Ultimate Delicacy:Interview with Chai Xiaohong

5 years ago

This is an interview with Mr. Chai Xiaohong, who is the Vice Chairman of Yun Nan Province Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Vice Chairman of National Yun Nan Traditional Food Exploration and Promotion Association. As a member, and collector at OGP, National Yun Nan Traditional Food Exploration and Promotion Association is currently in cooperation with Bright Food Co., Ltd., Shanghai Food Industry Institution, as well as Shanghai Restaurants Cuisine Association to promote China’s traditional foods and ethnic cuisine.

OGP:Hello Mr. Chai, on my way from Vancouver to Shanghai, I read the world-renowned “Michelin Guides”. The series critiques some of the best European cuisines. However, I believe that the Chinese cuisine is definitely on par, if not exceeding world standards in its culinary diversity and techniques. It not only follows the seasonal changes to make corresponding food, but is also healthy for body. All food are very artistic and aesthetic, such as color, aroma, shape, and container, have to match the perfect state. There are eight regional cuisines in the 56 ethnic groups of China, as well as countless types of cooking methods. Any edible material can be recreated into exquisite dishes that encompasses the five senses.

Mr. Chai:Yes, the most authentic “chefs” of China are often ordinary people, like those from “A Bite of China”. Their recipes and techniques were passed down from generation to generation. It is a strong cultural heritage that can neither be developed with the most advanced technology, nor created in the assembly line fashion. The cooking skills of China's “eight major cuisines” have a variety of Chinese food with different but fantastic and mouthwatering flavors. Yonglu cuisine, to salt fresh, soup strong and fresh, seasoning salty fresh and pure, highlighting the original flavor. Sichuan cuisine is varied, the dishes are diverse, and the taste is fresh and fresh. Jiangsu Cuisine use strict material, color matching and modeling. Four seasons are different. Hunan cuisine's flavor is changeable, the variety is various, the color and luster is heavy, the color is thick, and pays attention to the actual benefit; spicy, fragrant, fresh, soft tender. The flavor of Hunan cuisine is extremely sour and spicy. The dishes of Zhejiang cuisine are small and exquisite, but the dishes are delicious, tender, crisp, soft and refreshing. Seasoning with fragrant grains. Cooking techniques are abundant, especially in Cooking Seafood and fresh food. Huizhou cuisine is good at burning, stewing, steaming, and blasting, cooking less, oil, color, and fire work. Heavy pyrotechnics has a long history. The most distinctive emblem style is slippery, stewing and raw smoking. Fujian Cuisine has three characteristics, one is longer than the seasoning of red grains, two is longer than the soup, three is longer than the sweet and sour. Cantonese cuisine choice of materials is fine, fresh and not vulgar, tender and not raw, oily but not greasy. It's good at stir frying, and also compatible with many Western dishes.

OGP:Yes. I have had the opportunities to attend a few culinary competitions myself, such as Madrid Fusión, Taste of Tokyo (Tokyo Ajiwaifest), and Starchefs New York. I noticed there were more Asian chefs who made appearances compared to previous years. Moreover, in addition to the typical exhibition of foreign cuisines, many traditional Chinese dishes were displayed at the Shanghai International Food Expo, which led me to think that perhaps China is finally making an effort to revive and promote its traditional cuisine. With the rise of GM-free and Organic food, Chinese traditional natural cuisine has become more and more popular. What do you think about this progression?

Mr. Chai:As the old idioms say, “the desire for food and sex is part of human nature,” and “food is the first chioce of the human”. Food is a fundamental necessity in our lives. The purpose of competitions, expos, and the like, is to exchange knowledge of different dietary cultures. The collectivist Chinese culture has cultivated a complementary food culture founded upon the cohesion and integration of ingredients. Similarly, I believe the exchange of various cultural foods will enhance the interpersonal and intercultural relationships. No matter whether it‘s a big thing or small thing, a good thing or a bad thing in China, people are inseparable from "food". The diet has already transcended the level of physiological needs, but it contains complex cultural meanings, as a symbol of culture to convey a non-verbal message. Indeed, food has become more than a fundamental need in today’s day and age. It has become more symbolic, and more representative in expressing people’s ideas and emotions.

OGP:There is a Chinese saying “Always make a full used of what’s available. Live on the offerings of the land and sea.” Chinese cuisines embodied in the "Tao" of nature and human. The dishes of Chinese cuisine are famous for their color, fragrance, taste and beauty. In cooking, Chinese culinary culture has unique national characteristics and rich oriental charms. But, in the choice of ingredients, many fine restaurants will choose materials that are shipped overseas.

Mr. Chai:In its current state, China must first evaluate the self and recognize its shortcomings. It could be due to cultural clashes that Chinese food often receive mainstream neglect and exclusion in Western societies; however, the major concern is definitely the health and safety issues stemming from pollution, social trust issues, etc. The finest cuisine requires the use of 100% natural ingredients, rejecting all genetically modified foods, as well as those produced via parturition, with harmful hormones, and chemicals. This goal is very difficult to obtain.

