In this second post of a series I am looking at trends in modern Chinese cooking that will be showcased at the James Beard Foundation’s Gala Dinner and Auction entitled Dumplings and Dynasties.
The menu for the Gala dinner is an extraordinary presentation of modern movements of Chinese cuisine globally. In my email interview with the vice president of the James Beard Foundation, Mitchell Davis, he says, “When we are dealing with immigrant cuisines, we often forget that food evolves after immigrants leave. Our increasingly global world means that chefs from all over are exposed to trends in ingredients and techniques from just about everywhere… Rather than try to recreate an old tradition, we thought it would be more interesting to see where Chinese cuisine is today. I think the chefs and the menu will do just that.”
Cutting edge chefs seem to approach modern Chinese cooking in one of two ways. The first is familiar to the American public. The food is cooked in a western, usually European or French, style using Chinese ingredients and sometime techniques. The dishes are essentially western in nature with a Chinese flair. Susur Lee, who owns Madeline’s and Lee in Toronto best represents this approach. He creates dishes such as Lobster-Filled Squid Ink Ravioli in Lobster Consommé, which really is a European dish but incorporates Chinese ingredients. The result is a sublime ravioli dish that suffuses Chinese flavors and aroma. Lee will be one of the participating chefs at the Gala Dinner, where he will prepare Oyster Consommé, Dumpling with Crab, White Fungus, and Wolfberries.
The other approach is to use traditional Chinese cooking method with western influence in ingredients and techniques. This version began developing in China twenty years ago when China opened itself to visitors and cooks from the rest of the world. Jereme Leung epitomizes this school of Chinese modern cooking at The Whampoa Club in Shanghai.
To illustrate Leung’s ingenuity take a look at how he presents drunken chicken. It is served in a martini glass topped with a wine granita. The preparation retains the roots of the traditional drunken chicken dish, which is commonly served with the wine aspic that results from the steaming process. Leung cleverly reinterprets the aspic by replacing it with wine granita. Patricia Wells called Leung a “genius” in her review for the International Herald Tribune in 2005. It really is amazing how Leung can create such a wildly inventive dish that retains respect for the original.
The chefs represented at the gala dinner come from both schools of modern Chinese cooking. They will be offering some of the most exciting culinary innovations rarely if ever seen in New York City. I think this event will doubtless create new interest in exploring the developments in modern Chinese cuisine.