TASTES OF WEST LAKE

Hangzhou chef shops near and far to serve good food at re­sort ho­tel, Yang Feiyue re­ports.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - Con­tact the writer at yangfeiyue@ chi­nadaily.com.cn michaelpeters@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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PHO­TOS BY YANG FEIYUE / CHINA DAILY

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.

Hu Chuan­qing,

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Slow-cooked Chengdu salmon.

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