OGP:The National Yun Nan Traditional Food Exploration and Promotion Association was established in 1998, with strong provincial governmental support. The former Vice Governor of Yunnan Province, Mr. Kou Guodong, the former Yunnan Provincial Commercial Director Chen Dexing, the Deputy Secretary-General Li Huaxian and you (the executive vice president of the Yunnan Chamber of Commerce in China) jointly operated and managed. Does this mean that the best foods can only be enjoyed on special occasions and by special people?

Mr. Chai:Of course not! The unique geographical location of Yun Nan province gave rise to its diverse natural resources, including the tea trees from Kucong Village, the matsutake from Shangri-La, and the selenium-rich rice from terraced fields. A large number of original ecological resources have been awarded the world's intangible cultural heritage. Because they are naturally bred in their native habitats, the yield is extremely limited.

OGP:I have tasted the tea from Kucong Village. The Pu-erh tea bred from aged tea trees from this unique location is very distinctive in its aroma and texture. After you have taken a sip from the steaming cup, it’s as if you have entered into a utopia with an elevated state of mind. The quality of the tea is judged by the color, fragrance and flavor of the tea, the water quality and even the tea set. The highest ambit - tea lore : Philosophy, ethics and morality are blended into tea activity. People cultivate their morality and mind, and savor life through tasting tea, thereby attaining joy of spirit. These include: Longjing tea, Biluochun tea, Anxi Tieguanyin tea, Huangshan Maofeng tea, Wuyi Mountain Rock or Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) tea, Junshan Yinzhen (Jun Mountain Silver Needle) tea, Keemun Black tea, Lu'an Melon Seed tea, Yunnan Puer tea, Baihao Yinzhen (White Tip Silver Needle) tea, ect. Teas are various, but all embody the tea spirit of “clearness, respect, joy and truthfulness”.

Mr. Chai (smiles):And that is the essence of tea. You are surrounded by its aroma and its taste lingers everlastingly at the tip of your tongue. The Guinness World Records affirms that the world’s oldest tea trees are located in Qianjiazhai, Jiujia Zhen. They have survived for over 2700 years, ranging from 1800 to 3400 metres in altitude. Due to strong UV light exposure and the cold climate, the tea trees grow extremely slowly.

OGP:“Valuable tea is worth more than gold.” Tea has an extremely close relationship to the Chinese culture, and its study covers a wide field and very rich content. Tea culture originated in China, and it is generally believed that tea trees originated in Sichuan or Yunnan. If you are a collector of Puer tea. Can your tell us about your collection experience. What kind of Puer has collection value ?

Mr. Chai:The practice of tea culture can bring the spirit and wisdom of human beings to a higher orbit. It has been beneficial in enhancing people's social accomplishments and appreciation of art. The history of Chinese tea is a long and gradual story of refinement. The main varieties of Chinese tea are classified as green tea, black tea, Oolong tea, white tea, yellow tea, and dark tea. Puer tea processing is complicated by the fact that the tea itself falls into two distinct categories: the "raw" tea (Sheng Cha) and the "ripe" tea (Shou Cha). There is a saying circulating the Collectors of Puer tea, " Look the old tea, drink the ripe tea, and collect the raw tea." Because the price of old tea is very high, there are risks of collection. The ripe tea is fully fermented, the taste and storage have not changed much for a long time, and the collection value is not high. Only the raw tea is currently bitter, but as the years go by, it will naturally ferment, and the taste will be different every time. It has the most collectible value. It takes a certain period of accumulation and conversion from "raw" to "old", and the general year is divided into three stages. It is very rare for Puer tea to be stored for more than 20 years. The society has generally begun to understand Puer tea from the past two decades. Currently, the old tea of Puer on the market is mainly from the tea merchants in Hong Kong and Guangdong, who bought Puer tea in few tea factory specializing in Yunnan before 20 years ago. According to the economic value of investing in warehousing, more time more value.

OGP:We believe that at this stage of 2003 to 2009, the consumption of Puer tea is mainly based on ripe tea, but in recent years, the consumption of raw tea is more than ripe tea is a trend. Therefore, the future is really favored by the market, it will be the mid tea (between the raw tea and ripe tea). Not all raw teas can be appreciate. The key to collecting raw tea is to choose good tea leaf.

Mr. Chai:You are also an expert. Puer tea is divided into Yesheng Puer tea, Yefang Puer tea and tea garden Puer tea according to different tea trees. Yesheng Puer tea has organic and nature, no any manual processing. At present, the amount of Yesheng tea is very rare; Yefang Puer tea is cultivated by hand, but it is not managed; Tea garden Puer tea is completely planted and cultivated. When your collect Puer tea, first of all, it depends on whether the preservation is intact; Secondly, look at the age limit, more good more fragrant, more longer more better; In addition, it is to see the tea water color, the color is close to the red wine, and more red and transparent is excellent. The collection of Puer tea is that it slowly oxidizes when in contact with air. Thus, the taste will constantly change . Usually, the flat cylinder Puer tea is the most average in oxidizes. When your collect Puer tea, it is best to choose Yesheng Puer tea, Yefang Puer tea, and arbor Puer tea, which is rare and expensive.

