Art in or­ange: Chef ’s mod­ern twist on an­cient dish

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By XU­JUN­QIAN in Shang­hai

Over at Yong Yi Ting, chef Lu Yim­ing is busy cre­at­ing his own crab feast. The Chi­nese restau­rant at theMan­darin Oriental in Shang­hai’s Pudong dis­trict was among the city’s restau­rants that were awarded aMiche­lin star this year. An­other of his restau­rants, the veg­e­tar­ian eatery Fu He Hui, also snagged one star from Miche­lin, mak­ing Lu the only chef in China who runs two Miche­lin-starred restau­rants.

Known to many cus­tomers and col­leagues as Tony Lu, the 34-yearold Shang­hai na­tive has been cre­at­ing crab feasts ev­ery au­tumn since 2000, and they’ve be­come a main­stay at Yong Yi Ting since it opened in 2013. His sig­na­ture dishes are the steamed or­ange filled with hairy crab cream and yel­low rice wine, and the baked crab­meat souf­fle.

This year, in the wake of the Miche­lin honor, Lu has added four new crab dishes for the sea­son, up­ping his to­tal crab of­fer­ings to more than 20.

“The kind of crab feast I want to cre­ate is one that isn’t bor­ing or greasy, even though there is crab in ev­ery dish,” he says.

For the spe­cial set menu he de­signs for the crab sea­son, he lav­ishes crabs in 11 out of 12 cour­ses. The ex­cep­tion is the dessert: Os­man­thus and gin­ger ice cream with a ball of sweet potato and sticky rice.

He sautes crab­meat into floss and stuffs it into coin-sized mini burg­ers as an ap­pe­tizer; tops rice crisps with fried crab roe; and — as a sooth­ing in­ter­mis­sion of the seem­ingly heavy feast — boils crab-claw meat with white cab­bage in a con­somme.

“I want the crabs to be in the dish, in­stead of on the dish,” says Lu, who shuns the typ­i­cal ap­proach he of­ten sees: a stir-fry of crab roe and meat as a top dress­ing for ev­ery­thing, from boiled as­para­gus to rice.

His steamed or­ange filled with hairy-crab cream and yel­low rice wine is his pride and joy, and his big­gest chal­lenge.

For the an­cient dish that is be­lieved to date back to the Song Dy­nasty (690-1279), the hol­lowed­out or­ange not only serves as the bowl for the crab cream, but also lends its aro­matic acid­ity to the crab when they are steamed to­gether, mak­ing it less fishy.

“The big chal­lenge for me is that I have no culi­narymem­ory of the 800year-old dish, so I wasn’t sure how to re-cre­ate it,” says Lu.

Does he ever run out of ideas for cre­at­ing more crab dishes? The chef says in­spi­ra­tion still comes to him “ev­ery now and then”. Be­sides the ideas that come from his own kitchen, he of­ten ex­plores other restau­rants to find in­spi­ra­tion. At his peak, he says, he man­aged to visit six restau­rants in one day.

Start­ing his ca­reer in the kitchen at the age of 16, Lu has grown up with the rad­i­cal changes China’s food and bev­er­age in­dus­try has ex­pe­ri­enced since the 1990s. Back then, he says, cre­ativ­ity wasn’t needed forChi­nese chef­san­drestau­rants; you only needed to serve up plenty of shark fin and abalone.

He now runs seven restau­rants, four un­der the brand Fu (in­clud­ing the veg­e­tar­ian one; the oth­ers of­fer heav­ier Shang­hainese cui­sine with dif­fer­ent pric­ing).

“Hairy crabs have not yet earned their full rep­u­ta­tion,” says Lu. The crab feast is his way to pop­u­lar­ize the sea­sonal crus­tacean, which he thinks should be as revered as oys­ters on din­ing ta­bles around the world. There’s a way to go to achieve that, even in China.

“The coun­try is so large that many Chi­nese have yet to have their first bite,” he says.

The kind of crab feast I want to cre­ate is one that isn’t bor­ing or greasy, even though there is crab in ev­ery dish.” Lu Yim­ing, chef at Yong Yi Ting

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Braised hairy-crab meat in whole or­ange with Shaox­ing wine.

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