Eating through the backstreets of Beijing

Eating through the backstreets of Beijing

Welcome back, to both HOTELS magazine and my blog, Something to Chew On.  During this break, I have been traveling and visiting some pretty unusual establishments around the world.  I want to take a minute and tell you about a spot in Beijing; it is located in Beijing’s Nanluoguxiang.  Now this is not a plush area of Beijing as you can see in the picture below.

This restaurant/school is located down a warren of alleyways populated by pedestrians, bicycles and carts.  And it is home to one of the most sought after Chinese cooking schools in the city: the Black Sesame Kitchen. 

The night I ate there the menu included:

  • Pan-Fried Pork and Pumpkin Dumplings
  • Fried Shiitake and Coriander Stir-Fry
  • Twice Cooked Tofu
  • Red Braised Pork
  • Red Braised Eggplant
  • Three Color Chicken Stir-Fry
  • Black Pepper Beef
  • Garlic Broccoli
  • Steamed Sea Bass
  • Candied Sweet Potatoes and Black Sesame Ice Cream

Candice Lee is the chef/owner (left), and Chairman Wang (right) is her head cook. 

Whether guests enjoyed this meal with beer or wine, you can be sure they’d all say it was great.   The primary reason I brought up Candice Lee’s restaurant is that almost a week later I was in Macau at one of the most prestigious of the hotel casinos there and the conversation came up about which world celebrity chef they should employ to power their new restaurants. 

I thought to myself that the world is absorbed with the celebrity-ness of celebrity chefs, but  do they really add value or do they add costs?  Gordon Ramsay as an example has 27 restaurants, 5 TV shows, and 17 cookbooks that as projects, Alain Ducasse runs a close second with 26 restaurants, 18 cookbooks and sadly no TV yet, the US’s Wolfgang Puck has 22 restaurants, 18 cookbooks and countless other “things”….what I’d like to know is: When do these people really have time to care about your kitchen? 

If I were doing a restaurant in China today I would look for their internally interesting, great, chefs first.  Candice may not want to be a celebrity chef,  but given what I have seen of the many empty seats in casino restaurants in Macau hotels, hoteliers’ money would be better spent on developing restaurants around local or regional personalities, that actually have a true and sparkling personality, instead of trying to convince the Asian nations that western chefs can teach them how to create a hot restaurant.  Frankly, we have found this to be the case in the United States as well.  Many of the top restaurants in the world don’t have a  celebrity, or even an almost celebrity chef at the helm.  The celebrity was the whole; it was the food, design, service and style of the restaurant; if you will the gestalt. 

Great restaurants are created first with love and secondly with skill…in every corner of the world.