20 March 2016

App puts Chinese chefs abroad on right track

When Chinese tourists visit a Chinese restaurant abroad, they are often astonished to find that the food "from their homeland" does not taste like home food at all.

Chinese restaurants overseas have long lacked genuine flavor and both the money and time to send their chefs for training in China, but a new online platform offers a chance to turn things around.

Easteat, a major cuisine magazine in China, launched its mobile device app last week to promote international influence of Chinese cuisine, or as magazine head Liu Guangwei says, "to share culinary artists' experiences around the globe".

"Our magazines are now also released in other countries, but the channel is not efficient enough to interact with chefs of Chinese restaurants," Liu says.

According to Liu, there are now more than 300,000 Chinese restaurants in over 150 countries or regions outside of China. The first Cantonese eatery appeared in the 1850s' United States.

"However, many founders of these restaurants originally started their business to make ends meet. They usually came from other industries and were not well-nurtured chefs."

Liu also frets that those chefs do not follow a master-apprentice system like in China, which limits the passing down of traditional techniques, and Chinese culinary schools abroad are few and far between.

The new Chinese-language app combines WeChat and several websites, and its developer, Hou Wenyong, claims it has the world's largest Chinese cuisine recipe database and Chinese restaurant management models. An interactive forum allows chefs to hone their skills through discussions.

Since more visa barriers have been set by many countries when it comes to allowing chefs in from China, such an app could offer a way out, according to Fu Bing, who runs a Sichuan restaurant in London.

"Londoners like genuine Sichuan food, but it's a headache to improve our skills," he says. "English tests are demanded for those Chinese chefs who want to come to Britain, which is a major obstacle."

According to Jimmy Zhao, founder of the American Chinese Restaurant Alliance, there are 47,000 Chinese restaurants in the US, but there is a bottleneck when it comes to developing culinary skills.

"Perhaps, these restaurants are 20 years behind their counterparts in China. Most are small-scale and low-quality. I wish such convenient applications could make things better."

Liu is confident of the future.

"An app doesn't get restricted by geographic regions and is faster when it comes to circulation of information, which is more suitable to promote Chinese cuisine. It should be a pathfinder for Chinese culture to go abroad."

"Communication and collision of different culinary cultures inevitably happens when we open Chinese restaurants overseas," says Yeh Chenyu, who has run Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands for over 40 years. "However, any creativity should be based on Chinese flavors and the cream of traditions must be preserved.

"Standardization and modernization is the trend for the whole industry, and Chinese cuisine is no exception. New technology should be better used to expand our influence."