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
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.