Can there really be too many chefs in the kitchen? The past few years of dining collaborations have pretty much buried the old adage six feet underground. Roping in one-night dinners, featuring various restaurants and cuisines, have become the new way for restaurants to turn heads — promising a creative, diverse menu above the humdrum of wine dinners and new seasonal changes.
And that is something Ritz-Carlton has come to understand the massive potential of. The Stellar Dining Series, which kick off its first edition last year, roped in the best of Ritz-Carlton’s culinary minds for exclusive collaborations around the world. Bolstered by the fact that most of its restaurants are on the Michelin Guide, the Stellar Dining Series has become star-studded collaborations.
Diners and Ritz-Carlton fans can expect a slew of interesting scenarios too. Say, a clash of cuisines — Japanese, French, Basque or Italian — in the kitchen, fronted by renowned chefs gathered from miles away.
But there’s more to explore than just the prospect of an experimental menu. When it comes to Chinese gastronomy, such collaborations birth insights into the nuances between chefs. When the Dining Series made its final stop in Guangzhou, Ritz-Carlton’s chefs Paul Lau, Jackie Jo and Gordon Guo took the opportunity to share their unique takes on Cantonese cuisine over a six-hands dinner.
The headlining dinner was, as with any Dining Series event, a star-studded affair. Both Ho and Guo helm the kitchens of modern Cantonese restaurant Lai Heen in Macau and Guangzhou respectively, both one-Michelin-starred establishments. Chef Lau, on the other hand, leads the two-Michelin-starred Tin Lung Heen in Hong Kong.
There’s no better place to host the three culinary maestros than at Guangzhou, long regarded by the Chinese as a gastronomy haven. Cantonese cuisine (or yue cai) reigns in the provincial capital of Guandong, where it is often influenced by a massive variety of imported ingredients and influences.
Within Guangzhou, Cantonese cuisine is a communal experience built from an amalgamation of regional cuisines. Say from the UNESCO ‘city of gastronomy’ Shunde, a cuisine regarded by many as the basis for bold Cantonese flavours.
“Traditional Cantonese cuisine is still the same,” Lau explains. “But every chef has different techniques and his interpretation of the cuisine.” Over the collaborative six-course dinner, the three chefs set out to present just that.
The dinner kicked off with Lau’s take on the traditional cuisine with premium ingredients: most notably Ting Lun Heen’s signature char siew of Iberian pork dressed in osmanthus honey. Further along the way, Lau showcases his aptitude for innovative touches, with fresh crab claw tempura resting atop a ‘risotto’ of glutinous rice and tomato broth.
Macau’s Jackie Ho offers a modern approach while weaving in Cantonese techniques with an Australian Wagyu beef cheek, braised twice for an irresistibly soft texture and served with syrupy port wine-and-onion sauce.
Guo takes the chance to highlight his home ground advantage: China’s unique produce. Local caviar and ikura roe lend their buttery flavour to French blue lobster and a smooth custard of steamed egg white and rice wine. Fresh pink guavas from the local market are the highlights for dessert, rendered into a refreshingly sweet pudding accompanied with bird’s nest and cheese sauce.
“Cantonese cuisine isn’t really divided by the cities we come from, but there would be subtle differences,” Guo shares. “Ingredients are different, Macau and Hong Kong have better access to quality seafood, for instance. In Guangzhou, we have the advantage of domestic ingredients.”
But ultimately, the traditional flavours are what continues to hold together a cuisine so widely interpreted and enjoyed all over the world. Perhaps collaborations, such as these, are what we need to better understand the breadth of it.