Chef Ivan Li’s dedication for preserving imperial cuisine is commendable.
A Chinese chef has been named the recipient of a lifetime achievement award for safeguarding the traditional recipes and cooking methods originated by his great-grandfather who oversaw the imperial kitchens of the Forbidden City.
Chef Ivan Li, co-owner of Family Li Imperial Cuisine, will take to the stage next week to accept his award at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants event in Singapore, where his efforts to turn out traditional Chinese dishes from the Qing dynasty will be recognised.
At Family Li Imperial Cuisine, guests tuck into recipes that were once fed to a Chinese empress, including Beijing smoked pork, fried beef with chili sauce and Beijing-style fried lobster with mushrooms and bamboo roots.
Dishes at the restaurant – which has locations in Melbourne (Australia), Tokyo (Japan), Taipei and Shanghai (China) – remain as faithful as possible to the imperial recipes his great-grandfather recorded after retiring from the royal court.
It’s a preservation effort that subscribes fiercely to tradition – modern appliances like microwaves, pressure cookers, and additives like artificial flavours and monosodium glutamate are banned from the kitchen. But reviving China’s lost cuisine also requires innovation and creativity, note editors at Restaurant magazine, which organises the event, as some of the centuries-old recipes call for ingredients that no longer exist – a task Li accomplishes by searching for modern equivalents which embody the original flavour without compromising quality.
“Chef Li has spent his career honouring traditional culinary practices and passing on his knowledge of imperial cuisine to future generations of chefs, said Restaurant magazine editor William Drew in a statement.
“His vast contribution in helping to preserve China’s food culture makes him a very worthy recipient of the prestigious Diners Club Lifetime Achievement Award.”
Like his grandfather, Li is a man of many talents having graduated from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology with a degree in interior design which he applied at some of the restaurants.
Grandfather Li Shanlin was a self-taught student who eventually became a maths professor with a degree in engineering.
The story of how the Li family eventually came to establish an award-winning restaurant empire, meanwhile, is a long and interesting tale that includes the triumph of a national cooking contest, the opening of their first “restaurant” in one of the family’s bedrooms – one of just three rooms in a dark alley – and ends with a fine dining restaurant empire.
Li is the second recipient of the award. Last year, organisers bestowed their first award to French chef Paul Pairet who owns Mr & Mrs Bund and Ultraviolet in Shanghai.
Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards takes place on Feb 24 in Singapore. — AFP Relaxnews