China Daily--Austin Hu is chef and owner of Shanghai's New Americancuisine restaurant Madison, nestled in the heart of the formerFrench Concession area. When he began his search for qualitydomestic produce in China, he was repeatedly told that there wasnone. His best and safest bet was to import everything. I'm Chinese-American by descent, so it bothers me when a countryis this massive and you tell me you can't find anything, Hu says. |
With so many people, with such history culinary and culturally the fact that people say there are no good vegetables ... thatis impossible and it doesn't make any sense. As a chef for more than 10 years in the United States working inrestaurants that followed buy local mantras, Hu was determinedto find quality ingredients in and around Shanghai. He may be among the small minority of chefs in China taking thetime to search out quality, local ingredients, but he is part of agrowing global movement that has made its way into the country:Slow Food. The Slow Food movement was founded in 1986 by Italian CarloPetrini, quickly spreading to Europe, U.S., Australia and NewZealand.
It has made its way to China, and its main motivators are lookingto help the Chinese return to the culinary traditions of theirancestors and move away from fast food culture also recentlyimported from the West. The establishment of Slow Food Shanghai, which was launched at theend of last year, has been well received by the target group thefounders hoped to attract: a local audience. One major concern for the founders, mostly expatriates currently,was how not to make it a foreign organization. But ever since the first event, there was a great local interestin the community, says Allison Van Camp, a nutrition consultantand one of the Slow Food Shanghai pioneers. She says the immediateinterest can largely be attributed to China's culinary heritage andhistory.
China has one of the richest slow food cultures in the worldright now, says Mark Laabs, another Slow Food Shanghai founder. There is still a lot of small farming, and a deep attachment tothe food you're eating when you get out of China's larger cities. The urbanization spike in the last 20 years has moved people fromsmall hometowns and familiar farms to bigger cities, and thesepeople remember the close proximity they once had with their food,he adds. The issues and challenges for slow food movements in China aredifferent from those in the U.S., where culinary traditions werelost decades ago as the agricultural industry drastically changedfrom the 1960s to the '80s. China has not yet lost its traditions, although some may argue theyare already at risk.
Here, there's a mix of new generation trends as well aspreservation of traditions that aren't all the way gone yet, butare endangered, Labbs says. Hu, the chef, echoes Laabs' opinion that China is a lot better offthan the U.S. in reverting to culinary traditions that recentgenerations followed. There's a growing number that are already going back to theirroots, who can still remember what it tastes like to havevegetables grown from their parents' home village, he says. He says that China has an advantage in preserving culinary heritageas Chinese cuisines are much more oriented to seasonal foods.
Whathe tries to champion are the small farms and businesses trying tohold on to, or revert to time-tested practices. He says it's a matter of effort on the chef's part to beresponsible for sourcing good ingredients. For Hu, this task comesnaturally.
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