INTERVIEW: A-Zhong, Plum Valley’s Head Dim Sum Chef
A-Zhong: Chinatown’s dim sum virtuoso
Hailing from the Fujian province, Plum Valley’s head dim sum chef, A-Zhong is a man unlimited by tradition or taste. On a mission to push boundaries with his inventive fusion take on dim sum, the culinary maverick harmonises quirky ingredients with swish presentation that’d give any Michelin star joint a run for its money. In celebration of National Dim Sum Week, we caught up with A-Zhong to hear his philosophy on all things dim sum.
How many years have you been working as dim sum chef and how much training is needed?
“I’ve worked as a dim sum chef ever since I came to the UK eighteen years ago and have been working in Chinatown for thirteen years. I started as an apprentice in the kitchen of one of the restaurants and trained for three years before promoted to dim sum sous chef. It took me four years before I was allowed to head up the dim sum kitchen.”
What made you want to become a dim sum chef?
“I’ve always been a foodie ever since I was a little kid. When I moved to the UK as a young man, I thought I’d try making food myself.”
What is so special about dim sum, compared to roasting or wok cooking?
“The spirit of dim sum is all about its delicacy and the sharing element. The sizes and portions should be just right so that you can have a taste of everything and it’s traditionally served as a breakfast or lunch. Dim sum should be fresh and light, unlike roasting or wok cooking, which involves use of a lot oil and other heavy ingredients.
Every piece of Dim Sum has to be hand-made fresh on the day. It’s much more difficult and time consuming to prepare than quick woking. Everyday there’s only limited number of pieces can be served. For example, at Plum Valley, we will only serve an average of ten mini egg tarts – one of our most popular dishes – every day, with exceptions at weekends.”
How does Plum Valley’s dim sum differ from more classic dim sum restaurants?
“My approach to dim sum is in line with Plum Valley’s ambition to inject creativity into the art by using more unusual ingredients and drawing inspiration from other cuisines, while respecting the cultural roots of the dim sum. I put a lot of effort into the presentation and try to change the perception of dim sum as a casual dining affair to a more stylish, classy experience.”
Do any other cuisines and cultures inspire Plum Valley’s dim sum?
“I draw inspiration from everywhere. For example, I made the first ever eel cheung fun after eating eel sushi at a Japanese restaurant. I also do research online.”
What ingredients do you incorporate into your dim sum that are more unusual than regular dim sum?
“I’ve used ingredients like eel, quail egg, cod and spinach.”
What is the hardest dim sum dish to make and why?
“Har gau. These are prawn dumplings with an incredibly fine, glossy translucent skin. The sheer wrap is so delicate to make. It took me two years to master the skill of making perfect har gau skin!”
What’s your favourite Dim Sum dish to make?
“Sichuanese-style spicy wontons.”
And your favourite dim sum dish to eat?
“I couldn’t choose, I like every type of dim sum.”
Do you have any advice for aspirational dim sum chefs?
“Patience and perseverance. Unlike cooking with a wok, dim sum is for a chef that is happy to take time to get things perfect.”
Get stuck into National Dim Sum Week by wrapping your taste buds around Plum Valley’s tasty Chef’s Special Dim Sum Lunch Tasting Menu. Featuring delectable Scallop and Spinach Dumplings and Crispy Cream Custard Buns, the 8-piece set menu is £30 for 2 with 2 glasses of flower tea or £35 for 2 with 2 glasses of Prosecco.
Chef’s Special Dim Sum Lunch Tasting Menu is available exclusively during National Dim Sum Week, between 30th June and 6th July 2018. For more information about National Dim Sum Week, click here.
Plum Valley, 20 Gerrard St, London W1D 6JQ
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