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Chopsticks & Beyond Goes Cantonese

Updated: 2013-07-29 14:14
Chopsticks & Beyond Goes Cantonese

Perrique Renou pours a cogniac flambe on to his Carpaccio and scallop dish.[Photo/CRIENGLISH.com]

Having already covered Sichuan cuisine, this past Saturday Chopsticks & Beyond delved into the subtleties of Cantonese fare. Four Beijing expats arrived with their secret ingredients stowed away.

The day expected to be uncommonly challenging. Not only were the four amateur chefs attempting to meld elements of their home cuisine into a Cantonese scallop dish, but in celebration of Chinese Valentine's Day (this August 13th), they were additionally requested to include ingredients often associated with the holiday: lotus root, red beans, dates and honey.

Gathered in Betty's Home, a kitchen in the Beijing's Grand Summit building, the contestants didn't seem phased, evidently having done their homework.

"I'm really excited," said Nick Gollner. "Today I'm going to prepare seared scallops and bacon with asparagus and peas. It's a combination of a few traditional elements of New England style coastal seafood and Cantonese Valentine's Day cuisine. Hopefully the flavors of the rendered pork fat and the lotus root will really be complimented nicely by the maple syrup and the sweetness from the bacon."

Italian Giada Faggiano, a student from Mandarin House, was ready to prepare her Shrimps and Scallops sauteed in dragon's nest, with scent of Italy. She adamantly refused to tell organizers or media what her secret ingredients would be. "You'll have to wait," she chuckled.

Judge and World Association of Chinese Cuisine chef Tang Xipeng started the timer, and the 45-minute race was on.

Just minutes into the competition, tragedy struck. Ana Perez from Spain, another student from Mandarin House, gashed her hand when attempting to extract a scallop from its shell, and blood gushed forth from her thumb. Perez and Tang both thought she may need to withdraw from the competition when the bleeding wouldn't stop, but eventually some Chinese medicine arrived which alleviated the problem. Perez was back in the race, doubling her efforts to make up for lost time. Her Cantonese style potato omelet had barely gotten started.

Easy FM Hosts Lucy Luan and Amy Daml darted about the room to check on chefs, periodically announcing the quickly shrinking remaining times. They also asked each contestant one trivia question about Cantonese cuisine, nodding and winking in an attempt to give the contestants an edge. Questions answered correctly were rewarded with advice from judge Tang.

The contestants scrambled against the clock, each of them barely completing their dish in time. Faggiano, Perez, Gollner and Renou lined up with their dishes, posing for a few pictures before judging took place.

Media guests and other audience members all noted how the dishes each paid particular attention to aesthetics. But not only did the dishes look wonderful, they also delved into symbolic connections.

Perez's five dates made reference to the Chinese flag's stars, and her dish weaved together the two countries' flags' colors, as did Faggiano's. Gollner's dish looked particularly sumptuous, featuring an apple heart, speared by an asparagus arrow.

Renou's dish culturally dug even deeper. His Carpaccio, scallop and spring roll dish visually represented the legend of Chinese Valentine's Day: a story of a weaver girl and her lover, crossing a bridge of magpies once a year. (In Renou's dish, it became a spring roll bridge.)

But looks can be deceiving. Would these dishes look as good as they tasted? There were two titles to be won, one as chosen by judge Tang, and one by roughly twenty media guests. They lined up forks in hand, and after tasting pasted a sticker on the chef whose dish they thought was best.

By the time the tastings were over, Renou's sleeve and shirtfront were virtually covered in stickers, marking his dish as the popular winner.

Judge Tang took his time, going over the competitors' creations, carefully assessing each nuance. In the end, he announced that Renou's dish was again the winner. Perhaps it was the French cognac flambe loving poured atop the Carpaccio and scallops. Maybe it was the caviar sprinkled atop. But as a whole, the dish had a satisfying wholeness to it.

Renou took the prizes of Cantonese dinner for him and his friends, and some professional ceramic knives. "I'm very pleased that the judge appreciated this, so yeah, I'm happy," he beamed. "And it was all in just 45 minutes. I'm happy with what I have done, and the other contestants did a great job too."

Last episode: Chopsticks & Beyond Sichuan cuisine

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