Cuisine in focus – Chinese. Originally published in Caterer Middle East – January 2015.
In conversation with some of region’s renowned Chinese chefs to explore how one of the most ‘regionalised’ cuisines is so popular in fine, as well as express, dining options.
Meet the Experts
– Xudong Zheng, Chinese chef de cuisine, Asia Live, Doha Marriott
– Ming Xieo, executive chef, Panda Express
– Lau Pak Wai, master chef, Ba Restaurant & Lounge, Fairmont the Palm
– Jeff Tan, executive chef, Yuan, Atlantis, The Palm
Would you say Chinese cuisine is popular in this region?
Xudong Zheng, Chinese chef de cuisine, Asia Live, Doha Marriott: I wouldn’t consider Chinese cuisine to be the most popular. However, I have noticed there is a growing popularity for it in the Middle East and I am very much looking forward to being a part of this movement.
Ming Xieo, executive chef, Panda Express: We are lucky in this region that there are a large number of expats from all over the world, with equally varied tastes. Chinese food is popular in the home countries of many of these expats and therefore is popular here. Lau Pak Wai, master chef, Ba Restaurant & Lounge, Fairmont the Palm: With such diverse culture and demographics here, it is a melting pot for all varieties of cuisines. Chinese is well understood, and continues to grow in popularity.
Jeff Tan, executive chef, Yuan, Atlantis, The Palm: China is rapidly developing now and reflects its 1000 year history. It has become one of the most famous international cuisines in the world, and will always give guests a special taste and everlasting experience.
Are recipes tweaked to suit a local audience?
Zheng: The dishes I prepare couldn’t be more authentic! I love preparing Sichuan cuisine and Cantonese cuisine the most. These traditional styles of cooking have allowed me to recollect the times I spent in my grandmother’s kitchen, learning the tricks of the trade, as I believe that the best recipes are handed down through the generations. I have put my own touch and flair to these recipes and so far the guests are providing great feedback.
Xieo: We have our established dishes popular in the US and we maintain the preparation of these dishes to our standards using fresh ingredients. We have, however, introduced a number of dishes, in addition to those popular in the US, for the palates of the local communities. The execution and cooking procedure, to the kitchen equipment we use, is 100% authentic.
Wai: I would not say that menus or recipes are tweaked. We stick to authenticity in products and flavours, and through smart menu selection we are able to give the guests a cuisine in line with expectations. This also allows us to create a good bond with the guest and continue to evolve the menu options.
Tan: We constantly strive for ways to satisfy our customers, so we take into consideration feedback on local preferences when developing and perfecting our recipes. My goal is to have well-balanced menus; it is the key to our guests not only getting the best dish possible for them, but also a real piece of Chinese culture.
What is the supply stream like?
Zheng: I always make sure the ingredients I use are as authentic as possible to ensure that the dish has the same delicious flavours of those made in China. It was a challenge but I succeeded in finding the products I need from using the supply stream of China, Dubai and Doha, which has helped keep the quality and authenticity of my dishes constant.
Xieo: To remain consistent with Panda Express US, we import some of our sauces and our number one seller is the orange chicken. We can’t give away our biggest secret. Produce is locally sourced and the majority of our sauces are made in-house.
Wai: There is obviously a huge amount of importation in the region; however, where possible we would also consider using locally-sourced or sustainable products.
Tan: It is known that Chinese cuisine has its own unique and complicated cooking ways, and to make sure the food we serve is in the best, we choose the best ingredients from all over the world. We import lobster from the US, duck from Thailand, Chinese vegetables from Hong Kong, and so on. With authenticity, we also need the special ingredients to make the proper Chinese flavour, so seasonings and other key ingredients are brought in from China.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Zheng: One of the biggest challenges in this region is introducing new dishes different to the stereotypical ones served regularly here in the Chinese dining scene. For example, sweet and sour chicken is one of the most popular dishes, and of course we offer it; however my biggest challenge is to convince our guests to try new and different dishes from China. The cuisine has so much more to offer, and this is my focus.
Xieo: As a new brand in the UAE, our challenge is to make people aware of our name and the quality of our dishes. In the US, Panda Express is a household name.
Wai: To continue to drive for authenticity and bring the guests on a journey from known Chinese cuisine to something slightly different.
Tan: The most challenging thing for me is local ingredients. We do import most of the ingredients from around the world, but we also try to use some of the local ingredients to satisfy the local audience. However, it is not that easy to fuse local ingredients into Chinese cuisine. And I am always looking for a better way to create the best cooking style. It is more like a motivation to me.
What is the latest trend in Chinese cuisine?
Zheng: Being healthy and fit has become a major trend amongst the Chinese population and I find that the cuisine is known to be unhealthy and extremely oily. To change this perception, I have introduced a few healthier dishes that are more unknown and are considered healthy options. Also, the cooking techniques are changing and I am focused on making my dishes as healthy as possible without compromising on taste in order to attract and influence a trend of healthy Chinese cuisine.
Xieo: Affluence in China has brought a boom in upscale restaurants which has led to a renewed interest in more traditional and regional cuisines. Some of these restaurants are influenced from Western and South East Asian cuisines and create a fusion of dishes.
Wai: There are so many different cuisines under the umbrella of Chinese it is hard to state something in particular. However, it is the same as with Western cuisines: we see a continued push for artisan products and authentic quality.
Tan: As we all know, health of human beings has become a really serious topic nowadays. However, Chinese cuisine has always followed the order of a balanced diet. In more recent times, Chinese soup has become more mainstream as a healthy meal option. We can stew it with Chinese herbs for a few hours to get all the benefits and nutrition. It is really good for health and also tastes great.