Master Liu Guo Zhu takes imperial Tan cuisine from Wynn Macau to the world
The doyen of one of China’s most aristocratic cuisines has made it his mission to spread imperial Tan fare to gourmands. As the Executive Chef of All Chinese Culinary Operations at Wynn Macau, Master Liu Guo Zhu is doing just that from the hotel’s award-winning Golden Flower restaurant.
Over five decades of gastronomic excellence
The energetic 72-year-old could not have had a better training ground than the hallowed Beijing Hotel where he started as an apprentice at 16. “As it was a state-owned hotel, I had to work really hard to pass the rigorous recruitment process,” Liu recalls. “At first I wasn’t particularly keen on cooking even though my father and uncle were chefs. But I grew to like it and realised that learning the art of cooking is a never-ending process.”
And learn he did, mastering the intricacies of various Chinese cuisines and excelling in Tan haute cuisine. Invented by Qing Dynasty official Tan Zongjun who moved from Guangdong province to Beijing, the elite fare is one of China’s best culinary traditions, albeit still mostly unknown to many people as it is rarely available outside the capital city. The niche cuisine blends the best of China’s north and south, with exquisite and subtle flavours that are well balanced, bringing out the original taste of high-quality ingredients. It became so important that only Tan food was served at state banquets hosted for foreign dignitaries like Queen Elizabeth II and Henry Kissinger, as well as
Chinese leader Deng Xiao Ping. “We prepared these banquets with ultra care, from selecting the best, freshest and safest ingredients to the precise preparation and cooking,” says Liu.
Having had the distinct advantage of being trained by the elder chefs from Tan’s original kitchen and honed his skills for 53 years, Liu has made it his mantra to uphold the traditions and spread the century-year-old cuisine to the world.
Meticulous preparation and authentic taste
To Liu, the secret of Tan cooking lies in its meticulous attention to detail and authenticity. “It is a very delicate cuisine famous for the treasures - abalone, sea cucumber and fish maw,” he explains. “You can only use first class ingredients, cook them meticulously with strict control of the fire and temperature. For example, when you braise abalone, the soup is the essence. You can’t add or reduce water during the cooking. Otherwise, you will destroy the dish.”
His fastidiousness, dedication, commitment and leadership have paid off, garnering some of the industry’s highest accolades for Golden Flower, the only restaurant in the Pearl River Delta that specialises in Tan haute cuisine. It has been awarded the coveted two Michelin stars in the Michelin Hong Kong and Macau guide from 2013 to 2018, and five stars in the Forbes Travel Guide from 2014 to 2018. Liu is thrilled that their efforts have paid off. “Consistency is the key, whether it’s in the portion size, seasoning or cooking temperature. We have been setting precise standards for everything for the past two years to achieve a higher level of consistency. So even when I am on holiday, the standards remain consistent,” he states.
Rapture in a bowl of soup
The soul of Tan cuisine lies in its soups. Diners beating a path to Golden Flower have been rewarded with Liu’s creations which send them to gourmet heaven. Making both the clear and rich soups is a painstaking process to extract the maximum flavours of the ingredients.
For the signature fresh clam and jasmine in chicken soup, Liu uses aged hen, aged duck, pork bones, conpoy and Jinhua ham, stewing them together for eight hours. After removing the oil, the soup is transparent and smooth but imbued with the aroma and flavour of the chicken. Just before serving, he would add two pieces of sea clams and
jasmine flower to enhance the taste of the soup and infuse it with an aromatic fragrance.
Another must-try is the classic stewed fish maw with crab claw in supreme chicken broth. In Tan cuisine, the whole dried fish maw is soaked in hot oil over low heat for it to reconstitute and open up like a sponge, giving the collagen-rich delicacy a smooth and soft texture. Preparing the supreme chicken broth requires even more fastidiousness. The clear soup base is further cooked over high heat until it thickens into a milky consistency before the fish maw is added and stewed to absorb the full flavour of the wonderfully rich broth.
Having put his heart and soul into mastering Tan cuisine, Liu spares no effort in mentoring the next generation of Tan chefs. “You need to be resolute and learn the skills wholeheartedly. It is only with this attitude that you can prepare great food and continue to improve yourself,” he says. His disciples have already taken his teaching to
heart, ensuring that the authentic Tan cuisine will continue to flourish for a long time to come.
Golden Flower at Wynn Macau
Address: G/F, Wynn Macau, Rua Cidade de Sintra, NAPE, Macau
Tel: +853 8986 3663
Sat to Sun: 11:30am to 2:30pm (Lunch)
Tue to Sun: 6:00pm to 10:30pm (Dinner)