Chefs at the forefront of Modernizing Cantonese Cuisine, Part 2: Bao Li Xuan’s Bill Fu
We chat with Executive Chinese Chef Bill Fu of the two Michelin star restaurant Bao Li Xuan, Bvlgari Hotel Shanghai about his vision and the direction Cantonese cuisine is taking.
Chinese executive chef Bill Fu of the two Michelin star Bao Li Xuan restaurant, Bvlgari Hotel Shanghai, is no stranger to Michelin stars, having previously won a star for Lai Heen restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton, Macau. His culinary skills are the result of over 25 years of dedication as the seasoned chef displays a knack for using unconventional ingredients like bottarga and yuzu in Cantonese cuisine while adhering to traditional Chinese cooking techniques and showcasing his dishes in a contemporary way.
We caught up with Chef Fu to learn more about his culinary philosophy and culinary journey so far.
How would you describe your Cantonese cooking style and philosophy?
Growing up in a family of traditional Cantonese chefs, I was influenced by Cantonese food culture from a young age. This exposure led me to start working in restaurants at a tender age, where I gained substantial culinary knowledge and skills in an intense and fast-paced environment. I would say I was trained and integrated into all the basic skills related to authentic Cantonese cuisine, which helped me build a solid foundation – exactly what I needed for my culinary development afterwards. I believe the key to Cantonese cuisine is authenticity, allowing the ingredients to shine by bringing out its natural and delicate flavors.
What is your personal vision of Cantonese cuisine? How far would you say you’ve reached that vision on your culinary journey?
My vision is to continue to promote Cantonese cuisine and to keep trying to refine the quality of Cantonese cuisine. There are comments that the presentation of Cantonese dishes is not as elegant as other fine cuisines. In addition to working on the presentation of the food, I tried to find the optimal time to cook various dishes to achieve the best taste.
The temperature and the level of cooking are essential for a perfect taste. I think serving perfectly cooked dishes, with a nice presentation, will help spread the word about Cantonese cuisine, as people tend to take pictures of their dishes and share them on social media before eating. From my perspective, I believe that mastering your technique and ensuring the quality of your dishes is the way to go – if a chef wants to continually refine his craft and realize his vision in his culinary journey.
What’s your secret to winning not one, but two coveted Michelin stars?
The secret is the hard work and dedication – which I learned from Chef Paul Lau, my mentor and the chef of the two Michelin star Tin Lung Heen at the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong. He is the most important person in my career. His dedication to day-to-day operations and cooking affected me a lot – I remember when I worked with him he was always the first person to come into the kitchen to do thorough checks, making sure everything was ready and compliant. to standards before the start of the day. . I definitely imitated his style of work.
Another thing I do very often is put myself in my customers’ shoes, and I always ask my team the same question: “Are you willing to pay for the dishes you cook?” I believe that these questions motivate us to maintain the high level of our offers.
In your opinion, what are the three main challenges preventing Cantonese gastronomy from occupying a more important place on the world stage?
I am happy to see that many culinary schools are being built to educate the younger generation of chefs. However, due to the nature of the job, which requires a lot of hard work and constantly faces high pressure, some of the young chefs cannot persist. I have the impression that it is a pity. Second, I observe that many Cantonese restaurants are experimenting with new techniques and new ingredients, to which I am personally open and interested.
At the same time, I don’t want to lose any elements of authentic Cantonese cuisine. The Cantonese cuisine market is very competitive, which is why some restaurants are likely to be influenced by different external elements, such as customer demands, local preferences and market demands. This contributes to the evolution of Cantonese cuisine. I respect all experimental approaches and contemporary styles, but I personally want to deliver my creations made in an authentic Cantonese style.
How can Cantonese restaurants continue to attract young chefs to maintain high culinary standards?
There are now a lot of new culinary schools around which is a good thing. I believe that students can understand and learn to appreciate the food culture and the cuisines in these culinary schools which in turn can deepen their passion for working in the industry. That being said, I still believe that working and gaining hands-on experience is always more important than just studying in culinary school. I think culinary competitions are also important because they serve as platforms to encourage young chefs to improve their skills. I find it heartwarming to communicate with them, to witness their passion for the profession and to hear their points of view.
Homemade tofu and scallops with terracotta bottarga or pork chops with yuzu and black garlic, tell us how you came to incorporate unconventional ingredients into your menu?
As a chef, I like to go to different restaurants and try different cuisines. The dish (Braised Bean Curd with Scallops and Bottarga) you mentioned is a prime example. Traditional tofu dishes can be quite simple, so here at Bao Li Xuan we select top quality soy beans and drain all its impurities through various procedures.
To enhance the simple flavors of the tofu, I experimented with different ingredients and finally opted for the scallops and bottarga. This combination effectively brings out the soft and delicate texture of the tofu. I’m currently working on other creations as well, inspired by my recent trip to Macau, where I tasted sardines in oils, the hottest food on the market right now. I plan to create a new dessert for our menu, incorporating sardines, oils and other ingredients.
Can you share with us some recent or upcoming creations or initiatives?
I pay more attention to the health benefits of the dishes I cook. I hope my food will be delicious and healthy for my customers. Therefore, it is essential that I select my ingredients very carefully. For example, a client of mine once told me that he would like to enjoy the desserts on our menu, but due to his diabetes, he is not able to. This conversation inspired me to research alternatives to replace the white granulated sugar we typically use in desserts with other healthier options. After doing some research, we found a type of sugar that is suitable for people with diabetes. I believe that small initiatives like these can help raise the level of our restaurant.
What can new customers expect and experience when dining at Bao Li Xuan which is different from other Cantonese restaurants?
I remember my first visit to the restaurant vividly when I received the invitation to join the team – the architecture of the historic building and the design of the dining room made a deep impression on me. Bao Li Xuan is located in the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce, which has a very rich history and has so much meaning with the magnificent heritage of Shanghai’s Golden Age. In contrast, the adjacent Bvlgari Hotel represents the contemporary Italian lifestyle. The juxtaposition of these two distinct styles fit together perfectly in a unique way.
I remember once meeting a Japanese chef who runs a Cantonese restaurant in Tokyo and left a deep impression – in order to learn more about Cantonese cuisine, he decided to learn our Cantonese dialect. His dedication is truly admirable – and every time we spoke or texted each other, he was always talking to me in Cantonese.
I believe food is culture, so I spend a lot of time trying to understand the culture of Shanghai’s golden age and the rich history behind the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce. I am currently preparing a menu that exemplifies the restaurant’s unique style, but also aligns with the Shanghai Chamber of Commerce brand. Hope customers can enjoy the dining experience with a “taste of the timeless” at Bao Li Xuan.