Bicester Village and Shan Shui will be coming together to offer foodies the chance to explore flavours of Shanghai, hosted by guest chef Jason Li. Luxurious Magazine’s Sabi Phagura was salivating as they talked all things culinary.
Luxurious Magazine: How did your culinary food journey start?
Jason Li: My journey in the culinary world started when I was a child. Growing up in Shanghai, I was enthralled by the multiple cooking programmes on TV, watching famous Chinese chefs from various regions of China, creating exquisite dishes. This obsession with cooking and food was further fuelled by my mother, who put me in charge of food shopping from the age of 10. I would also spend my school holidays honing my culinary skills under her watchful eye.
When I arrived in England, my love for food led me to carve a career path that includes working in establishments like Hakkasan, Royal China and Min Jiang. I got the chance to work with great talents here, which allowed me to gain invaluable knowledge.
Back in the early 2000s, a good authentic Chinese restaurant was few and far between, so I made it my mission to present the dishes that I grew up with, in Shanghai to Londoners who are hungry for new gastronomic experiences.
LM: What are the challenges of becoming a chef?
JL: I think that having a strong foundation of culinary basics and traditions is very important for any sort of chef to thrive. Once you harness these skills, you are then free to explore other branches and ways of cooking up a delicious meal.
As a chef specialising in Shanghainese cuisine, cooking in the UK also presents the challenge of sourcing ingredients, but thankfully, London Chinatown is perhaps one of the best Chinatowns in the world and is home to wonderful supermarkets specialising in Asian products.
The other challenge that many chefs face is the long and gruelling hours behind the stove: you need that deep-rooted passion in others to thrive in a situation like that. The adage “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” holds much wisdom!
LM: When we see chefs on TV working in kitchens, how true a representation is it?
JL: I would say that TV represents the highlights of what happens in the kitchen. It does not show the mundane aspects of the daily routine that goes behind the scenes—for example – ordering food, hours of mise-en-place, keeping the kitchen clean before, during and after service. Not that I expect them to: it won’t be very entertaining otherwise! But yes, shouting, tears, camaraderie and happy diners do exist in the restaurant business.
LM: What’s the hardest dish you have ever cooked?
JL: Buddha Jumps Over the Wall is easily the most difficult dish I’ve ever cooked. It takes two days to prepare, and it contains some of the most exquisite ingredients, including abalone, scallops, fish maw and Chinese dry-cured ham. In fact, the dish contains 30 plus ingredients!
LM: What’s the largest group of people you have cooked for?
JL: So far, It’s been 65 people, and that was an interesting challenge, but very satisfying too.
LM: Describe to us what can diners expect from the two-day supper club’ Dream of Shanghai’ when Covid restrictions allow it to go ahead?
JL: People will get to experience dining in Shanghai in Bicester Village. The dishes I’m preparing are a true representation of Shanghainese home-cooking with the freshest ingredients and time-honoured recipes: no shortcuts, no artificial flavouring. I will also be there to explain the cooking methodology of the dishes and the cultural significance and history that they hold.
LM: How do private dinners differ from cooking for regular diners in a restaurant?
JL: Well, the most significant difference would be the intimacy. I am always on hand to explain the significance of each dish that I cook, and also to share my knowledge on cooking methods and traditional recipes that were handed down for generations in my family.
Many of my guests have become close friends. My supper club also features food that my mom used to cook. In that regard, I’m letting my guests into a special part of my life when I cook for them. Every event is very special to me.
LM: What are the challenges of cooking at a five-star hotel?
JL: When you pay a premium at a five-star restaurant or hotel, you expect exceptional service and products. Customers will inevitably expect the best out of you and your food. Cooking cannot be treated as a process, but an art form with the careful pairing of ingredients and imaginative plating. Your passion for what you do has to burn bright when you work in a five-star establishment. Otherwise, sadly, you’ll not be able to grow.
LM: Is there any food you won’t cook or eat?
JL: I am very open and experimental when it comes to food. It helps open my horizons to new ingredients and cooking methodologies. I think It’s important as a chef to keep an open mind about new types of food and cuisine to help you in your own creativity in the kitchen.
LM: Do you cook at home after your day job, or have you had enough of being in one by the end of the day?
JL: Yes, I do! It keeps the knife sharp and my skills sharper!
Jason Li and Shan Shui – Where and How?
The Dream of Shanghai Supper Club at Shan Shui restaurant, Bicester Village will be priced at £58pp, excluding drinks. The restaurant is located at Unit 156 Pingle Dr, Bicester OX26 6EU, United Kingdom. To make a reservation, contact [email protected]
Read more interviews by Sabi Phagura here.