A chef recently told me that you have to cook with passion. “If you cook for profit, it doesn’t work,” he said. The same could be said for Michelin stars.
The pursuit of these elusive stars is heating up in Hong Kong’s Chinese kitchens. Now that Chinese fine dining has elevated cheffing to an art form, the pressure is on to create dishes that will appeal to Michelin inspectors. Chefs in fine-dining establishments around town are being pushed to up their culinary game for those highly coveted stars.
Cantonese cuisine has evolved naturally. The food is usually served family style, shared around the table. For several years now, local fine-dining Chinese restaurants have been plating food in a Western context – individually and served in succession instead of together. Chefs are expected to add twists to classic dishes by using unusual ingredients or cooking techniques.
The result? Many dishes I have tried in recent months have been sad attempts to make Cantonese cuisine hip.
One chef was inspired to make soup from a Kagoshima honeydew melon. Another served a delicious double boiled sea conch soup with a piece of tofu skilfully sliced into the shape of a chrysanthemum flower – when it arrived, however, the waiters shaved black truffle on top. Truffle was served at another restaurant with steamed scallop and foie gras. Excuse me, is this a Chinese or a Western restaurant?
For presentation’s sake, one dish of lobster meat wok-fried with scrambled egg and osmanthus arrived with the entire shell of the crustacean on the plate’s edge, its eyes staring disconcertingly up at the diners as they devoured its meat.
Bastardising xiaolongbao is sacrilege. A new restaurant has made a splash with a mala Ibérico pork xiaolongbao. The Spanish pork is too soft in texture and the spiciness of the filling overwhelms the delicate dumplings.
When it comes to dessert, deep-fried milk rolls don’t need a crushed-pistachio garnish, nor does a classic almond cream with egg white need toasted sesame seeds.
While it is good that chefs are encouraged to create dishes, their superiors should stay hands off in the kitchen. Classic dishes are classic for a reason. Many of these chefs have come up through the ranks the traditional way and not all old dogs should attempt new tricks. Can’t they just be left alone to focus on what they do best?
Michelin stars aren’t proof of success; bums on seats are.