What was the best part of putting this dinner together?
I really enjoyed the tastepanel process for developing the final menu for the guests at the actual dinner. It was fun to describe the dishes on the old menu and then show how we were presenting them years later. It was also fun to imagine a chef doing the same menu in 1931 as we were in 2015. The execution of the actual dinner was also fun. We do an abundance of “plated dinners” so we’re experts, but this one took extra focus.
What’s the story behind the dish from that era that you now serve at the all-day lobby restaurant, Victor’s?
We serve our famous Sir Victor’s Sassoon Curry, which is a hotel signature. Sir Victor Sassoon was a businessman in present-dayMumbai, so his preference for curry obviously came from his experience in India. It is still a popular dish today in Victor’s.
Will any dishes you created for the art deco-conference menu be appearing on the regular hotel menu?
I will not incorporate any of these dishes into the menus here in the hotel. However, in the Cathay Room, which is our fine-dining restaurant, we put heavy influence on classic preparations. We do a lot of dishes with confit style (salted and cooked in fat at a low temperature), and also dishes that are classic in nature but present them in a more contemporary style. A great example is our Duck Confit in Phyllo, and also our Salmon Rillettes.