Chef trans­forms skill into luck

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By LIUKUNinWuhan and ZHANG ZHIHAO in Bei­jing Con­tact the writers at zhangzhi­hao@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Cook­ery teacher and veteran chef Zhang Hui at­tributes his ca­reer suc­cess to luck, but be­hind his mod­esty are hard­trained skills and ded­i­ca­tion to details.

Among the hun­dreds of can­di­dates for the na­tional Antarc­tic ex­plo­ration team in 2010, Zhang was the cho­sen from his home prov­ince ofHubei in Cen­tralChina af­ter many rounds of ap­praisals. When a lo­cal chef from Wuhan, the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, was re­quired at the Chi­nese em­bassy in Thai­land in mid-July, he again was the one to go af­ter tense in­sider de­lib­er­a­tions.

“I’ve been lucky,” Zhang said with a gen­teel smile.

Zhang has been teach­ing Chi­nese cook­ing at Wuhan Busi­ness Univer­sity for 22 years, although he spent 17 months at the Zhong­shan Sta­tion in Antarc­tica from 2010 to 2012. His classes mainly teach the fun­da­men­tals of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cui­sine, es­pe­cially Hubei style. His com­bi­na­tion of prac­tice and the­o­ret­i­cal teach­ings has won the hearts of many at the school and his stu­dents are work­ing all over the prov­ince.

“I love do­ing some re­search on tra­di­tional dishes and try­ing some­thing new,” he said.

The veteran chef is known for his solid ba­sic skills and at­ten­tion to de­tail.

WangHuiya, a school leader at the univer­sity and a col­league of Zhang since 1987, said, “ZhangHui makes him­self prom­i­nent by his pro­fes­sional ex­per­tise, solid skills and per­sonal in­tegrity.”

As a teacher of ba­sic skills in cook­ery, Zhang told him­self to mas­ter the kitchen uten­sils early on. “The knives, for ex­am­ple, can be used in dozens ofways for dif­fer­ent kinds of dish and ma­te­ri­als and each one re­quires del­i­cacy and in­ten­sity in train­ing,” he said.

The ba­sic skills are the key to one’s fu­ture, he noted.

“Even the seem­ingly sim­plest dish has to be done from solid ba­sics,” he said.

An­other tech­nique of a chef is di­an­shao, which refers to the way a pan is jerked back and forth to stir its con­tents. It turns out the moves de­mand much more than just hands and arms. “This tech­nique can take a whole se­mes­ter to mas­ter”, Zhang said.

Then care­ful se­lec­tion and prepa­ra­tions of the re­spec­tive in­gre­di­ents pave way for the del­i­cate lo­cal fla­vors.

Dur­ing his brief ser­vice at theChi­ne­seem­bassyin Bangkok, he said he was cau­tious with each step of cook­ing.

“First, I boiled the noo­dles from lo­cal mar­kets un­til they were 80 per­cent cooked. Then, I took them out to dry and coated them with oil be­fore mix­ing them with the sauces and other in­gre­di­ents,” he said.

The steamed lo­tus root roll was more com­pli­cated, he added, as it took two hours to pre­pare the 1-kilo­gram of fresh lo­tus roots and make the shrimp and mush­room sauce. Mean­while, the fish ball soup was made of lo­cal bass and wa­ter chest­nuts to en­sure a smooth and re­fresh­ing taste.

Yet not all such fla­vors were avail­able at Zhong­shan Sta­tion in Antarc­tica dur­ing his stay, so he used his skills to turn each and ev­ery kind of food into some del­i­cacy that was not only liked by Chi­nese re­searchers, but also of­ten shared with the mem­bers of for­eign Antarc­tica teams.

As fresh veg­eta­bles were scarce near the South Pole, Zhang brought with him some cook­ing ma­chines from home and make fresh tofu and bean sprouts at the sta­tion.

“The bean sprouts were wel­comed at sev­eral sta­tions of var­i­ous coun­tries,” he said.

The dif­fi­cult part of cook­ery rests upon the dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties and fla­vors of the guests. Zhang’s prac­ti­cal ex­pe­ri­ences in over­com­ing such dif­fi­cul­ties are valu­able, Wang said.

“You can only make im­prove­ments once you have learned the fun­da­men­tals,” said Zhang, who sel­dom stops cook­ing for his fam­ily at home.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Chef Zhang Hui (cen­ter) and two col­leagues at Zhong­shan Sta­tion in Antarc­tica reach­ing out to help and feed a stranded pen­guin in 2011. Zhang spent 17 months as chief chef at the sta­tion.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Two dishes of spe­cial­ties pre­pared by Zhang Hui in Thai­land.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

A feast of spe­cial­i­ties from his home­town that took Zhang Hui hours to pre­pare.

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