Do we need authentic Chinese chef schools in the United States to give culinary training? A big YES from my "painful"yet funny experience.
In the early years after I came to live in the US, my longing for authentic Chinese food was immense. I felt something big and important had been missing. I did go to quite a few Chinese restaurants that had reputations for being good. Yet, my hunger was stubbornly lingering after each visit.
I'm not saying that the restaurants I visited were not good. It's just that for a tongue that had been spoiled by genuine and regional Chinese cuisines for almost thirty years, it wasn't easy to lose the established personal standards. I missed the Sichuan dishes worst.
Then a Sichuan friend told us one day that there was a "real" authentic Sichuan restaurant called Xiao Sichuan, meaning little Sichuan, in a city that was 2 hours away. The chef was from one of the best chef schools in China. We were also told that weekends were not a good time if we wanted to avoid the long waiting line.
Then my husband and I checked our schedule and set out on a weekday, a pilgrimage to an authentic Sichuan restaurant.
Guess what... the food was good, but we found that out on our second visit. That day, after two hours of driving with anticipation and excitement, we were stunned to see the "Closed" sign in our face. That day was Monday. Monday was the day they rest. Maybe most of the restaurants had the same schedule. We were idiots, weren't we?
We'd talked about which dishes we were going to order on the way there; we talked not just with words, but visual effect too, at least on my part. I saw what I was going to have; I saw the color, I felt the temperature, the juiciness, the taste and the feeling ...My words on the way there must have been juicy, spicy and tasty, because my mouth was watering and my mood was sweet.
Yet, "We're Closed", they said. Dear God, shouldn't we be passionate about food like this once in a while? Could people out there who were able open Chinese chef schools in the US and give extensive traning to those who share the passion about authentic Chinese culinary art?
Years later, I read an article writen by a guy named Raymond Sokolov on the Wall Street Journal. He paid a food pilgrimage in New York, just a little less serious about it than we were:
"Why did I wander out to Long Island on a steamy day, traveling some 14 miles from the center of the American restaurant scene to a dumpy place at the end of a New York City subway line? It seemed crazy to go all that way to visit Golden Szechuan. That is, until I plunged my chopsticks into a dish of ma po dou fu, that tongue-numbing classic of China's famed regional cuisine."
"But why did I have to make a pilgrimage to the center of Chinese immigration here in the Flushing neighborhood of New York's Queens? Why couldn't this authentic example of China's unchallenged place at the pinnacle of world cuisines, an eminence shared only by France, have been available in a grander setting in Manhattan? Why, in a period when fusion cooking has mainstreamed Japanese and even minor Asian cuisines like Korean, has Chinese food been largely ignored by young U.S. chefs hungry for new grist for their food-transforming imaginations?"
His answer: "Maybe the reason is that Chinese cuisine is just too massive an edifice for a superchef to assault."
Well, Chinese chef schools might appear someday outside China. Right now, I guess the best way to have "real" authentic Chinese food is to go to China. The alterative is to test and try some authentic Chinese recipes and feed yourself at home if the Chinese restaurants close to you are Westernized.
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