I started my apprenticeship in a local restaurant in Pengzhou, Sichuan, when I was 18 years’ old. The first thing I ever learned was “aquatic board” (Chinese: shui an), which included the skills of weighing, killing and processing different fishes and crustaceans.
After mastering that, I started to learn all the magic about Sichuan pickles. The preservation of the massive pickle pots, the maintenance of the brine, the monitoring of the fermentation process, and the flavoring of different ingredients. For a teenager so impatient to become a chef, the extensiveness of the techniques and knowledge required just to make perfect Sichuan pickles, completely changed my mindset and attitude to this career path.
It was at that time I realized that I had embarked on an odyssey so draconian that only with the utmost perseverance and persistence could I possibly reach the destination.
30 years later, I find myself in a new continent, with my family around me, working as head chef just like what I had dreamed of as a teenager. My younger daughter was born here in Amsterdam, and her big brother had integrated himself into the new environment much faster than anyone could have imagined.
I can clearly feel that everything is different now, in a good way, I suppose. There are so many amazing Sichuan dishes I would like to make for our customers here, but sometimes that can be quite difficult. Maybe some of the ingredients are near impossible to find, or the cooking stoves can’t provide the heating as strong as the burning wood in China. However, in a sense these difficulties inspired creativity among us, and we would come up with ideas that integrate our traditional Sichuan culinary techniques into dishes with more localized ingredients. A lot of these new dishes, for example, Kung Pao Eggplant, are highly popular among our guests.
I truly believe that Sichuan cuisine has more potential in the future, especially when there is still a large population here in Europe, yet to discover its charm and beauty. I am very proud of being a Sichuan chef, and also happy to be part of the force that promotes this great culture.