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Haute cuisine takes on Peking Duck

The Olympic Games have helped bring high class western cuisine to Beijing but its survival in the home of Peking Duck is far from assured.

by: AFP | 30 Jul 2008

Opening at intervals over the past two years, haute cuisine western restaurants are often struggling to fill their dining rooms.

"We are far from getting a full house and it is the same for the others," said Guillaume Galliot, the 27-year-old chef at the French restaurant Jaan.

He says that the Olympics supplied the impetus for many top-end western restaurants to come to Beijing.

But once the Games are over that will evaporate, and it will take a couple more years before western haute cuisine begins to take off again.

"The money is here. But many Beijingers prefer a Chinese restaurant, even an expensive one, rather than to pay a thousand Yuan (145 dollars) for a French meal," he said.

At Le Pre Lenotre, another French newcomer to Beijing, chef Frederic Meynard is more optimistic. In midweek recently his dining room was two-thirds full, mostly with Chinese.

"We have got a clientele of regulars. There is a lot of potential in Beijing, so there is room," for plenty of high-class establishments, said Meynard, from Perigord, as he prepared a 'foie gras' with preserved lemon, rhubarb, shitake mushrooms and froth of lemongrass.

But he acknowledged that the ceremonial trappings associated with a French meal were off-putting for Chinese customers.

In China, dishes are delivered quickly, often all at once, and are placed in the middle of the table to be shared by the dining group without much formality.

By contrast the succession of individual dishes, the complicated place settings, the dish covers, the bread and imported foods and the act of removing all the plates at once, everything clashes with how Chinese like to eat their meals.

Shanghai, New York and London concepts
Even so, Jim Boyce, who writes a couple of blogs on wine and Beijing's night life, says several of the new haute cuisine arrivals will not survive the Olympics, especially those that "bring in Shanghai, New York or London concepts, but they don't understand Beijing."

He says they should understand that Beijing has a sophisticated cuisine and the people have sophisticated palates and he criticizes westerners for their "arrogance" in seeking to educate Chinese diners.

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