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Maxim鈥檚: A French island in Tianjin

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Alain Le Meur, Executive Chef of Maxim’s in Tianjin
 
The brand Maxim’s de Paris has a history of more than 120 years and had originally been opened in Paris at the end of 19th century. Since its long history, the Parisian restaurant has evolved into the international chain it is now, offering gastronomic cuisine for guests all over the world. Maxim’s in Paris, the take off point for Maxim’s international chain of restaurants, has hosted the likes of Marcel Proust, La Belle Ot茅ro, Maria Callas, Brigitte Bardot, Barbara Streisand and many other icons. In Tianjin, China, Maxim’s has also become a centre for French cuisine and elegant dining. 
 
This January, Tianjin Plus had a unique opportunity and pleasure to talk with Alain Le Meur, Executive Chef of Maxim’s in Tianjin, whose professional life began in Maxim’s Paris and continued in other restaurants of this franchise all over the globe. He announced some specialties and updates on Maxim’s menu, shared with us his opinions about French and Chinese cuisine, explained preferences of his guests and even gave some practical advice about improving the taste of French dishes. He has, of course, kept professional culinary secrets close to his chest so as to leave us wanting more.
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What has brought you to Tianjin after having rich international experience in working as a chef in Maxim’s restaurants?
 
I have been working for the Maxim’s franchise for over 30 years now - Maxim’s Paris, France, Maxim’s in Brazil and, of course, Maxim’s in Beijing and Tianjin. The first time I arrived in China to work in Maxim’s Chaoyang Park, Beijing was in 1987 and I stayed in China for three years then. Shortly afterwards I decided to go back to Paris to look after the restaurant that my family has owned for many years as my parents retired. Certainly, cooking at my home restaurant was quite different from gastronomic cooking that Maxim’s features. However after 7 years of being a head of the restaurant and dealing with challenging situations businesses in France faced at that moment, I contacted Pierre Cardin, the owner of Maxim’s brand, and took back my previous position as a chef. Later, I came back to China one more time, and after another 6 years in working at Maxim’s Chaoyang Park, I was invited to come to Tianjin to run the newly opened Maxim’s Tianjin. At that time, Tianjin was quite different from what it is today, however slowly it has changed to the city that we see now. 
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With the city growing and evolving, there are more and more new restaurants opening every day.  How do you define Maxim’s place on a Tianjin menu?
 
Maxim’s is very special. In Maxim’s, we have various imported products that we use while cooking - Australian meat, French seafood, Spanish ham as well as Korean and Chinese products. It is very important to know that Maxim’s Tianjin is not a copy of Paris restaurant - it has unique menu and many special offers. In fact, Maxim’s Tianjin is rather different from the one in Beijing as well - Maxim’s Beijing doesn’t have a French chef. Overall, Maxim’s is a very exquisite and famous restaurant, and in Tianjin we always come up with the number of specially created recipes. We pay a large amount of attention to design and colours of the dishes. As the tastes of our customers here differ from other countries, we adapt the menu according to their preferences. In Tianjin there are several French restaurants, however the taste of cuisine in Maxim’s is definitely beyond competition. 
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In the coming year, what innovations in revenue and the menu of Maxim’s will there be?
 
On the menu, we have several specialties. There are of course several classic Maxim’s dishes, goose liver, Terrine de foie gras, or Maxim’s classic snail, Escargot de chez Maxim’s - that has been cooked for many years using a secret recipe. Also, we have several specially cooked beef and pork dishes - especially loved by our Chinese guests. One of our specialties is Ch芒teau Les carmes haut-brion braised aux beef short ribs that we prepare by poaching meat in wine for 3 days and then cook it very slowly afterwards to make it especially soft. Another quite famous dish that Maxim’s has upgraded and improved upon is a famous mushroom soup. While in many restaurants there is only one kind of mushroom used to cook it, we in Maxim’s use 5 different kinds of mushroom to make this soup more tasty and special. All in all, we have variety of beef, pork, seafood, duck and chicken courses, and every dish is prepared by following special recipe and using natural and organic ingredients. 
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Maxim’s menu looks stunning and undoubtedly offers unique choice for customers. How do you come up with all these wonderful dishes? What inspires you?
 
