04 January 2016

Faith in the capital

Faith in the capital
While many other global celebrity chefs flocked to Hong Kong and Shanghai, Yannick Alleno chose to start his first restaurant in Asia in the capital of the Middle Kingdom. He tells Pauline D. Loh why.

He is very French, very successful and very sure of what he is doing. Yannick Alleno is used to being first in class, a challenge he conquered repeatedly until he became at 40, one of the youngest three-star Michelin chefs in Europe.

That was in 2007, and since then the Yannick's mark has been made in some of the best hotels in the world, from Dubai to Beijing.

STAY opened its doors at Shangri-La Hotel, Beijing about two years ago, introducing the concept of the "shared table" to a Chinese audience. STAY translates to "Simple Table Alleno Yannick".

"We eat like that in France, sharing dishes as a family, sharing dishes with friends. That's how the Chinese eat as well," says Alleno, explaining why he chose the theme. And so, at STAY, you experience French food in a casual atmosphere, relaxing as you enjoy lunch with friends.

As a much-awarded chef, why did Alleno pick Beijing over Hong Kong or Shanghai to launch his first restaurant in China and in Asia?

It was because he wanted to be the first, and that people will remember that he was the first.

"I wanted to bring French food to where the real Chinese are, and there is nowhere more Chinese than Beijing. This is the center of the action for China," he says. He notes that the market is catching up, not just with Shanghai or Hong Kong, but also with the rest of the world.

"There is so much choice here."

It being so, we wonder how Alleno maintains his unique selling propositions.

For one, he has had plenty of experience catering to finicky audiences, and the fact that he has won over elite diners from Paris, Dubai and Beijing, and that the Michelin Stars stay firmly displayed over his restaurant doors may give us a hint of his success.

You get the sense that Alleno knows exactly what he is doing, and as he flies from city to city inspecting his restaurants in France, in Marrakech, Dubai and Beijing, he is on the move in more ways than one.

He is respected by his peers for his innovation with local ingredients, and they awarded him Chef of the Year in 2008.

This same attitude toward local ingredients has won him fans in Beijing.
Certainly, duck rillette, foie gras and caviar are still major features on the STAY menu, but they are made in China. "Rougie has a farm near Beijing. They use French methods in the rearing of the ducks.

"The caviar from Iran is finished, so we get ours from a farm in Qiandao Lakes in Hangzhou. They produce very good, very consistent quality." The chef is clearly impressed by what he's getting in China.

His chefs are told they have to support local producers and that they have to work with these producers.

His team in Beijing is young, and look barely out of their teens, but the boyish good looks of the chef de cuisine and the pastry chef are very deceiving, since their creations have surprised and delighted local diners.

Especially the sweets, which are all part of STAY's strategy to wow diners. "The French love sugar, but we have toned it down a little for Beijing." But the drama of STAY's dessert library is still the highlight of every meal.

A 1-meter long, specially designed tray arrives at the end of the meal, full of the tempting confections that are very French, including signature sweets and seasonal specials. But whatever the choices, you go away remembering the desserts and looking forward to the next meal so you can feast on the spread of eye candy again.

Some chefs create dishes that you never forget, and there is one especially that stays in my mind, a Yannick Alleno special - a platter of jellied beef consomme on which five little piles of Chinese ossetra caviar are carefully placed, and served with a watercress coulis.

They call it the X-factor, that something which makes a chef who he is. If that is the case, then Yannick Alleno belongs to the triple-X category.

Faith in the capital
Dessert library is the highlight at Chef Yannick Alleno (right)'s STAY restaurant in Beijng. [Photo by Fan Zhen / China Daily]
Faith in the capital