Living in China, I think it is a must for me to recognize and talk about Chinese New Year. The most popular and very important event in Chinese Holidays.
It is known here as “Spring Festival”, one must ask himself why spring festival as it is usually celebrated between January and February every year. Well, simply because of the Chinese calendar which start with “Lichun” the first of the 24 solar term, and it simply signifies that it marks the end of the winter season.
So the “festival” starts on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, and ends with the “Lantern festival” on the 15th day.
As the tradition goes, it is very common for family members to gather around a great festive dinner and enjoy each other company for this “Golden Week” (Chinese people do have a week long holiday to be able to celebrate, thus the name). I could easily say, with my experience living in this amazing and beautiful country that is China, that Chinese New Year is similar to our “Christmas”, minus the religious thingy!!
As we do for Christmas, we buy new clothes, presents and make a great effort to make everyone wish come true (Not sure about that, my son did not get his Ipad2, hehe!!!), as well as organize a great dinner with family (first) and friends (if the food is enough). So Chinese New Year is the same, but BETTER and more colorful (sorry if I offend a few of you, but come to China to see for yourself and you will understand!!!). People are so joyous that it is like an epidemic, it spreads all over the country. The cities are decorated everywhere with the Chinese zodiac sign of the year, this year is the Dragon, the most prominent and revered sign of all, it represents power and agility. It was also the emblem that late Chinese emperor chose. So, you can understand the significance.
So, on this special day, apart from cooking (which will take most of the day, yes yes)it is also a tradition to give what we call “Hong Bao”, a small red envelope filled with cash money, and ONLY new bank notes, please, you don’t start a new year in China with old things. (Don’t worry the banks are ready). It is also at that time that people here clean their house from top to bottom, left and right (maybe we should do the same), to clean away any ill fortune that might have been left behind, clean their closet, to remove old clothes, yes, I know, clothes are cheaper here, but what is important is they do it. Then when all is nice and shiny, they decorate their windows and doors (inside and outside) with beautiful ornaments. Then the party starts, good fun, shared with family. Then after dinner, like we do in Western countries, the fireworks comes in, except, that they do it by themselves, the convenience store are full of different kinds of firework, small, large, petite, colorful and so on, you would not believe it until you see it by yourself.
According to the legend, the beginning of Chinese New Year started with a fight against a mythical beast called the “Nian”. The beast would come on the first day of the New Year to eat livestock, crops, and even villagers, especially children. So, to protect themselves, the villagers would put food in front of their doors steps at the beginning of every year, as it was believed that after the beast ate all the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. Until one time, the villagers saw the “Nian” was scared away by a little child wearing red. The villagers, then understood that it was afraid of the red color. Since that time, when the New Year arrives, the villagers would hang red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors. People also used firecrackers to frighten away the beast. Since then, the beast never came back to the village. The “Nian” was eventually captured by a Taoist monk named Hongjun Laozu. Then the “Nian” became Hongjun Laozu’s mount.
Anyway, as I am getting ready to celebrate, I wish you all a prosperous and healthy 2012 year of the Dragon.
Did you know?
As the Chinese New Year arrives, it is a tradition to forget all bad misfortune and family feud.
Maybe some of the Western countries should do the same, and forget all their family troubles with so and so and be reunited at least once a year. After all, we only live once and only have one family.
Here is a great VEGAN idea if you follow this diet.
i came up with this idea once as we had a customer at the restauraant who was a vegan. As vegan food is not really my forte, i had to look around and come up with a whole sets of menu to be able to accomodate him. It went all pretty good.
here below is the recipe:
Endives 8 units (really crisp)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil 2 tablespoons + a little for the mold
Salt and pepper to taste
Granulated sugar 1 ounce
Water ¼ cup
Walnuts (halves) 3 ounces
Puff pastry 1 sheet
Vegan Caramel sauce ½ cup
Preheat the oven at 200° F
Wash the endive under cold water, then place on a paper towel to remove the excess water.
Cut the endives in halves, lengthwise.
In a medium size saucepan, on medium high, place the extra virgin olive oil. When slightly hot, add the halves endives, cook for about 2 minutes on each sides and add the salt and pepper (to your taste). When almost done, sprinkle the granulated sugar all over.
Remove the pan from the stove and slowly add the water. Cook again for another 4 minutes.
When the endives are almost ready, place them on a paper towel again to remove the excess water (if any). Let rest until cooled.
Apply with a brush the remaining extra virgin olive oil inside the tart mold.
Nicely arrange the walnut first, then gently place the endives, on top.
Lay over the endive the puff pastry sheet, brush it with the extra virgin olive oil.
Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the tart is cooked.
When carefully removing the tart from the oven, wait a couple minutes to be able to handle it.
Place a plate of the same size on top of the tart and carefully unmold it onto the plate by flipping it over.
I love breakfast and Foodnetwork.com has a wonderful list of quick and easy breakfast that I just had to share. below is the pick of number 10. Check out the others below or go HERE.
1. Basic Pancakes Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Whisk 1 1/4 cups milk, 1/2 stick melted butter,2 eggs and a little vanilla, then whisk into the flour mixture until just combined. Ladle 1/4 cupfuls onto a hot buttered skillet and cook until bubbly. Flip and cook until golden on the bottom.
2. Blueberry Pancakes Make Basic Pancakes (No. 1); sprinkle with blueberries before flipping.
3. Chocolate-Chip Pancakes Make Basic Pancakes (No. 1); sprinkle with chocolate chips before flipping.
4. Whole-Wheat Pancakes Make Basic Pancakes (No. 1) with 3/4 cup each all-purpose and whole-wheat flour. Top with chopped almonds and berries.
