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An appetizing approach to food

Updated: 2024-04-22 08:44 ( China Daily Global )
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Zhao and her chef Dai Jun (fifth from left, front row), with the restaurant's service and cooking team. CHINA DAILY

"The taste of radishes, for example, varies between the parts exposed to sunlight and those underground due to differences in sunlight, soil, temperature and humidity," he says.

Changing the menu every three months can be stressful for many chefs, but Dai finds joy in it. Since his previous restaurant job, he's been creating new menus each season. Even if some dishes receive great feedback, he is always ready to move on. After several seasons of menus, he sees them as a record of his culinary style.

"To stay fresh, you have to reset, learn new things, and create something new," he says.

Many diners have followed Dai's menus over the seasons. They often share long feedback, which the chef takes seriously and finds inspiring."It's because of them that I keep going," he says.

Looking back on the past decade, he sees three distinct phases of change in his approach to cooking. At first, he began adapting meat-based dishes to vegetarian versions. For example, he turned Kungpao chicken into vegetarian versions by using similar seasonings, but tofu or mushrooms in place of the chicken. He remained in this phase for many years.

Later, he began refining vegetarian dishes, making them more intricate and complex. "I wanted to create things others couldn't," he says.

After being hired by Zhao for her new restaurant, Dai catered to her demands by adopting simplicity as a new approach, removing elaborate decorations and focusing on the essence of the ingredients.

Now, he uses no more than three ingredients per dish, and although they look simple, there's a lot of effort behind the scenes to bring out the rich flavors, he says.

"The concept of plant-based cuisine took shape in my mind, and I developed my own style," Dai says."Without the experiences of the past, today's dishes wouldn't have their current style."

The chef finds vegetarian cooking intriguing because it's not bound by culinary traditions. With good ingredients and creative ideas, anything is possible.

"Plant-based cuisine may sound limiting, but it's actually vast, with endless possibilities," he says.

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