The stars be­hind the stars

China Daily speaks to the chefs of Miche­lin-starred restau­rants in Shang­hai to find out what they think was the dish that helped them win their awards

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By XU JUNQIAN in Shang­hai xu­jun­qian@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Dish rec­om­mended: Wagyu beef and sea urchin sushi roll

Kan­pai Clas­sic is the only yakiniku (Ja­panese grilled meat) restau­rant to have won a star in the in­au­gu­ral Miche­lin Guide Shang­hai.

Its chef, Ryo Ishi­hara, be­lieves that the dish that helped his restau­rant stand out among the hun­dreds of oth­ers in the city is the Wagyu beef and sea urchin sushi roll. While mar­bled beef has long been a fa­vorite on the grill be­cause of its fat con­tent, chef Ishi­hara be­lieves that it is the leaner part of the meat that has been un­der­rated. He said that he de­cided to pair the meat with sea urchin, a cov­eted seafood in Shang­hai, be­cause it added a dif­fer­ent fla­vor di­men­sion and vis­ual ap­peal to the dish.

“Cook­ing is like math. Medi­ocre cook­ing is do­ing ad­di­tion. Good cook­ing is about mul­ti­pli­ca­tion,” said Ishi­hara.

Dish rec­om­mended: Braised Chile cod with mush­room and spring onions in casse­role

If there is one thing chef Daniel Wong has learnt dur­ing the 24 years he has spent in Can­tonese kitchens, it is that the fresh­ness of fish is de­ter­mined by the minute. In or­der to pre­serve fresh­ness, Wong said that fish should only be steamed.

It comes as no sur­prise then that one of the best­sellers at the restau­rant is the braised Chile Cod which is pop­u­lar all year round.

“To qual­ify as a chef, you only need hands to fol­low the rules and cook. To ex­cel, you need ev­ery­thing above your neck,” said Wong.

Dish rec­om­mended: Braised lob­ster with gnoc­chi and win­ter bam­boo shoot in sour broth

Chef Tony Lu isn’t quite sure if “gnoc­chi” might be an ap­pro­pri­ate term to use, since the food, pro­nounced “mian ge da” in Shang­hai di­alect, is a low-bud­get dish that is mostly made at home as an “emer­gency food” when a house­wife has lit­tle time to pre­pare for a proper meal. Re­gard­less, the dish has proven to be a crowd fa­vorite. He has also changed the taste pro­file of the dish by us­ing mar­i­nated yel­low pep­pers from south­west China’s Guizhou prov­ince for spice and lemon for sour­ness, say­ing that these in­gre­di­ents are more ef­fec­tive at help­ing din­ers stay warm dur­ing win­ter.

“I am of­ten asked if this or that is quin­tes­sen­tial Shang­hainese cui­sine. The essence of Shang­hainese cui­sine is, like the city, in­clu­sive and adapt­able,” said Lu.

Dish rec­om­mended: Sea salt smoked black cod

Most of the dishes on the menu at Sir Elly’s are avail­able for no longer than three months but the smoked black cod is an ex­cep­tion be­cause it is “fem­i­nine”, which ac­cord­ing to chef Hans Zah­ner refers to be­ing healthy, re­fresh­ing and light. Chef Zah­ner uses olive oil and tomato con­somme in­stead of but­ter and cream to achieve this light­ness. He uses mashed green peas as the base and smokes the cod with only sea salt in or­der to main­tain the true fla­vor.

“I don’t sauce the fish. I like to sauce around it, on one con­di­tion only — the fish is good enough,” said Zah­ner.

Dish rec­om­mended: Clas­sic Mi­lanese Veal Chop

Chef Ric­cardo Le Perna has been in Shang­hai long enough to know the lo­cal res­i­dents’ pen­chant for fried meat chops. From street side ven­dors to the city’s most his­tor­i­cal West­ern restau­rants that were opened in the 1930s, golden crispy pork chops have long been a pop­u­lar choice, both as a snack and dur­ing im­por­tant din­ing oc­ca­sions.

As such, chef Perna de­cided that Shang­hai was the per­fect city to pop­u­lar­ize his home­town veal chop. Us­ing what he con­sid­ers the best part of the cow, he said the trick to cook­ing this dish is to pan fry the meat with­out get­ting its sur­face rip­pled.

Dish rec­om­mended: Com­pressed Straw­berry 95

Chef Michael Wil­son ad­mits that he isn’t the orig­i­nal cre­ator of this hit dish at his restau­rant. Rather, he got the recipe from a fel­low chef in Am­s­ter­dam af­ter he was cap­ti­vated by the aroma and fla­vor of the basil cake.

Hav­ing made a few tweaks to the recipe, the Com­pressed Straw­berry 95, a sea­sonal spe­cial, has since been im­mensely pop­u­lar with din­ers. The dessert fea­tures straw­ber­ries, crushed ice, yo­ghurt and vanilla, with a sprin­kle of meringue pieces and basil leaves.

“This dish looks sim­ple, but it’s ac­tu­ally not that sim­ple to make,” says Wil­son.

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