SHEN’S DAR­ING CULI­NARY EN­DEAVOR

Fa­mous food critic tosses the rule­book out the win­dow in culi­nary col­lab­o­ra­tion with Sher­a­ton ho­tels.

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI -

grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity in kitchens around the world due to the rise of the slow food move­ment, which aims to pre­vent the dis­ap­pear­ance of lo­cal food cul­tures and tra­di­tions. But be­cause of the task at hand, Shen said that food trends had to take a back seat.

“It’s like learn­ing a lan­guage. One has to learn the al­pha­bet be­fore us­ing cy­ber lan­guage,” said Shen.

The eight dishes de­signed by him are: radish peels with chopped pep­pers (Xiang cui­sine from Hunan prov­ince), pork skin jel­lies (Pek­ing cui­sine), ducks dis­tilled in red vinasse (Min cui­sine from Fu­jian prov­ince), salted roasted chicken (Can­tonese cui­sine), rice rolls with salted duck egg yolk (Su cui­sine from Jiangsu prov­ince), spring rolls filled with deboned cod fish (Zhe cui­sine from Zhe­jiang prov­ince), dried or­ange peels fried with beef (Chuan cui­sine from Sichuan prov­ince), and dried bean curd fla­vored with tea leaves and spices (Hui cui­sine from An­hui prov­ince).

Even the pre­sen­ta­tion style has been al­tered to suit for­eign trav­el­ers. Each dish is served in a tapas style that al­lows peo­ple to share the bite-sized por­tions as Shen be­lieves one of the most in­tim­i­dat­ing fea­tures of Chi­nese cui­sine is its sheer vol­ume and va­ri­ety.

“Peo­ple of dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties or ori­gins are not only de­fined by their skin col­ors, lan­guages, but also the food they eat. I think the eight dishes can ba­si­cally sum­ma­rize the taste of Chi­nese cuisines,” said Shen of the menu.

Hav­ing started his ca­reer in jour­nal­ism as a po­lit­i­cal re­porter in south­ern China’s Guang­dong prov­ince, the re­gion that was the first in the coun­try to adopt the open­ing up and re­form pol­icy, Shen be­gan to write about food in 1998 as a colum­nist for the well-re­spected South­ern Weekly news­pa­per. Be­fore his re­tire­ment late in the 2000s, he was con­sid­ered the most ex­pen­sive colum­nist in the in­dus­try, charg­ing as much as 1 US dol­lar per word.

It was not un­til 2012, when the seven-episode food doc­u­men­tary se­ries A Bite of China — he was the chief con­sul­tant to the show — hit the tele­vi­sion screens that he be­came a house­hold fig­ure. The show drew more than 100 mil­lion view­ers dur­ing its ini­tial broad­cast.

An equally suc­cess­ful spin-off to the pro­gram was cre­ated years later and is be­lieved to have fur­ther whet­ted the ap­petite of mil­lions of Chi­nese for their hum­ble home­town snacks. The show was also hailed as a cham­pion of the Chi­nese food in­dus­try that had been em­bat­tled by sev­eral scan­dals over the years.

How­ever, Shen be­lieves that there is still a long way to go be­fore Chi­nese cui­sine can achieve as great a recog­ni­tion as its French coun­ter­part that it is of­ten com­pared to. He also cited the need for Chi­nese cui­sine, which is renowned for its heavy fla­vors, to adapt and cater to the grow­ing de­mand for healthy eat­ing if it is to achieve greater pop­u­lar­ity around the world.

“Many young Chi­nese to­day would opt for French or western fine din­ing over Chi­nese when they want to dine out on im­por­tant oc­ca­sions. But they are not the ones to blame. It is the job of chefs and res­tau­rants to at­tract cus­tomers,” said Shen.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

From left to right: radish peels with chopped pep­pers (Xiang cui­sine from Hunan prov­ince), ducks dis­tilled in red vinasse (Min cui­sine from Fu­jian prov­ince), dried or­ange peels fried with beef (Chuan cui­sine from Sichuan prov­ince)

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Chi­nese food critic Shen Hongfei. Shen Hongfei, a Chi­nese food critic

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