TASTES OF WEST LAKE
Hangzhou chef shops near and far to serve good food at resort hotel, Yang Feiyue reports.
Chef Hu Chuanqing brings external and local culinary elements together at Hangzhou’s Xanadu Resort. “I believe in serving good food tomy guests, whether it’s local or not,” says the 47-yearold, who’s been in the catering business for 25 years. He’s now running the kitchen in the Crowne Plaza’s Taoyuan Chinese restaurant.
Born inXiaoshan, an underdeveloped district then in Zhejiang province’s Hangzhou, Hu’s grasp of catering was deepened when he got a chance to work in Shanghai from 1992 to 1994.
“At that time, Shanghai people loved our local dish Dongpo pork, and I was good at cooking it, so I got the slot,” Hu says. Made from a slab of pork belly, the lengthy “red cooking” time of more than three hours results in fat without much of its greasiness.
Working in the big city for two years, Hu returned to Xiaoshan and worked his way up as head chef in various well-known restaurants.
Since 2000, Hu has visited places with well-developed catering industries, including Guangdong province’s Guangzhou and Shenzhen, Hong Kong and the Sichuan provincial capital, Chengdu.
Thee, he would study local recipes and learn related cooking methods, and then make certain adaptations.
On our visit to the restaurant, we opted for the braised weever, a dish Hu introduced from Jiangxi province. The light sweetness of the fish was brought out perfectly by the slightly salty sauce.
“When I had it, I knewI had to serve it,” Hu says.
Originally, the dish came in the form of hotpot, a build-ityourself soup over a burning flame. To adapt it to local tastes, Hu uses Hangzhou’s wild Mandarin fish or weever, braised in brown sauce.
Now, the dish is among the restaurant’s most popular, Hu says.
The roast chicken is another example ofHu’s ingenuity.
The dish was inspired by both the traditional Chinese roasting method and Western hamburgers. Sliced roasted chicken skin, Hami melon, toasted bread and lettuce are neatly piled together with salad sauce. The greasy skin is balanced off nicely with the fresh fruit and vegetable.
In addition to his innovations, Hu ensures that certain classic local dishes maintain their original flavor.
The chicken platter with fish sauce sticks to the letter of a traditional Xiaoshan recipe. Boiled chicken and pork are steeped in fish sauce that is brewed with Shaoxing rice wine, salt and local spices for Taoyuan Chinese Restaurant chef hours. The seafood smell then merges with the meat.
“We only cut the steeping hours, because locals used to put meat in the sauce for days just so it wouldn’t go bad, but that would be too salty for most customers,” Hu explains.
Steamed shrimp with soy sauce follows a simple traditional recipe but remains the most popular with visitors. Local river shrimp meat is at its most tender from July to September, when females carry eggs. The live shrimps are put in hot water and steamed for two minutes. Soy sauce and Hu’s secret-formula sesame oil are then sprinkled on them. The whole shrimp is used, resulting in crisp shells and smooth, tender meat.
A lake and mountains are right outside the restaurant, and a boat show featuring a traditional Chinese dance begins as the veil of night began to envelop the waterfront as we eat.
Now, Hu is offering a special service for his regular customers, who can order custom dishes beyond the menu.
“They just name some major ingredients they’d like to have or some well-known dishes they had before, and I’ll do themmy way,” Hu says.
Chef Bradley Hull likes to talk about food preparation as art, likening the plate to a chef as a canvas to an artist.
There wasn’t much room to express his inner Picasso, however, when he first came to Portman’s in Shanghai, an all-day hotel buffet restaurant which was virtually across the street from his previous gig.
But the Canadian chef’s arrival coincided with plans for a creativemakeover to an a la carte restaurant. SoHull bided his time, tweaking the status quo, developing a new menu and chasing new sources, including a natural freshwater salmon farm in Sichuan province as well as Australian beef from select Tasmanian breeders.
By the time the “new” Portman’s was unveiled, Hull was ready with his palette of flavors and textures.
In an area rebuilt after Sichuan earthquake in 2008, sustainable mountain spring salmon are raised for three years until matured, and never leaved their fresh water environment to swim in the ocean.
“That gives them a unique crisp and fresh flavor,” Hull says. “Each salmon is 100 percent clean, tested for all pollutants, toxins and growth hormones, giving it a gorgeous deep red color that is similar to wild salmon, while remaining leaner than farmed salmon.”
Similarly meticulous sourcing has brought Robbins Island Wagyu beef to Portman’s, which the Hammond families have been producing since the early 1990s in a pristine environment. During the iconic seasonal musters, bands of horsemen swim the grainfed cattle through saltwater channels at low tide to move them peacefully between grazing areas.
Also from northwest Tasmania, Cape Grim Angus beef comes directly from rich pastures that benefit from clean air, pure water and fertile soil. Cape Grim beef is grass-fed, hand-selected and rigorously graded, Hull says, with rich nutrients including omegafatty acids, vitamin A and vitamin E.
We started our group meal by sharing seasonal oysters, an appetizer plate of cappelini, with pistachio and Brussels sprouts, followed by a rich and earthy French onion soup. A New York crabcake came next, artfully served with grapefruit and infused with the ginger thatHullcameto love while working in Vancouver and browsing Chinese markets
I believe in serving good food to my guests, whether it’s local or not.” Crowne Plaza Hangzhou Xanadu Resort; 3318 Xianghu Road, Wenyan Town, Xiaoshan, Hangzhou. 571-8388-0888.
In the Portman Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai Center, 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu, Shanghai. 021-6279-7166.
Portman’s there for all kinds of ingredients. His soy-marinated pork belly with pineapple, which we didn’t try this time, has been an instant hit in Shanghai and likely got its first inspiration from those days.
“What I do is very much Western cuisine — it is not fusion,” he insists. “But I enjoy the Asian flavors a lot, and use the techniques I know to take advantage of them.”
After the round of starters we got serious, opting for a 200-gram tenderloin of Cape Grim Black Angus, which came on a photogenic plate cooked to our order of medium (though we suspect the chef would make his own a little more rare). For that we chose black-pepper sauce, though the decision wasn’t easy as red wine jus, horseradish sauce and three other options were available.
We were tempted to pair our steak with a grilled Canadian lobster, but our trio opted instead for the slow-cooked black cod, rich with its own flavor and kissed with a garlic cream sauce. Cod has been underappreciated in China but finding its way to more restaurant plates thanks to suppliers from Canada. Hull makes the most of this flaky flesh, producing a dish that’s light but relishes the black cod’s high fat content. (It’s called “butterfish” in some parts of the US for a reason.)
Prices are reasonable for the area and the service quality: starters from 65 yuan ($9.75), mains from 170 yuan, steak from 250 yuan and dessert from 80 yuan.
Steamed shrimp with soy sauce is the most popular dish with visitors.
Roast chicken is an ingenious combination of traditional Chinese roasting and Western hamburger method.
Slow-cooked Chengdu salmon.
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