As Chinese cuisine has become mainstream in the U.S. chefs focus on regional, authentic renditions of heritage dishes while quick-serve chains change their look and ramp up growth.
Concept Closeup: Wuji, New York and Connecticut
Nicknamed a “Farm-to-wok” concept, this modern-day Chinese restaurant by cb5 Hospitality Consulting moves beyond the washed-out, antiquated family restaurants of years past, instead operating as a more design-forward, authentic operation. Wuji employs high-end Hong Kong chefs and focuses on “clean” cooking using local, organic and seasonal ingredients. The bar program features elevated tiki cocktails and a well-thought-out wine list. The multi-unit operation now includes three locations, one in Greenwich, Conn.; Scarsdale, N.Y. and Rye, N.Y.
Concept Closeup: Fat Rice, Chicago
Chef Abraham Conlon and wife Adrienne Lo focus on the cuisine from Macau, a city outside of Hong Kong with a menu that blends influences from Chinese and Portuguese settlers. Conlon's signature dish, arroz gordo,
or "fat rice" includes homemade Chinese sausage, chorizo, prawns, clams, marinated chicken, pickled chiles, fermented black beans and pepper soffrito — enough to feed large groups that often gather in the casual-dining area. The menu also showcases different curries, braised pork belly, salt cod spread and rice noodles with shrimp, egg and pickled ginger.
Panda Express Goes Green
Here are six environmentally friendly steps the Asian-themed fast-casual concept takes:
- Efficient woks: custom, waterless woks use zero water and two-thirds less gas than traditional models
- Energy management system (EMS): a new EMS allows Panda leadership to remotely monitor energy use and HVAC temperature in stores as well as capture data
- Smart defrost system: uses sensors to monitor evaporator temperature and defrost as needed
- LED lighting: new LED parking lights reduce energy consumption
- Waste management: compaction devices and a packing drum has reduced hauling costs
- Biodiesel: a new collection system with a compact container and hose makes it easy for staff to hook up fryers to transfer oil for pickup
Q&A with Kendall College Chef-Instructor Luke Yen
FE&S: Can you describe Szechuan and other popular regional Chinese cuisines?
LY: Szechuan cuisine is found in the South-Central part of China where seafood is not readily available — any seafood dish on the menu in that area is considered a gourmet dish. The cuisine was developed before we had the ability to mine for salt, so they began using chili peppers, soy sauce, and preserved meat. Compared to the Cantonese style of cooking, Szechuan uses more meat in dishes and it does not use starch for thickening — instead the cooking liquid is reduced by high heat. The food of this region is spicy, aromatic, tasty, and retains a high-nutrition value. Key ingredients for Szechuan cooking are cloves, curry, fennel seeds, licorice root, spicy ginger, star anise, bean paste, hot peppers.
Other popular regions for Chinese cuisine are Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. The Shanghai region is located in the Central-Eastern part of China where seafood is plentiful. Utilizing its natural resources, seafood dishes are very common. Another notable cooking style coming from Shanghai is the one-meal dish, which uses cured meats paired with marinated fresh meats such as chicken and pork. Beijing, on the other hand, does not have a distinctive style of cooking, although it has a mix of cooking styles to create its own.
FE&S: What are some key Chinese cooking techniques for different regional cuisines?
LY: Generally, Chinese cooking techniques emphasize using high heat to retain color and nutritional value. Marinating and seasoning well before cooking also embeds optimum taste.