Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dumplings, Dim Sum, & Delectables

It's easy for non-New Yorkers to assume Chinese food is nothing more than stuffed cardboard cartons full of MSG. Sure it may be tasty and satisfy cravings every now and then, but it's certainly not something that any one should make a habit out of. Unfortunately, this is the stereotype that Chinese chefs have been facing for years. And, even in New York, where Chinese chefs are now working in upscale restaurants covering a variety of Asian and European ethnicities, the display of small, crammed Chinese restaurants on nearly every other block too often pigeon-holes even the greats. However, as with all ethnic cuisines in New York, it's never too hard to locate those chefs that truly shine.

Last weekend, I visited the new extension of the Museum of Chinese in America for an evening of Dumplings, Dim Sum & Delectables: A Dining Diaspora. At the museum's first event since its opening on September 22nd, a variety of Chinese American chefs were invited to share their experiences in the food industry - both in their words and with their cuisine. After a brief panel discussion, guests were invited to mingle with the chefs and sample some of their finest. One of the biggest challenges of any Chinese chef is maintaining tradition while introducing cutting edge concepts - a must in this competitive culinary environment. And while I did taste more than my fair share of delicious dim sum throughout the evening, it was the creativity and the upbeat attitudes of each of the chefs that stand out in my mind.

The evening featured famous chefs such as Pichet Ong originally from Jean Georges - a name that most in the culinary world are quick to recognize. But, I was most pleased to see the name Simpson Wong, owner and executive chef of Cafe Asean. I have been visiting this tiny pan-Asian (mainly Vietnamese and Malaysian) restaurant in the west village since before my move to the city. They were serving pork ribs with turmeric sticky rice and grilled lettuce as well as sliced albacore tuna with a lemongrass salad. I had never tried either of these dishes before and was as impressed as always with the strong and unique flavor combinations that this restaurant modestly puts forward.

The rest of the restaurants were all names I recognized, but have yet to visit. While the chefs were not present or involved in the panel discussion, Chinatown Brasserie and Red Egg featured a variety of dumplings. The quality was top-notch at both, but it was the lamb dumplings from Chinatown Brasserie that stand out most in my mind. Not only were the flavors excellent, but I really appreciate the innovation for such a traditional dish. At the China 1 station, Executive Chef Chris Cheung also succeeded in merging tradition and creativity as he served foie-gras stuffed bao buns. No question these were rich, but they will most certainly lead me down to his east village outpost for more. For a more upscale setting, I am now tempted to check out Shang at the Thompson Hotel. Chef de Cuisine, Doron Wong featured spicy tuna tartlets and vegetable taro puffs served with horseradish sour cream - two dishes that were excellent for an hors d'oeuvre-style setting. While there were almost as many sweets as there were savory dishes (cupcakes seem to be the rage for Chinese chefs), there was truly one winner that night - chef Jansen Chen, Executive Pastry Chef of Oceana Restaurant. He served the most delicate, light almond panna cotta with ginger cane syrup. He is a French-trained Chinese chef who truly succeeds in marrying Asian flavors with the French technique.

Each and every chef that night had a different story to tell - a different upbringing, a different training, and a different final product. It was inspiring to see that these differences have come together to tell the story of success. A trip to China last spring forever changed my impression of Chinese food. But, a night at the MOCA, has forever shaped my impression of Chinese chefs - their love for the tradition and their need for innovation.

Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)
215 Centre St.
New York, NY 10013

1 comment:

2 zappatos said...

Sounds fabulous.....what a treat and thanks for sharing with us!!!