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Chinese cuisine tackles France

Given France's strong culinary tradition it can be hard for foreign cuisines to make a mark in this country.

20 Feb 2007

Brothers Andre and Tommy Shan, the only representatives of Asian cuisine at this week's Omnivore Food Festival, a platform for up-and-coming talent, run one of the country's few restaurants dedicated to regional Chinese cooking.

At Au Bonheur du Palais in Bordeaux, they serve a combination of traditional Cantonese dishes and Sichuan food, which has been a passion ever since they met a visiting Sichuan chef in 1987.

"Most Chinese restaurants in France were opened by Chinese and Vietnamese refugees who came here by necessity," says Tommy. "They were among the poorest refugees, as those with greater means went to other countries such as Australia or the United States. To survive they knew that they had to sell something exotic, so they opened restaurants and kept their prices low to attract more clients."

The children of these refugees, Tommy says, are now becoming interested in exploring their cultures and reviving traditional Chinese recipes. "There are a few very passionate people."

At the same time, the French are growing more worldly and adventurous, as demonstrated by the young chefs who use Sichuan pepper and Chinese cooking wine to bring an unexpected touch to classic dishes.

How does Tommy feel when French chefs borrow Chinese ingredients without necessarily understanding their context?

"If I objected I would be like the frog at the bottom of the well, who hears only his own voice. In China we say there is no absolute taste. If chefs can unite and grow together, the world will be a marvellous place."

- None


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