18 December 2015

Local color adds to the menu

In Tianjin, there is a very popular streetside snack that many people grab for a quick breakfast. This is jianbing guozi, a crepe-pancake wrapped around a fried fritter of dough, or youtiao, and liberally seasoned with a salty-sweet fermented beancurd sauce.

But the surprise here is that it will soon appear on the breakfast menu of the Ritz-Carlton Tianjin, soon to open in October - all thanks to a chef who believes local delicacies must be highlights on his menus.

Executive chef Ornato Antunes comes from French-Portuguese ancestry, and his cooking style has been influenced by many cuisines. With the Ritz-Carlton group opening up hotels in major Chinese cities, Antunes was already exploring ingredients and cooking methods in China.

And for Ritz-Carlton's latest in Tianjin, the chef has come up with novel ideas to surprise and delight prospective diners.

Antunes thinks looking good is the first battle, but that the real war is in preserving the most authentic flavors.

"I always believe that an appealing presentation means I have given my diners half the pleasure," he says. "But my rendition of a local dish must be strictly faithful to its original and characteristic taste."

For instance, Antunes's version of jianbing guozi is a classic upgrade that still retains its earthy appeal.

"Jianbing guozi is my favorite food in Tianjin. It is simple to make and tastes wonderful."

His fondness for folk cuisine has inspired him to include jianbing guozi in the menu, with some cosmetic changes suitable for the tables at the Ritz-Carlton.

"Instead of the traditional youtiao with the pancake, we wrap the pancake around a slimmer dough stick. Then, we smear the sauce on top of the roll and plate it on a platter."

The chef has also given Tianjin noodles his signature touch.

"People in Tianjin eat bowls of noodle topped with all sorts of shredded vegetables."

To raise the Chinese staple from grassroots street food to the haute cuisine more suited to the Ritz-Carlton, Antunes has come up with some classy solutions.

"We present the noodles by twisting them into the bowl instead of letting them get tangled up with the vegetables. Our waiters will also add the sauce and the seasoning at the table, in front of the guests."

This creative approach to presenting food mirrors Antunes's abiding belief in the Ritz-Carlton's motto: We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.

He believes dining at the Ritz-Carlton means maintaining the group's golden standards of "a warm and sincere greeting", "anticipation and fulfillment of each person's needs", and giving a "fond farewell".