Foreign chefs bring new flavors to Beijing with Cantonese fusion

By Tao Mingyang Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/22 18:23:40

A waitress at the Fook Wing Gei restaurant in Beijing pours sauce on a rice roll dish. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Youngcall (left) and Joel Shuchat Photo: Li Hao/GT

On a cold winter day in Beijing, the noise of construction interrupts the silence of an ancient hutong, or alleyway. A new Cantonese restaurant is about to open. However, this restaurant is different from other such restaurants as each dish is prepared by a Chinese-Dutch chef and a Jewish-Canadian chef. 

The question on many customers' minds as they line up is: Can these foreigners serve up authentic Cantonese cuisine and dim sum? To answer this, I decided to head to the restaurant to see for myself.

Cantonese fusion 

Fook Wing Gei, which opened in December 2018, is located deep within Baochao Hutong. Walking into the restaurant, the first thing I saw was the restaurant's giant logo, two fish swimming in a circle, on the wall. The simple decoration made me feel like I was entering a coffee shop. The windows ensure the entire room is bright enough even though there are just a few in the wall. It was nearly 11 am, but three to four tables were already occupied. These customers were chatting or taking pictures of exquisite looking food. Unlike most Cantonese restaurants, which tend to be bustling with activity, the resturant remained quiet.  

With the restaurant having only been open for a little over one month, the decorations still had that new furniture smell. However, this was quickly replaced by a delicious aroma once my waiter served me my food. I had ordered the specialty of the house: beef tenderloin congee in a steamed rice pot. Before bringing my meal over, the waiter had blended the beef tenderloin with raw egg and chopped scallion in a small bowl and then poured this mixture into boiling congee served in a clay casserole pot. 

Of course no Cantonese restaurant would be truly complete without dim sum. The restaurant's unique spring rolls represent the fusion of Western and Eastern cultures. The roll is much thinner and longer than those of other Cantonese restaurants and is supposed to be eaten in a special way - by breaking it into two parts and eating each piece after dipping them in a special sauce. A number of customers I talked to said they were very impressed with the crispness and flavor of the spring rolls offered at the restaurant 

Road to success

The restaurant is managed by Youngcall, a middle-aged woman from the Tibet ethnic group who handles finances and training, while Joel Shuchat and Sue Zhou are the main chefs and menu designers. The Jewish-Canadian Shuchat trained in a professional cooking school in Toronto with a major in French cuisine and has worked in the restaurant industry for 17 years. 

As we chatted, Shuchat told me that opening a Cantonese restaurant in northern China was far more difficult than he had imagined as northern Chinese, who tend to favor strong flavors, tend to find the light flavor of Cantonese food lacking. What's more, there are Cantonese restaurants scattered everywhere in Beijing and their menus are nearly the same. For this reason, he felt it was extremely important to ensure Fook Wing Gei offerings were unique in order to be competitive. 

"We have been studying those Cantonese cuisines that you can't find in Beijing," Shuchat said. 

"We love the rice rolls served by sidewalk snack vendors in Foshan, Guangzhou Province, which you can't find in hotels or restaurants in Beijing. We are making an effort to recreate this dish."

Zhou moved to the Netherlands from China along with her family when she was 7 years old. Her family ran a restaurant there, so she spent her formative years in the kitchen learning all the tricks and secrets of the trade. 

"At first, I disliked cooking because when I wanted to go out and play, I had to stay in the kitchen and help my parents run the restaurant," Zhou said. 

However, after she graduated from university, she developed a passion of cooking. Zhou begun learning how to cook Cantonese dishes by taking courses or learning from other chefs. During this time she developed a high standard when it comes to quality. 

"The most difficult part of designing a dish is choosing ingredients that meet my requirements," Zhou explained. 

"We can't use the same ingredients that everyone can just buy at the supermarket." 

Chemistry experiment

"It is very difficult to make your imagination a reality," Shuchat said. 

The pair of chefs said they spent several months coming up with the dishes on the menu, including the snacks, main dishes, drinks and desserts. Some of these dishes were cooked, tasted and cooked again more than 30 times before they felt they had it right. 

"Maybe our standards are too high," Zhou laughed. 

"It's just like a chemistry experiment. Sometimes we are successful and make a dish that meets our standards but we keep taste testing. Flavors can be totally different if you use a bit less water or add other spices."

Newspaper headline: Specialty of the house

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