Shanghai chef cooking up culture
As we saw during 2010’s Crafar farms saga, New Zealanders get very nervous when Chinese buyers move in on Kiwi land and property.
The underlying fear seems to be that China has dastardly plans to invade the country, paddock by paddock, factory by factory, in order to help feed its 1.4 billion-strong population.
I didn’t realise how hypocritical this attitude was until I arrived in Shanghai and discovered New Zealand has its own takeover plans for China. New Zealand is moving in on the Middle Kingdom with all guns blazing, and its plan is the same – feeding those 1.4b with Kiwi tucker.
Fonterra, for example, is not only ship- ping truckloads of milk powder to China, but has bought a swathe of dairy farms in the north of China to feed the growing Chinese appetite for milk. New Zealand butter can be found next to bread rolls in Chinese restaurants and on Asian airlines. Even Porirua’s own Whittakers was featured in the food section of my paper, the Shanghai Daily.
If takeover is New Zealand’s plan for China, strategic HQ is a little slice of the Antipodes in downtown Shanghai called New Zealand Central. Set in a trendy expat bar and restaurant district, New Zealand Central is homesick Kiwi heaven – before visitors even reach reception they are serenaded by tui birdcall in the elevator. Upstairs is a set of fancy conference rooms and lounges where New Zealand companies can host business meetings with Chinese clients, and a computer suite for Kiwis to set up office while in transit.
All this is run by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), the government’s trade arm. Most other countries run trade activities through their embassies, but New Zealand is keen to stand out among the crowd. Which brings us to the most interesting room in New Zealand Central – the demonstration kitchen.
Every couple of weeks a group of Chinese food industry VIPS get treated to a cooking lesson fusing Western and Eastern cuisine, but with ingredients like New Zealand honey, mussels and beef taking the starring role. This marketing effort is the brainchild of Robert Oliver, the most famous New Zealand chef you’ve never heard of – his Pacific Island cookbook Me’a Kai was judged best cookbook in the world in Paris this year.
He’s based in Shanghai as NZTE’S consulting chef, spreading the gospel of New Zealand food in China.
The key message for selling Kiwi ingredients to the Chinese is food safety, Oliver told me. The Chinese are weary from constant toxic food scandals, and many are able and willing to pay top dollar for clean, green food. So perhaps that’s where our Yellow Peril attitude comes from – we’re keen to cash in on ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ before China gets a chance to.
Kapi-mana News reporter Andrea Oneil is in China on an Asia Foundation scholarship, working for the Shanghai Daily. Follow her blog at: theladyfromwellington.blogspot.com.
Fishy fusion: Cooking lessons are key to New Zealand’s campaign to get Kiwi tucker onto Chinese tables, as they familiarise Chinese cooks with New Zealand ingredients. Here, New Zealand-employed chef Jason Cui makes a Thai soup with Kiwi mussels for a crowd of Chinese food bloggers and food industry VIPS.