Flavors of Guangdong at China Blue

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MEMBERS of the press were led to the kitchen before lunch time. This writer remained quiet and very nervous as we walked to the kitchen. We were told that after a short cooking demo by celebrity chef Jereme Leung, we were to recreate the same dish ourselves. Mr. Leung showed the group how to prepare crispy milk fritters, a traditional dessert in Da Lang in Guangdong, China which uses buffalo milk as a special ingredient.

After the demo, I began slicing the frozen milk custard, and tried to prepare the dish quietly (I was still a bit nervous) at my station. Then while I was preparing the bread, Mr. Leung approached me, “You cook at home, I’m sure,” he said.

As a first time cook, I can say it was fun and not as difficult as I thought.

China Blue — the 2017 Global Winner for the Chinese Cuisine category by the World Luxury Restaurant Awards — features dishes from various parts of China. Its founder Mr. Leung, who has been in the culinary industry since 1983, is known for blending concepts of modern Chinese cuisine with classical and provincial Chinese food.

He explained that he accompanies his key kitchen staff from China Blue to the various provinces for exposure and to learn about traditional dishes that are exotic to the Filipino palate.

“Every year, I expose them to a different city that has different ingredients because it’s a huge country,” he told BusinessWorld after the press lunch on April 4. “They cannot always be in one place. They won’t be inspired.”

This year, they traveled around Guangdong for five days. “I wanted them to see what ingredients would be special for a Filipino. When they tasted the crispy milk fritter, they liked it,” he said. That is why he thought of including it in the summer menu. “If it attracts them, it will attract our local clientele.”

For the entire month of April, Mr. Leung offers the flavors of Guangdong through the Summer Harvest menu at Conrad Manila’s China Blue.

“We play with ingredients that they think is not common in the Philippines. We used that as inspiration and asked ourselves how we can make it better,” Mr. Leung said.

The dishes include soy caramel glazed eggplant, double boiled moon fish clam soup served in a bamboo tube, Guangdong dry shrimp in silkie chicken stock, healthy dendrobium herb and black chicken consomme, and coconut charcoal ice cream with crispy cheese cracker and toasted bread.

The menu was served during the press lunch after the cooking demo, and this writer found the eggplant and moon fish clam soup among those that stood out. The flavors explode in your mouth. Unlike dishes which make the taste difficult to understand, I thought these blended very well.

His goal for China Blue is to avoid having it become a standard restaurant “[where] it’s the same menu, and same dish. It’s not fun,” Mr. Leung said.

“Many of the Chinese chefs are very traditional. They say, ‘Master gave me this recipe. I’ll reproduce this recipe.’ But [for me], I only reproduce the cooking method,” he said, stating that his cooking is “very Chinese” but he veers away from a traditional approach.

“In this restaurant I want to emphasize a lot of Chinese ingredients because a lot of people do not understand [it]… What they do not realize is that there are many good ingredients, people are just not exposed to it,” he said.

Before ending the interview, I told him that the food was “hen hao chi (delicious).” To which he replied with a humble, “Thank you.”

The Summer Harvest set menu is priced at P4,500 nett per person. The dishes are also available a la carte for lunch and dinner.

For inquiries and reservations, call 833-9999 or visit www.conradhotels.om/manila. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman