As President Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin met in Shanghai, chefs from a four-star hotel at the centre of the city’s central business district were busy rehearsing for a state banquet held last night, offering security summit delegates a taste of China.
“We rehearsed twice yesterday,” executive chef Su Dexing said in an interview with Shanghai Morning Post after the banquet.
“Nine chefs needed prepare over 10 dishes for each of the 330 guests … We were under unprecedented pressure.”
Xi, who has issued a joint declaration of support and launched joint naval drills with visiting President Putin, reportedly sat next to the Russian leader and China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan, at the dinner.
Today marked the start of the little-known security summit, the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia, whose participants include Afghan president Hamid Karzai and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
The hotel, in Shanghai’s Pudong district, was commissioned more than half a year ago to prepare a banquet that would represent the cuisine of the Yangtze River’s southern region, where the summit is being held, Su said.
His team received hundreds of “revision directives” and “polished” their first draft of the menu multiple times before they came up with six appetizers, one soup and five main dishes that match the banquet’s theme, “The Silk Road”, an ancient trade and cultural transmission route that connected China with Central Asia.
The menu listed the following items:
Fish maw stewed with matsutake (soup)
Su said the team was also instructed to marry Chinese cuisines with Western seasonings, including black pepper and brandy to suit the foreign delegates’ tastes.
State news agency Xinhua, which usually keeps silent about the details of the state events, unveiled the full menu within hours after guests left the dining hall.
To stick to a budget amid Xi’s austerity drive, the chef used seasonal ingredients commonly sold in local markets, state media reported, and tried to steer away from luxury items like shark fin and abalone – traditional highlights of a Chinese banquet.
The menu includes fish maw stewed with Matsutake (a type of mushroom), double-flavoured prawns, fried and braised beef, fried scallops, flatfish with soy bean sauce and seasonal vegetables.
Gold tablecloths and matching cutlery were set, along with a centrepiece – a 1.2-metre-long vegetable carving – titled “Great Wall” for the long table reserved for heads of state, which were flanked by smaller round tables for other guests.
But those with hectic schedules could only spare an hour to enjoy more than 12 dishes before they rushed to a theatre at the centre of Puxi for art performances.
This demanding itinerary was no sweat for the hotel staff.
“We were told the guests could spend no more than one hour and 15 minutes on dinner,” the local news paper quoted Su as saying. “We had to time our service by seconds.”