When chef Zhu Jun was appointed to Singapore Airlines’ International Culinary Panel in 2009, he set about designing a nine-course menu dubbed “Shi Quan Shi Mei” (a Chinese idiom meaning ‘complete and beautiful, to be perfect’).
Inspired by the Confucian ideal that “one should only consume food in season”, among the dishes featured are braised goose breast and tofu, traditional Shanghai salted pork and bamboo shoot soup, and chicken cured pork meat and sausage rice. Chef Zhu explains that there are two goals in the concept of “Shi Quan Shi Mei”. Firstly, to embody an excellent standard of service so passengers are able to feel the wholehearted demeanour of Singapore Airlines when on board, and secondly, to integrate China’s breadth of culinary culture into this concept.
Chef Zhu explains that he wants to change the mindset that Chinese dishes are usually in large sharing portions. “The trend of Chinese cuisine has become more and more delicate,” he says. “We want guests to taste the flavours from each part of China.”
There are eight regional cuisines in China – Lu (Shandong), Chuan (Sichuan), Hui (Anhui), Yue (Guangdong), Min (Fujian), Xiang (Hunan), Su (Jiangsu) and Zhe (Zhejiang). These regions have their own distinct styles and personalities.
“In the past there were only four Chinese cuisine styles,” says chef Zhu. “In today’s context, the eight cuisine styles will definitely be presented in the ‘Shi Quan Shi Mei’ menu, even if it requires a combination of different foods when designing the menu.”
“Food in Jiangnan has that bit of sweetness, while Guangzhou focuses more on seafood, and “fire skill”; in the north, they use more scallions. Singapore Airlines wants to showcase all these flavours, as much as they can,” says the Chinese chef.
But can Chinese tea, the ubiquitous accompaniment of Chinese cuisine, be paired with the inflight dining menu? Chef Zhu says it can. “Like alcohol, tea comes from different regions and has different flavours, and it can be drunk cold or hot,” he says. “To start, we serve cold oolong to refresh the palate, somewhat like champagne. Then we serve a hot smoked tea like lapsang souchong to pair with the main course, as it’s heavier. There are many types of tea, from longjing to biluochun to pu-erh, which range from light to rich in taste, and they all have a strong relationship with food.”
To chef Zhu, flavours should range from light to rich to enable people to gradually appreciate and enjoy the dining process. He highlights that this is the largest difference between Chinese and Western cuisine, and shares that there are various methods to produce different flavours using various ingredients in Chinese food. “For example, we can include three different flavours in an appetiser, whereas in Western food, there can only be one or two flavours,” says the chef.
“For inflight dining, you need to have light flavours so you can taste the contrast with rich flavours. The cold dishes of Shanghai cuisine make great starters, while for the main course, we usually have strong flavours. Like in a movie, we need a good start, and a good end,” says the chef.
He adds that in traditional Chinese dining, dessert is often overlooked and deemed to be not essential. However, chefs are beginning to pay more attention to desserts. For example, traditional Chinese desserts and Western techniques can be blended to create interesting combinations. This can be seen in chef Zhu’s jujube soufflé, which received good feedback in his restaurant. Therefore, on Singapore Airlines, he too, would like to showcase and present the special desserts of Chinese cuisine.
When asked about his plans for the inflight dining menu in the coming year, chef Zhu shares that he would like to focus on using local ingredients. “We want to be more sustainable, by using more healthy, environmentally friendly ingredients instead of rare ones. By using good cooking techniques, we make better dishes out of these so-called common ingredients.”
– TEXT BY OLIVIA LIM, INTERVIEW BY LI SUITING
PHOTOGRAPHY: TAN WEI TE, ART DIRECTION: NG SAY LEE, GROOMING: ADELENE SIOW, HAIR: ANNIE TAY
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.