Creating new recipes is a very interesting process. I usually give several days for my team to create some special recipes for each section of the menu - beef, pork, fish, etc. During this time I also think of new ideas for the menu. Upon deadline, we start creating new dishes and trying it. After 10 days of thinking the new recipes over and bringing new ideas together, me and my team come up with a new dish including the sauce, the design, decorations, colors and so on. This process can seem very long, considering the fact that it is repeated for each section of the menu, however this is a very productive and careful way to create new unique and tasty dishes. As I was living in several countries by now and I am familiar with many well-known cuisines, I often infuse French dishes with some other elements - 50% of the dish can be French, however after you put the sauce and add some colors, the dish can be changed and can acquire some Spanish, Chinese or Moroccan notes. 
 
Certainly, French cuisine is one of the most popular in the world. However, it is obviously quite different from the traditional Chinese dishes. Do you somewhat adapt the menu of Maxim’s for Chinese guests?
 
Sure, as we are in China it is a great idea to make French dishes more suitable for Chinese customers. Even if our guests come to a classic French restaurant, they enjoy sampling some familiar flavours. I usually use some spices, coriander for instance, to alter some sauces and my customers really enjoy it. Also, I’ve mentioned that presence of garlic in the dish is quite important for Chinese guests, as so many Chinese dishes use garlic richly. Speaking of the menu in general, in China people truly enjoy eating all kinds of meat and that is why we have to offer a lot of beef and pork dishes to our customers. On the contrary, desserts are normally not served in Chinese restaurants. For this reason, we had to shorten this list on our menu, leaving only essentials and, of course, the fruit plate. 
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In a nutshell, what dishes are the most popular among your customers?
 
Seafood appears to be one of the favourites of our guests - 7-8 pieces of French lobsters and oysters are usually sold daily. Some classic offers, like French onion soup, foie gras and beef dishes are quite common orders as well. Speaking for Chinese people, lately more and more people are travelling abroad to France and other European countries and are getting to know various cuisines. So, many of my customers when they choose Maxim’s are looking for authentic French taste and original dishes that we are glad to cook for them. However, some eating habits, like preferring red meat and seafood, persist. Another important trend in restaurants located in China is to provide customers with imported ingredients - Australian beef, Norwegian salmon, etc. - and we always pay close attention to every ingredient that we put on a plate for our guests. A common compliment that I receive is: “It is very tasty, chef. The taste is exactly like in France!”
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As an ultimate expert on cooking and creating culinary masterpieces, how do you find other restaurants in Tianjin? Is there a room for improvement?
 
Firstly, of course there are quite a few French restaurants in Tianjin and most of them are quite small. A vast number of European restaurants are located in hotels. It is very important for this kind of restaurant to make sure that its dishes are equally suitable for different types of guests and therefore it is a challenge to find a real French dish. In my view, every restaurant has room for improvement and it is very important to find and create special recipes, especially for sauces. It is not a positive trend, when the taste has no variation from one restaurant to another. The rich taste comes from different sources - from imagination and creativity of the cooking team to the quality of ingredients.  
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Living in China for so many years, you have definitely become very familiar with the local cuisine in all its variety. Do you enjoy going to Chinese restaurants and trying Chinese dishes?
 
There is no doubt that there are a lot of great ideas that Chinese chefs use while preparing dishes. One of the famous restaurants that I am familiar with is Dadong Beijing Roast Duck, and I really enjoy having traditional roast duck there. However, Chinese cuisine has changed quite a bit over the last decade. To my memory, restaurants before were offering dishes in different portions and paid less attention to design, yet now portions in top Chinese restaurants can be easily compared to French ones - big plate and very small dish with plenty of design and decorations. Yet, Chinese cuisine, diverse as it is, can provide  a number of great ideas.
 
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