TagsChinese Food, F&B, Fine Dining, food, Food Trends, restaurants
Chinese food – in spite of its long history, intricate culinary techniques, complex traditions and widespread popularity – had been heavily overlooked in the world of fine dining. Now, with the emergence of high-end Chinese restaurants helmed by talented and innovative chefs over the last few years, Chinese fine dining is finally getting its well-deserved time in the spotlight.
A recent panel hosted by Tatler Hong Kong and moderated by Charmaine Mok, Tatler’s content director of dining, brought together Janice Leung Hayes, food writer and critic; May Chow, the chef-owner of Little Bao and Happy Paradise; and Vicky Cheng, chef-owner of VEA and Wing Restaurant to weigh in.
Starting with a deep dive into the Chinese fine dining landscape, Chow observes that Chinese restaurants, especially those located overseas, tend to adapt traditional dishes to different markets’ tastes. Chinese restaurants operating in Hong Kong, on the other hand, benefit from having a multicultural audience, but still “needs to be true to our heritage. It’s hard because (we know) it’s commercially viable, but it isn’t progressing Chinese fine dining.”
For example, in the Netflix movie Always Be My Maybe, the main character is a hotshot chef who runs several fusion restaurants, until her childhood sweetheart reminds her that “Asian food isn’t supposed to be ‘elevated,’ it’s supposed to be authentic,” and not swayed by commercial viability or subject to the whims of a Westernized palate. Finding a balance between innovation and authenticity is key, allowing chefs to push their creative boundaries whilst still honouring tradition.
Cheng adds that the essence of Chinese fine dining lies in the use of premium ingredients. He raises the example of using rare or exotic ingredients that were popular in imperial cuisine such as fish maw, abalone and sea cucumber to recreate the Chinese imperial experience in his restaurant Vea.
But in an increasingly competitive and diverse dining landscape, it’s often not just about the food. Creating the level of hospitality that establishes the sense of luxury key to fine dining is also equally important when it comes to curating a fine dining experience. Whether it’s the music, the interior design or the service provided, these are all significant details that contribute to a restaurant’s appeal to a wider audience and its ability to make Chinese cuisine more attractive.
There’s one more thing – providing a narrative for your food.
When it comes to any fine-dining experience, stories can elevate a meal from a mere hour of fulfilling a physiological need, to a transcendental affair to remember. From the sequencing of the dishes for a set menu to the refined techniques used to prepare a dish, the panel of experts all agree that sharing the narrative behind a dish or a restaurant’s chef, and educating people on the cuisine’s heritage and the story behind a dish, are essential in building a connection between the diners and their meal.
As a food writer, Leung Hayes is motivated to write about Chinese cuisine and the restaurants that epitomize Chinese fine dining. Once she found out how much work goes on behind the scenes, she shares: “I think, ‘Why does no one else know about this?’”
Unlike fine dining experiences featuring other cuisines, diners are not as often made aware of the chef’s journeys, the techniques used and the sequencing of dishes, but with the dedication of food writers and innovative restaurant owners and chefs pushing the envelope, Chinese fine dining is well on its way to having a seat at the global fine dining table.
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