OGP:Puer tea is called "an antique that can be drunk". In recent years, it has produced countless old teas at higher prices in many auction houses. On May 15th, 2016, Beijing Dongzheng auction house sold a red label Songpinhao Puer round tea, which price was 2.6 million yuan. And other a blue label Songpinhao Puer tea sold for 8.8 million yuan. Many people think that this price is already the limit of Puer tea price, but it has been broken soon. On June 7th, Beijing Council auction house sold a hundred years of blue label Songpinhao Puer round tea. The price was 9,947,500 yuan, and the other price of a hundred years of Chenyunhao green label tea was 6,382,500 yuan. The total turnover of this auction reached 68.81 million yuan, and the turnover rate was 98%.

Mr. Chai:Puer Tea entered the auction houses in Guangzhou International Tea Expo in November 2002. At that time, Lu Xun's 20-gram Puer tea was sold 160,000 yuan, which changed the concept of old Puer tea in the mind of collectors. After that, in December 2008, China Guardian first launched the “Puer Tea Auction — Putian Tongqing Classic”, total 64 items, 41 was sold, and the total price of 5.543 million yuan, which also became a benchmark event at that time. In the following years, the price of old Puer tea increased at an alarming rate. In 2010, Fuyuanchang blue Neifei Round Tea of 1920s was sold 5.04 million yuan. In 2013, Fuyuanchang round tea was produced at the Yuanchang Tea House of the early years of Guangxu Emperor, the transaction price is as high as 10.35 million yuan. In the old tea, "Haoji tea" is rare. It's also called “Antique Tea”. The time limit is from the late Qing Dynasty to the early days of the founding of Chinese People's Republic. This Puer tea is produced by private firms, and the Songpinhao, Tongqinghao, Fuyuanchanghao, and Tongxinghao are the most treasured. They also can be used for drinking and collection. Puer tea has the fastest increase in over those years, so it is highly sought after from the perspective of investment collection.

OGP:Arbor Puer tea is 1 to 20 years; "Qizibing", "Wengezhuan" are 20 to 50 years; "Yinji tea" is between 50 and 70 years; "Haoji tea" is 70 to 100 years. The "good" tea is not much on the market, the scarcity determines its price. Can you tell me more about the matsutake from Shangri-La you’ve mentioned previously?

Mr. Chai:Definitely. Matsutake is extremely nutritious; its anti-cancer properties makes it the world’s most precious medicinal fungi. While most plants and fungi were destroyed when the U.S. bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima during WWII, the matsutake survived this catastrophe. 70% of China’s matsutake are produced in Shangri-La. Other production sites include Chuxiong City, and Yanbian Prefecture. China is responsible for 33% of the world’s matsutake production, and has been the top exporter for matsutake for 30 years.

OGP:Does this mean that neighboring countries such as Japan, all import their matsutake from China? It is understood that matsutake grows in very demanding habitats, and usually takes at least 5 to 6 years to reach maturity. There has also been no success in agricultural cultivation. Personally, I really enjoy how the Japanese prepares matsutake, where the natural flavors of matsutake are prominent without the use of additional flavorings and MSGs.

Mr. Chai:Indeed, if the natural habitat is exceptional, the natural flavor of the ingredient already exceeds any other seasoning. The selenium-rich rice cultivated by the rice terrace in Honghe Hani Prefecture is another example. The se-rich rice is especially rich in selenium, fibers, proteins, vitamins, and other minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium, and phosphorous. It contains as much as 3.8 milligrams of selenium per 100 grams of rice. [Selenium is beneficial for cognitive function, a healthy immune system and fertility for both men and women.] Only the finest natural habit can produce such high quality ingredients.

OGP:The competent Chinese foodies are eager to travel to all sorts of places to satisfy their appetite. Unfortunately the prevailing problem of food safety poses a substantial barrier, and it will take time and experience before people start trusting the food industry again.

Mr. Chai:I absolutely agree with your statement. To revive the traditional Chinese cuisine, it is essential that we focus our attention on the quality and safety of the ingredients used. Take the essence and discard the dregs. To foods and collections are same way because any food must be beneficial to people, and any collection muse be beneficial to you.

OGP:Thank you for your time today, Mr. Chai. It has been an honour to be able to discuss the topic of traditional Chinese cuisine with you. Please continue to follow  OGP, OhGoodParty.com and National Yun Nan Traditional Food Exploration and Promotion Association. 

* By OGP Editors / Chai Xiaohong Provides File Photos


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