Food has always had a special place in Chinese culture, but as the country’s influence grows globally, so does the approach to traditional methods of cooking. This change, says Tony Wang, presents opportunity.
There is a saying in Chinese that “Food is the heaven for all people.” The importance of China’s food culture has been deeply rooted throughout history. The accumulation of thousands of years of food culture has elevated the taste for Chinese gastronomy to a spiritual level – food is about more than just fulfilling basic needs.
Traditional Chinese cuisine can be divided into four major regions with different geological and climatic environments: The ever-abundant and rich flavours of Shandong menu items, the hot and spicy dishes from Sichuan, the fresh and tasty Cantonese dishes, and the delicate Yangze Delta items. Our taste buds are complicated sensory tools, able to adjust to the evolving flavours created by the dynamic interaction of world cultures. Modern food technology and equipment has changed the fundamentals of food production, necessary for satisfying ever-higher gastronomical demands.
Producing tasty dishes in our kitchen requires wholesome, quality food ingredients prepared with high culinary skill in a clean and efficient modern space. It is difficult to equate a typically hot, noisy, wet and dirty kitchen with fine dining. To upgrade kitchen hardware, the starting point must be proper workflow and design, followed by the selection of cooking equipment that maximises work efficiency and meets food safety and ergonomic needs.
Traditional Chinese cuisine cooking methods include stir-fry, steaming, stewing and roasting. These are done using traditional equipment such as woks, steam cabinets, stewing pots and roasting ovens. The fundamental piece of equipment in all Chinese kitchens is the legendary wok. Woks have been the single most-used piece of equipment in culinary schools for generations, enabling cooks to develop their cooking skills. Steamers and roasting equipment are used to train apprentices on colour evaluation and the degree of doneness. The latter may involve a lesser degree of skill than wok-cooking; nevertheless, a certain degree of experience is still needed to master them. Heat, noise and tunnel-blowing caused by gas-fired woks are becoming standard features in a traditional hot Chinese kitchen. However, these are being replaced by the more modern, energy-saving, quiet and cook-on-demand induction woks, so a cook will need to start using his eyes rather than his ears to judge the right amount of heat to produce great food. This switch in equipment will definitely change culinary school training in the days to come.
With the modernisation of China and the introduction of Western flavours, Chinese cuisine is undergoing revolutionary changes – the development of a Westernised-Chinese cooking method has taken hold. Chinese foods can be produced using Western cooking equipment such as broilers, deep-fryers and ovens, typically used in high-end eateries. The adaptation to the Western plating model has instigated the use of the steak broiler, deep-fryer, salamander, and open fire broiler, which can produce any Chinese food. Use of this equipment helps reduce fires caused by traditional Chinese woks, improves work efficiency and achieves energy and labour savings. For example, one combi-steamer can fulfill the needs for baking, roasting, and steaming, alleviating the pressure of high-volume production.
So, the use of Western kitchen equipment to cook Chinese foods will increase production efficiency as well as save on operational costs. In light of the high-speed economic growth currently occurring in China, this use of combined Western-Chinese hardware and skills will have a significant impact on the world market. There is no turning back!
Tony Wang BA FCSI, founder and principal consultant of Beijing Junchao Kitchen Project & Design. He has completed more than 50 foodservice design projects since he joined FCSI in 2008.
Credit: Translated by Paul Pi