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Recreating the Cantonese Culinary Palate

Recreating the Cantonese Culinary Palate

Authentic Cantonese gastronomy with a contemporary spirit
A glimpse of Shangri-La Hotel Tianjin’s Executive Chinese Chef Oliver Lai
By Mary Lewis
 
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A great connoisseur of Cantonese cuisine would quickly perceive a dish prepared from top-quality and fresh ingredients, using sophisticated and well-studied techniques that are reflective of fine dining experiences.  

The most discerning of these tastes will always find comfort with Chef Oliver Lai, the renowned Executive Chinese Chef of Shangri-La Hotel, Tianjin. He is responsible for the hotel’s signature Chinese restaurant, Shang Palace, and the Chinese banquet kitchen. Originally from Hong Kong, Chef Lai has built a reputed career spanning more than 35 years among Asia’s top hotels, including the Shangri-La hotels in Indonesia, the Philippines, Qingdao, Changchun and Shenzhen. 

Chef Lai is well-known for pushing culinary boundaries with his delectable, authentic and masterfully presented Cantonese dishes, which are regarded as an authority in terms of traditional Cantonese, combined with the new Tianjin cuisine. “Our menu at Shang Palace highlights the freshest of seasonal ingredients. A passion for learning and an innovative spirit is vital to ensure one stays at the forefront of fine cuisine,” says Chef Lai.

Worthy even for an astute palate, Chef Lai’s special Yum Cha menu at Shang Palace has received much praise for delivering the most delicate of dumplings and the lightest of pastries.

Amidst a hectic workday, Chef Lai spared some time to share his thoughts, the inspiration behind his vision and his artful execution, as well as his continuing plans for Shang Palace. 
 
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Shang Palace continues to receive amazing reviews for its authentic Chinese dishes, especially the Peking Duck. What is so special about how this dish is prepared and how do you achieve its perfect roast?
From selecting the raw materials to presenting the dish, one duck undergoes ten procedures to ensure its quality. I pay close attention to every procedure.
 
Your dishes are excellent on the palate and pleasing to the eye. What has been your most dramatic culinary masterpiece so far? What inspired you to come up with this creation?
The most popular dish on my menu is Jinzhan Marbled Beef, and it is prepared using Australian Wagyu beef. 

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Peking Duck
 
With the relaunch, how else do you want to transform dining experience in the new Shang Palace? 
I wish to continually re-invent my menu and provide a variety of dishes for my customers.
 
In what way do you continue to draw interest from your loyal patrons? How do you turn something expected into something which is brand new? 
I analyse the frequency of the dishes being ordered, communicate with customers, and talk with them about their tastes and needs.
 
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What novelty ingredients or cooking techniques are being incorporated into the new menu? How does it make the overall taste a must-try?
Consider passion fruit, for example. It is incorporated into cold platter and other dishes, creating a unique flavour that the customers may have never explored before without overpowering the dish’s original taste. 
 
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How does Shang Palace prepare for major events? 
Every time we prepare for major events, we address our core tasks of selecting and purchasing raw materials and planning the arrangements for our staff. Being well-prepared is the key to holding successful events.

How do you judge that a dish is truly worthy for the Shang Place? How do you train your team to have the same mindset?
A truly worthy dish will be judged by the market. That is why I train my team well by expounding my ideas and giving them food training classes.
 
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Braised eggplant and minced shrimp with mushroom sauce
 
Can you recount for our readers an experience that proved to be particularly challenging for you and tested your mettle as a chef?
In Boao Forum for Asia in 2003, we were requested to serve separate meals for over 1,300 foreign VIP guests. First, we had to check whether the equipment, tableware and the staff were adequate to handle the event. Then we held a series of training sessions with our staff before the forum. As we planned ahead, we successfully accomplished this task. You can say it was the most formidable challenge in my career, and that I have drawn much experience from it to prepare myself for bigger challenges in future.
 
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If you are asked to sum up Cantonese cuisine in three words, what would they be and why?
Appearance, smell and taste form the fundamental basis for Cantonese cuisine. Before tasting, the customer would first appreciate the look of the dish. Then, when the inviting smell comes out to whet his appetite, he at last, tastes it. That is how you judge whether it qualifies as an authentic Cantonese cuisine.
 
Truly the pride of chefs in his region, we are grateful for the opportunity to hear from Chef Lai. Being a man of few words, however, he says it all with the manner, focus and ardour that emanates from the intricate flavour, texture and form of the dishes he creates. We look forward to more delightful surprises at Shangri-La Hotel Tianjin.
 
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Shang Fu PDR for celebrations
 
The renowned Shang Palace at Shangri-La Hotel, Tianjin presents Shang Fu, a great place to hold baby showers, anniversary parties, birthday parties, family reunions and corporate events.
 
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New business set lunch
 
“Duck Over for a Super Value Peking Duck Set Lunch!” 
 
Weekdays just got better with a new super value lunch at Shang Palace. Bring your colleagues, friends or family to enjoy the Roast Peking Duck Lunch Set Menu, featuring Shang Palace’s famous roast duck (half or whole), plus seven other courses, including Dim sum selection, Curry chicken with preserved vegetable, Wok-fried choy sum, Crab roe fried rice and more. 
 
Shang Palace’s roast duck is meticulously prepared by our specialty Peking Duck Chef Zhang who was personally mentored by Kerry Hotel Beijing’s Master Chef Yuan Chao Ying, awarded Top 10 Chef and National Senior Chef by “Great Chef in China, Beijing”. Don't miss this excellent lunch deal in the stylish ambience of Shang Palace. Available for a limited time. 
 
Place: Shang Palace
Price: RMB 258++ per set for two persons(Suggestion: half roast duck 2-3 persons, whole roast duck 4-6 persons) 
 
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Must try new signature dishes
 
Chef Lai’s culinary innovation and artistry are exemplified in dishes like Turbot fish boat, where the whole fried fish skeleton is styled like a boat encasing the tender pan-fried flesh within. Golden stir-fried large shrimp with fried scallop evokes the fresh flavours of the sea, while Deep-fried Chinese radish ball is a seasonal dish made from local Tianjin turnip combined with salty vegetables. Another memorable highlight is the Pan-fried cuttlefish sausage. The dramatic presentation uses cuttlefish ink to give the sausage an inky black colour served on a black stone plate.
 
Another highlights is authentic hung-grilled Peking Duck, which is roasted over jujube wood and overseen by Chef Yuan Chaoying, the Shangri-La group’s Roasted Duck ambassador and expert.
 
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