by Hazza Harding
GUANGZHOU, May 26 (Xinhua) -- Built in 1983, the White Swan Hotel in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou was one of the country's first domestically managed modern 5-star hotels.
Over the past decades, the hotel has become a cultural-blending space and witnessed the transformation and flourish of Guangzhou, especially in its culture of diet.
Having served royalty and heads of state from around the globe including Queen Elizabeth II, the White Swan Hotel is one of the first to open a Japanese restaurant and embrace international cuisine in the city.
Guangdong local Wen Tao, 54, was among the first batch of apprentices to join the hotel 30 years ago.
Back then, the chance to study under foreign chefs was considered a rare opportunity. "For chefs to prepare authentic foreign cuisine, they must first have a deep understanding of a country's culinary culture," said Wen, who now works as Sous-chef at the hotel's River Cafe restaurant.
"Take Tempura for example, you must guarantee the freshness of the food and take good control of the temperature of the oil. Using the right oil is also a key component to make crispy, delicious Tempura," said Wen at the Asian Cuisine Festival in Guangzhou, which concluded on May 23.
Today, as China and the rest of the world get closer and closer since the reform and opening-up, local chefs all over Guangzhou can learn how to accurately prepare dishes from all corners of the globe without even leaving the city.
Krueawisen Kanyarat, 38, from Vietnam, leads the kitchen team of a Vietnamese restaurant "Vietmiam." She chose to stay in Guangzhou due to a "love of Chinese cuisine." Telling Xinhua her favorite dish is malatang (hot spicy soup), she now prepares sweet, sour and spicy Vietnamese dishes for curious Guangzhou diners alongside a team of local chefs.
Vietmiam is among a fleet of international restaurants that took part in the week-long festival. Featuring 40 events to showcase Cantonese and Asian cuisine, it took diners on gastronomical journeys around the globe with chefs from all over Asia participating. It is a perfect stage to showcase how Guangzhou has evolved since it opened its door to the world.
Like many chefs in Guangzhou who have fused exotic cuisine with local dishes, Filipino celebrity chef Michelle Adrillana, who came to participate in the festival, incorporated Chinese elements in her recipes. She even created Filipino-style dishes based around Chinese BBQ pork buns.
"Chinese food is available all over the Philippines, open 24-hours everywhere because there is a very large Chinese community. There was once a Filipino restaurant in Guangzhou two decades ago. Hopefully, a new Filipino restaurant will open here in the future, and I'll be invited back as a consultant," Adrillana said.
With ancestral ties to Fujian Province, Ong Kian Tiong, 34, from Malaysia, is a foreign chef that now fries, dices, and slices in Guangzhou. As Executive Sous-chef at Conrad Hotel's buffet restaurant, he conducts market research with his Chinese colleagues once a month and has become a familiar face at the city's wet markets.
Ong told Xinhua he came to China 12 years ago with the aim of "eating his way across the country." But Guangzhou has, for the time being, become home. The Malaysian chef has even mastered several Cantonese favorites, including pork trotters.
Adrillana, who has visited China many times since 1999, was impressed by how adventurous the younger generation can be when it comes to trying new food.
"Some are quirky, some stick to basics. The very young are very adventurous, especially the well-traveled, regardless of age bracket," Adrillana said.
For her, participating in the festival meant more than just sharing her native cuisine. It was also about building bridges. "We call it cultural diplomacy, or gastro-diplomacy, which builds friendship ties."