“I don’t like eating anything I don’t know.
I’m a big believer in knowing everything and having no fear of a recipe.”
That’s what’s been driving her to cook, and in a new book, she shares her advice for finding the perfect meal in the Chinese culinary landscape.
For many of us, food is one of the few sources of sustenance that we have to make a living.
But Chinese food can be an incredibly complicated beast, as its many ingredients and flavors can make it impossible to discern just what’s in the recipe.
“It’s a bit like trying to find out what’s under the covers in a house,” she says.
“You know what’s there and you don’t understand what’s missing.”
In her new book The Chinese Kitchen, published by New York magazine, author and chef Julia Chen offers recipes that are all about knowing what you’re eating, which will help you understand what it is that makes a dish delicious.
“My cooking is very collaborative,” she explains.
“I’ll be cooking a meal, and you’ll be telling me what you like and what you don, and I’ll be like, ‘What?
That’s not what I like.’
But I’ll then be able to add your preference, because I’ve worked with so many different people.
And it’s all good.’ “
Then you’re just going to have to go, ‘Okay, this is good, and this is bad.
And it’s all good.’
But you have to do that with love.
Because you want to be able, as a chef, to have a great time.
“A lot of chefs are so shy about their food, they don’t want to say, ‘Well, you know, it’s just not that good,'” she says, laughing. “
“But there are people who have a really great experience. “
A lot of chefs are so shy about their food, they don’t want to say, ‘Well, you know, it’s just not that good,'” she says, laughing.
“But there are people who have a really great experience.
And there are some chefs that are so afraid to go out and say, I’ve never tried a Chinese dish.
They say, Well, I’m afraid of the unknown.
I think that’s a good thing.”
The book, which is about 20 pages long, is based on Chen’s experiences working in New York, as well as interviews with chefs from across the globe.
In one episode, she speaks with chefs in Shanghai about the challenges they face when they open their kitchens and the importance of collaboration.
“In my head, I had to be like: Okay, let’s not be scared of what’s going to be out there.
I have a lot of confidence in my own kitchen,” she shares.
“And I’ve been trying to make it my own.
And I think I’ve learned a lot from the chefs in the city.
There’s so much culture. “
One of the things I love about Shanghai is that it’s so vibrant.
There’s so much culture.
There are so many wonderful food scenes.
I try to make their food a little bit like what I’m doing in Shanghai. “
So if I’m cooking in Shanghai and I don’ think I have any preconceived notions about what it’s like to cook in a restaurant, I just sit down and I talk to these chefs.
I try to make their food a little bit like what I’m doing in Shanghai.
And hopefully it’ll help me understand what the chefs are going through.”
For Chen, her inspiration for The Chinese Garden came from her own journey of cooking, which began when she was in her 20s.
“When I was in college, I was really into wine.
And when I graduated, I went to a small town in China and got my first job.
It was a kitchen for Chinese restaurants.
And so I had this experience of just working at Chinese restaurants, and really enjoying it.
And at the end of my first year, I thought I was going to quit.
I was like, Oh, I really have to be a chef.
I really want to do this.”
And when she finally landed a job, she was immediately hooked.
She spent two years at the restaurant, working in various different kitchens, before moving to Shanghai to open her own restaurant.
Chen has also trained as a restaurant cook, serving dishes at restaurants around Shanghai and Hong Kong.
But she says she’s always been drawn to the food world.
“Every single thing I eat, I think about it as food,” she notes.
“Food is the essence of who I am.
And for me, that’s food that is very complex.
I always want to understand it.”