Professional Chefs Teach, Learn, and Compete on Chopsticks & Beyond
   2014-03-25 10:47:00      Web Editor: Luo Chun

Chefs Wei Han and Mattia Salussoglia show off the dishes they have just prepared (and learned). The professional cooks participated in a Chopsticks & Beyond contest where they taught each other dishes from their home countries before competing to prepare the newly learned dishes. [Photo: Wang]

To watch the video of this episode please click here

By William Wang

Chopsticks & Beyond is continuing to promote cross-culture cuisine. C&B invited Italian chef Mattia Salussoglia (from The Hilton Shanghai) and local chef Wei Han (from the Global Home Shopping Channel) to teach one another how to cook a dish from their home country, before trying to one-up the other at preparing the dish they'd just been taught.

Salussoglia made the trip out from Shanghai to participate in the competition, as well as to lend his skills to the Hilton Beijing's Italian Week, which started on March 24th. The tall, handsome Italian opted to teach his opponent how to prepare a risotto. The risotto is a traditional Italian rice dish which has a reputation for being rather difficult to prepare well. Many wondered if Wei would be up to the task.

Wei chose to tutor Salussoglia on the fine points of Sichuan stir-fried shrimp, a dish which struck observers as being much simpler to prepare successfully.

Busy at work in the kitchen of the Hilton Beijing, the two chefs shared their skills and asked for clarifications.

"Once we put the white wine in, it's important that we let it completely evaporate," Salussoglia informed Han. "Otherwise, the rice will end up sour." Han nodded while taking careful note, straining to recall the years of training that he'd had in Italy and France years ago.

Han noted Salussoglia's use of black pepper. "I usually use white pepper," he stated.

"It's a matter of taste," quipped Salussoglia. "Maybe the black pepper is more strong. It has more character than white pepper."
Noting the insult, host Karen Jin tossed out her own attack on western cuisine. "Chinese food is more action," she declared. "Everything happens so fast in Chinese cooking."

Han giggled good-naturedly and tried to keep the peace. "For Chinese food, for one person we need eight or ten dishes," he pointed out. "But (for) Italian food it's just three or four."

Afterwards, Han taught Salussoglia how to create a Sichuan-Shanghainese stir-fried prawn dish, drawing on Sichuan's characteristic colorful spiciness, and Shanghai's sweetness.

Shortly after the lessons were given, the race was on; with the timer started, both chefs struggled to recall the exact details of the procedures that they'd studied all too briefly.

Both dishes were completed in good time, both mouth-wateringly aromatic, but neither as beautifully presented as the originals.

The judges Tang Xipeng (from the World Association of Chinese Cuisine) and Cathy Liu (from Restaurant Review) were joined by host Jin, and everybody seemed aware of the technical and cultural difficulties that the chefs had grappled with. Nonetheless, Liu and Tang assured viewers that they knew their food and would be hard to impress.

But would it be fair for three Chinese judges to assess an Italian chef? Or an Italian dish prepared by a fellow compatriot? Time (and taste) would tell.

Judge Tang criticized Salussoglia's prawns for being too starchy, with an excess of sauce. For a Sichuan dish, he felt that it lacked the requisite peppery heat. In contrast, Judge Liu was pleased that Han's prawns chose subtlety over the pure brawn of chili, allowing her to more fully enjoy the prawns which were cooked to perfection.

Tang appreciated Han's skill in establishing a proper balance between the rice and sauce, aware of the difficulty in the task. Judge Liu complained about the inadequate cheese in the risotto, noting that the rice was too hard for her taste. But wasn't that the Italian way? Tang reminded her that proper Italian rice and noodles should be "al dente," or firm to the bite.

After a brief huddle, the three judges chose the Italian's Sichuan prawns as the winner. They all acknowledged the bright presentation, and tender succulent prawn flesh. Additionally, the judges recognized that it was an impressive effort by Salussoglia whose experience in preparing Chinese cuisine was quite limited.

Was the result a scandal? Well, it would have been a scandal either way.

Salussoglia will be at the Hilton Beijing for the Hilton Beijing's Italian Week, March 24 to March 29, preparing highlights of Italian Cuisine at the restaurant One East.

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