“Food is a combination of three things that needs to be in harmony – art, craft and science”
‘Culinary Journeys’ is a new series of monthly half-hour shows on CNN International, which explores a different destination through the dish or cuisine that has helped put it on the map; from gazpacho soup in Madrid to Doro Wett in Addis Ababa; Khao chae in Thailand to pierogies in Krakow.
In May, the series continues with Vicky Lau, travelling from Hong Kong to Hangzhou, China, swapping a concrete jungle for a picturesque paradise which has inspired artists and authors for centuries.
Lau explains her culinary journey’s origins: “Hangzhou is an interesting place because of the landscape. It's a very scenic place, and their river is a highlight of the whole city as well as the tea farms. I think it would be interested to explore…how the culture and landscape is rooted deeply into the cuisine.”
She hopes to harness both the location’s ingredients and creative influence to transform a dish which began as a culinary disaster served up to an emperor.
Lau’s renowned restaurant in Hong Kong, Tate Dining Room & Bar features a refined mix of delicate French techniques, artistic precision and pronounced flavors; a style that recently earned her the title of Asia’s best female chef, chosen by a group of 300 food industry experts.
She tells the programme: “When I started Tate, I really wanted a small, homey place to express myself through food, to tell some stories of things around me and inspirations that I have from poems that I have read, places that I have been, kind of edible stories inspired by natures or places and scenes.”
‘Culinary Journeys’ follows Lau visiting an urban bee farm in Shatin which has been open since the early 1980s, before she explores Graham Street Market, an historic place which provides many ingredients for her restaurant. Lau says: “Every day, they have different kinds of seafood that come in. All of the scallops are fresh and the prawns that we use, and we use a lot of the fish from this market as well.”
She tells ‘Culinary Journeys’: “I think food is a combination of three things that needs to be in harmony – art, craft and science. The art part is how you want to express food. The craft part is everyday daily how you craft things together how you cut the meat, how you combine and plate the dishes. The science part is how you understand the meat texture, how to source things, where they came from…”
Just a two-hour flight north of Hong Kong is China’s lakeside city of Hangzhou, located in a bay inland from the East China Sea. The city has a haunting beauty which has touched generations of visitors, and Lau wants to feel a connection to the location and its ingredients.
The centrepiece of Hangzhou is the west lake. With wispy willows reaching over its waters and a crown of misty mountains, it is known as one of the dreamiest destinations in China; a scene which is said to have inspired writers and poets for centuries. “The landscape of Hangzhou is so interesting. The cuisine is so delicate and original in flavour and I really want to explore all of the food there” Lau tells the programme.
Her local speciality has a mystical name – Dragon Well Tea Shrimp. The dish is simple: two main ingredients – tea leaves and river shrimp plucked directly from the local landscape. Dragon well tea – more commonly known by its Chinese name ‘Longjing’ – is a green tea that thrives in Hangzhou’s white sand soil and shaded mountains.
At a local tea farm, tea master Wan Jiachun explains to Lau that an emperor from the Qing dynasty became enamoured by the tea and his passion infused it with a near legendary status in China.
After carefully picking tea leaves together, Lau shares her thoughts on the tea’s taste: “It's got a very toasty flavour so it definitely goes with food very well. In Chinese food, we incorporate tea into our everyday meal.”
The visit to the tea farm has an immediate effect on Lau: “Before I never thought too much about going to the tea farm, but being here now understanding the culture, the amount of time and effort put into make one cup of tea is definitely something I should think about. It's very much in line of what we strive for everyday at Tate: something so simple, but a lot of attention to detail and dedication to make something spectacular. “
Accompanied by chef Colin Cheng, from acclaimed Hangzhou restaurant 28 HuBin Road, Lau Lau next turns her attention to the other main ingredient, heading for the fish market in search of shrimp.
With fresh shrimp sourced, Lau feels ready to create her dish. “I've always heard a lot about dragon well and prawns together. I never understood why. Coming here to Hangzhou and the river is such a highlight of the city and as well as the dragon well tea. That's why it's natural to put the two highlights of Hangzhou together.”
She returns to Tate Dining Room in Hong Kong, inspired by her journey and eager to create her version of the traditional Hangzhou dish, dragon well tea shrimp.
With just two simple ingredients featured in the original dish, Lau’s version is a refined interpretation, integrating her French cooking style with an artful presentation. First, shrimp are blended then nurtured into a flavourful consume; next more shrimp are chopped and rolled into a ball to bring added texture.
The final presentation, and the culmination of Lau’s culinary journey comes as she shares her creation with her sister and friend, hoping they’ll get a taste of Hangzhou.
Lau is energised by her experience: “It helps me think about different cultures…appreciate different cultures…understand where food comes from, how it evolved over time. How it's not invented, not reinvented it's evolved. I think that's definitely the highlight that I have for this trip.”
Notes to Editors:
‘Culinary Journeys’ featuring airs on CNN International at the following times:
Friday 8 May at 1630 BST/ 1730 CET and 2330 BST/ 0030 CET
Saturday 9 May at 2030 BST/ 2130 CET
Sunday 10 May at 0130 BST/ 0230 CET
Tuesday 12 May at 1030 BST/ 1130 CET
Wednesday 13 May 0430 BST/ 0530 CET
For more information, please contact:
CNN Europe, Middle East & Africa
Tel: + 44 20 7693 0967
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