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US chef explores the taste of China in Futian

Release time:2018-03-09    To share:  
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 THERE is a famous saying, “Eat to live, don’t live to eat,” which reminds people that eating more than you need can be harmful to your body. But for American chef Eli Gregory, the latter part of the quote, “live to eat,” properly describes his life, — a life filled with food.

From food enthusiast to chef

Being a professional cook can be painstaking due to the long hours. Usually Gregory only has one day off each week. He also must bear the heat coming from the stoves and the possibility of scars being left on his hands. Gregory has a tattoo of a pizza, one of his favorite foods, on his left wrist to indicate his passion for food.

Gregory has accumulated rich experiences in cooking by working in this industry for nearly 18 years, a time span that accounts for more than half of his life so far. At only 15 years old, he realized his love of eating, exploring new flavors and the fast pace of working in the kitchen when he took a part-time job at a fried chicken shop.

Gregory studied at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Oregon and graduated in 2010 with an associate degree in patisserie and baking. After graduation, he worked in eight different restaurants, among which he spent eight years at fine dining restaurants and worked at a few James Beard Award-winning restaurants in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The James Beard Award, similar to the Michelin stars system, is one of the most prestigious awards in the American culinary industry. Before becoming a pastry chef, he got experience as a line cook and a sous chef.

In 2013, while he was working as a pastry chef at Le Pigeon, a French- and New American-style restaurant in Portland, a city on America’s west coast, his creative reinvention of a classic dessert using curry, called Curried Carrot Cake, won the “Dessert of the Year Award” among all the restaurants in Portland.

Gregory has his own philosophy for cooking. He believes in the power of integration. “If food materials match each other well, it doesn’t matter where the ingredients are from.” His open mind means he is eager to try new flavors and hone new cooking skills.

In Gregory’s eyes, it is important to communicate with other chefs. If Gregory eats something delicious, he is willing to discuss the food with the chef. “I think all of my cooking skills are learned from others while eating. Through talking, you can see people making the food with love and care. They love what they do, they have good skills and they want to present good food to everyone,” he said. In order to maintain his creativity, it is a must for Gregory to read books on cooking and to keep trying new foods at different restaurants.

“The best kitchen should be clean and well organized,” said Gregory. He knows of a kitchen that spends one hour completely cleaning everything before opening and three or more hours cleaning everything after it is closed.

From Gregory’s perspective, the kitchen is a place for teamwork. The main chef should have the foresight to empower the cooks with confidence and appreciate others’ skills and creativity.

When Gregory worked at Le Pigeon, the main chef, Gabriel Rucker, always let each cook and chef taste the new food and learned from their opinions to make the best dish possible.

After years of learning, Gregory thinks salt, fat and acid are the three key ingredients to make great food that people will want to come back to eat again. “Foods are seasoned with salt and acid, such as lemon, which can balance the greasy flavor,” he explained.

Bond with China

Gregory came to China last August. Before coming to Futian, he and his wife spent one and a half years searching online to find out where they wanted to live. Eventually they chose Shenzhen.

Gregory is amazed by this magic city, which has developed from nowhere into such a world-famous metropolis. The fast pace of growth really impresses him. Besides, as the weather in the city is warm and humid, which is similar to Portland, it is a comfortable place for people like him to live.

Back in America, Gregory loved to ride bicycles. After he came to Shenzhen, he was surprised by the availability of sound and easy-to-use shared bikes. He often rides a bike and explores the tastes of restaurants in Futian.

As Chinese food is famous all over the world, he really wants to try authentic Chinese food and learn new cooking skills. He is happy that he decided to come to China, since the Chinese food he ate in America was awful and totally different from what he has tasted here.

The difference in tastes lies in that most Chinese spices lose their original flavor after being transported over a long distance. Sichuan pepper is a good example. The pepper is cooked and heated before being shipped to America, therefore the taste is mild and lacking the charactoristic numbing sensation.

After being a chef for so many years, Gregory has found that Western and Chinese cooking skills actually have something in common. As he loves to eat baozi, Chinese steamed stuffed buns, he finds that making the fillings for Chinese pumpkin baozi is the same process as making a Western pumpkin pie.

Bring authentic Mexican

food to Futian

Undoubtedly, every chef’s goal is to open his own restaurant, and Gregory is no different, as he wants to open a restaurant in his hometown.

There are many restaurants owned by expats with various kinds of tastes in Futian. But Gregory does feel that the foods in many of the restaurants in Futian are not authentic enough. Although combining flavors from different places is quite popular in the dining industry, “there are many things about cuisines from other parts of the world that aren’t embraced by people’s taste desires,” said Gregory.

Growing up in Arizona, near the border of Mexico, Gregory always loved Mexican cuisine and learned how to cook it well. He noticed that there is a lack of Mexican cuisine in Futian and he wants to share some delicious foods that aren’t quite available now. He is currently working as the executive chef at the Mexican-style Taqueria Teqo, which is planning to open in May in Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Center.

Gregory is still learning what tastes people enjoy and dislike when they go out to eat. “I hope to bring the most authentic style to my menu while also being approachable,” said Gregory. “Many elements of Mexican cuisines have superficially charred ingredients that bring out wonderful flavors! Things like tortillas, peppers and tomatoes and spices that have specks of black from high heat carbonization,” he added.

Gregory hopes to make the tastiest food that he can and share them with people, friends and family. “This is definitely why I’m a chef.”