5. Corn Cakes Make Basic Pancakes (No. 1) with just 1/2 cup flour; add 1 cup yellow cornmeal with the flour. Top with honey.
6. Blue Corn Cakes Make Basic Pancakes (No. 1) with just 1/2 cup flour; add 1 cup blue cornmeal with the flour. Top with dried apricots warmed in honey.
7. Oat Pancakes Make Basic Pancakes (No. 1) with just 3/4 cup flour; add 1/2 cup ground oats and 1/4 cup wheat germ with the flour.
8. Lemon-Strawberry Cakes Make Basic Pancakes (No. 1) with just 1/2 cup milk. Add 1 cup cottage cheese and 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest with the milk. Top with strawberries and honey.
9. Blini Make Basic Pancakes (No. 1) or Buttermilk Pancakes (No. 13) with 3/4 cup each all-purpose and buckwheat flour; omit the butter. Cook by tablespoonfuls. Serve with sour cream, smoked salmon and chives.
10. Berry-Topped Pancakes Toss 3 cups mixed berries with 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon lemon juice; let sit while you make Basic Pancakes (No. 1). Top the pancakes with the berries and their juices.
11. Cocoa-Banana Pancakes Make Basic Pancakes (No. 1) with just 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons flour; add 1/3 cup cocoa powder with the flour and use 2/3 cup sugar. Add 2 mashed bananas and 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips to the batter.
12. Bacon-Apple Pancakes Make Basic Pancakes (No. 1); add 1/4 cup crumbled bacon and 1/2 grated apple to the batter.
13. Buttermilk Pancakes Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon each baking soda and salt. Whisk 1 1/4 cups buttermilk, 1/2 stick melted butter, 2 eggs and a little vanilla, then whisk into the flour mixture until just combined. Ladle 1/4 cupfuls onto a hot buttered skillet and cook until bubbly. Flip and cook until golden on the bottom.
14. Cherry-Topped Pancakes Cook 2 cups pitted cherries, 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon water over low heat until syrupy. Make Buttermilk Pancakes (No. 13); top with the cherry syrup.
A couple of days ago I was in a meeting at the Parkyard Hotel restaurant. This is where I am the executive chef so I have to stay nearby to oversee operations. My business associate ordered his food and he was very impressed by the presentation of it all. Out of the blue, he asked me about my signature dish.
Suddenly, I realized that with all of my culinary experiences and travels that I didn’t have a signature dish to talk about! It was at this point that I realized the context of his question. I believe its because most people think that professional chefs have signature dishes that can be identified and you can say “ya - that was such and such chef creation”. In some cases, such as for food experts a signature dish is a recipe that will enable them to recognize the chef who created it in the blink of an eye.
I don’t shy away from bold statements. This blog post won’t be an exception: A signature dish is a false concept. A signature dish becomes popular and most of the time it will remain on the “a la carte” menu for a while, or in some cases, forever. If the restaurant became famous because of it, and the chef dies, then comes the legacy, something we as executive chefs leave behind. Thus, even though the chef created the dish, this does not mean that it is “HIS/HER” signature dish. Most likely, it was just a moment of inspiration that came through his or her mind and was something wonderful that they wanted to do for the customers.
Every chef likes to be creative and express themselves through their plates. How can we then justify having only one signature dish? In our minds, it all make sense. We love what we do, we love to teach and most of all, we love the freedom of exploring and playing with different ingredients. We encounter a variety of chef with different specialty and style (French, Italian…). During our apprenticeship stage, we collect recipes or ideas from those masters and eventually like in any trade, adapt it into our own style. In this sense, this tradition of sharing and collecting of ideas helps creates who we are later on. Keeping in mind, that not all ideas are good, but they’re there to be explored. Think of it as a way of giving them finesse and a second chance!
The most famous signature dish that comes to my mind is the “Waldorf Salad”, which believe it or not was not even created by a chef, but as legend would have it by Oscar Tschirky, the maitre d’hôtel of the “Waldorf Astoria” in New York. Even though the recipe evolved through the years (the original did not have walnut, they were added later on) this particular dish made it to the ranks of ”signature dish”.
This is only one example of the signature dish phenomenon. It proves that it is possible for you to encounter a dish somewhere that you like, then you will tell your friends, who will tell you friends and so on. Then, the particular dish will become the chefs signature dish. Apart from that, if we really think about it, how many dishes did a chef create in his long career and never made it to that list? I know the answer and i am sure my fellow chefs know it too. We rely on people to tell us if what we are doing is great! Our customers and patrons feedback keep us on the right path.
We will always, explore and “play” with our ingredients! We hope that maybe just one day we will be remembered for what we did great. Serving awesome food experiences. If it happens that we have a popular dish that makes it to the category of “signature” then great! I ask my readers to never forget that it was not the intention but a byproduct of a chef’s effort to please their audience.
Please tell me your thoughts, ideas and comments. I look forward to engage you on a variety of food and shanghai related conversations in the weeks ahead.
The salmon dish above is one I created for our restaurant “Woodside”, it became a “Signature Dish” and i canot remove it from the menu.
"Grilled salmon with smoked salmon biscotti and its mousse, red wine horseraddish sauce"
I have eaten most of the food listed in the article but there were other foods that are still unfamiliar to me. I want to try those foods this year like the Kamaro and Betute. But here are some of the foods that I already tried.
Where do you even begin when it comes to fancy cheeses? Which are mild, and which are stinky? Which will melt well on my burger and which is better appreciated off a cheeseboard with a smear of good honey?