Beijing’s gourmet ambitions

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

With the recent arrival of Nobu Beijing, China’s capital is fast becoming a discerning foodie’s paradise. CD Traveller speaks to four of Beijing’s best chefs about the rise of fine dining in Beijing

Chef Zhang Shaogang, Tiandi (www.tiandigroup.cn)


When did you begin your culinary career?
In 1989.

When and why did you come to Beijing?
I was born in Beijing and have never left!

Are you happy with the restaurant scene in Beijing right now? What’s going on that excites you?
Yes, I like the restaurant very much, especially the culture and style.

Why do you think that Beijingers are developing a more sophisticated and expensive palette?
Firstly, I don’t think that Beijingers are developing a more sophisticated and expensive palette actually. Beijing has always had a sophisticated culinary culture – dating back to Imperial times – and Beijingers have always believed that food is an important part of life. Locals love to experience various cuisines.

What do you think the future is like for fine dining in Beijing?
I think there will be a bigger focus on healthy ingredients.

What’s your favourite dish on the menu at Tiandi?
Double-boiled dried seafood soup with ham and mushroom.

Are there are new foods or ingredients you’re obsessed with at the moment?
Yes; Wild yellow croaker, ambatch millet and peach oil.

Øyvind Næsheim at Nobu Beijing (www.noburestaurants.com/beijing)


When did you begin your culinary career?
In 1998. I worked in French fine dining establishments in Norway, France and the Caribbean until 2003 when I decided to go to London. The plan was to stay for one year and then return to Norway. However I started to work for Nobu and eight years later I can’t see myself returning to Norway anytime soon!

When and why did you come to Beijing?
Nobu San asked me to come and open Nobu Beijing which was and is a great honour and challenge. I have been involved in every aspect – designing the kitchen, hiring and training staff etc – since the beginning.

Are you happy with the restaurant scene in Beijing right now? What’s going on that excites you?
As more people eat out more out and the competition increases, I think the level will rise. I am happy to see many places have done something to help the victims in Japan during what is a difficult time for them.

Why do you think that Beijingers are developing a more sophisticated and expensive palette?
More international restaurants are opening and the local population has the opportunity to learn about new concepts and places.

What do you think the future is like for fine dining in Beijing?
I think the potential is huge; local people really want to learn more about high end dining and I believe that over the next few years we will see more and more fine dining establishments open up in Beijing

What’s your favourite dish on the menu at Nobu Beijing?
Yellowtail jalapeno: I could eat it everyday for the rest of my life.

Are there are new foods or ingredients you’re obsessed with at the moment?
I am really keen on Miso; it’s an amazing product with many uses. We try to make our own miso but it will take six months to one year before we can see the result.

Max Levy at Bei (www.theoppositehouse.com)

When did you begin your culinary career?
At the age of 12 as a dishwasher in New Orleans.

When and why did you come to Beijing?
I came to Beijing in 2005 to work as a sushi chef

Are you happy with the restaurant scene in Beijing right now? What’s going on that excites you?
The restaurant scene in Beijing is maturing to an international level which is very exciting. A few years ago, it was surprising to have mid level restaurants; now customers are demanding a higher level of quality at those mid levels which is great for everyone involved.

Why do you think that Beijingers are developing a more sophisticated and expensive palette?
It’s partly because Beijingers have more disposable income than ever before and partly because they have more exposure both abroad and at home

What do you think the future is like for fine dining in Beijing?
Hopefully there will be more casual fine dining places that provide a relaxed atmosphere with a high level of educated service and quality product similar to the gastro pubs of London.

What’s your favourite dish on the menu at Bei?
The sweet wine dried gilt head bream with beet mochi, dried water melon and indica, a kind of wild grass.

Are there new foods or ingredients you are obsessed with at the moment?
As we are in the middle of spring, I have been harvesting a lot of wild violet to infuse into a local spirit made from sorgum.

 

Brian Reimer at Maison Boulud (http://www.danielnyc.com/maisonboulud.html)


When did you begin your culinary career?
I begin cooking professionally after attending a small up and coming cooking school based in Napa. Working in the Highlands Inn in Carmel after school was an eye opening experience; it was my first job was in pastry with Lincoln Carson and I also had the chance to work with Cal Stamenov – the executive chef and organiser of the Masters of Food and Wine. After that I decided to move back to Napa to work for Thomas Keller, owner of French Laundry and Bouchon. After two years with Thomas, I moved to France where I worked in restaurants such as Michel Rostang, Apicius and Le Meurice. I followed this with a short stint in Miami and three year in Boston with Christopher Myers and Michael Schlow of Radius Restaurant. It was while in Boston, that I met Daniel Boulud through a mutual friend called Rod Mitchell who is a fishmonger from Portland Maine.

When and why did you come to Beijing?
I arrived in 2007 with no idea what to expect. The brutal winter was a tough way to start to enjoy the city. But the opportunity to be the opening chef of the first Daniel restaurant outside of the United States wasn’t something I could pass up.

Are you happy with the restaurant scene in Beijing? What’s going on that excites you?
Beijing as in China is forever evolving, For nearly four years it has been an amazing place to see the evolution and be a very small part of that change.

Why do you think that Beijingers are developing a more sophisticated and expensive palette?
It’s simple: economics. The people continue to become more and more educated – they are dining out more and enjoying wonderful food and wine.

What do you think the future is like for fine dining in Beijing?
Fine dining is something that is about an example of luxury and a sense of exclusivity. As people begin to know more about other places or tastes other foods. Naturally you tend to want to experience it on all levels. Be it a village Burgundy or an amazing Meursault 1er Cru Les Perieres. You have to understand the basics before you can understand something grand.

What’s you favorite dish on the menu at Maison Boulud?
That’s difficult to say, we have the opportunity to change the menu so often here so that we can constantly offer our guests more and more options on dining here. Perhaps the dishes we have allowed to evolve such as the Avocado Wrapped Dungeness Crab. We always have it but now change the garnish with the seasons. Also the Baby with Daikon Sauerkraut and Green Apple Cole Slaw, this dish has been on the menu since we opened; it hasn’t changed and perhaps never will.

Are there new foods or ingredients you are obsessed with at the moment?
I get obsessed with the seasons. Asparagus, favas and peas in the spring, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers in the summer, squash, figs and root vegetables in the fall, and of course black truffles in winter.

 

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