China Daily just published my column for the month titled China’s great gastronomy book inspires chef, which was actually inspired by my trip to Hangzhou in April for a video shoot. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:
In a banquet room with a view of the historic West Lake in Hangzhou, a chef revealed to me a source of inspiration as legendary as the scenery just beyond the windows: the celebrated poet and gourmet Yuan Mei who wrote Suiyuan Shidan (Recipes from the Garden of Contentment), the seminal manual of Chinese gastronomy published in 1792.
Suiyuan Shidan, which I had only discovered months before after reading the first English translation of the book, has long been hailed as the first great guide to Chinese cuisine. No other work before it had ever gathered together such a comprehensive selection of recipes and information on Chinese cookery, all filtered through the discerning eye and palate of Yuan Mei, a man born in Hangzhou whose exceptional standards for food and dining earned him distinction as one of the finest gastronomes in Chinese history.
This has made the work invaluable to many chefs, despite the fact that the vast majority of the recipes are more rough sketches or descriptions of dishes that novices might struggle to replicate. After all, Yuan Mei, a member of the literati class, had probably never entered the kitchen, instead dispatching his cooks to learn the recipes that he later recorded. So as experts in the art of preparing food, chefs can glean more insight from this esteemed culinary Bible, turning to its pages to refine their talents as well as their offerings on the table.
Chef Fang at the Hangzhou Restaurant, an eatery that has served up authentic Hangzhou-style food since 1921, stands as one such example.
You can read the full column here, where you can also hear me read a recording of it. And if you like it, share it!
P.S.: If you would like to learn more about the first English translation of this book, see my post ‘Recipes From the Garden of Contentment’ (随园食单): 1st English Translation of Seminal Guide to Chinese Gastronomy.