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Surf's up in Shanghai

By Xu Junqian | China Daily | Updated: 2016-03-25 10:15

Surf's up in Shanghai

Hawaii's celebrity chef Alan Wong brings his cuisine to the Chinese mainland, telling Xu Junqian he expects the city to shape what's on his plates.

Consistency should be the last thing you expect at Alan Wong's Shanghai, the much-anticipated outlet of the Hawaiian celebrity chef. That, however, is no knock on the food quality or service.

"Hawaii is the melting pot of Pacific Ocean," says Wong, who is known as one of the 12 co-founders of Hawaiian regional cuisine. "I don't want to make French or Japanese food in Hawaii. But I can take the French technique and use it on Japanese ingredients. That's what Hawaii and modern cuisine is about," he says.

"The biggest mistake about Hawaii is to think that if you are from Hawaii, you are a Hawaiian, and so is the food," says the Tokyo-born Hawaiian, who has a Japanese mother and a half-Hawaiian, half-Cantonese father.

Wong has been to Shanghai eight times in the two years he's been developing the new restaurant, but in an exclusive interview with China Daily just ahead of the opening last month, he concedes that he is still deciding what to "melt" in his Shanghai pot. Calling the menu 100 percent Hawaiian at the start, he says he's committed to bring in Shanghai flavor. Soon it will be 90 percent Hawaiian and 10 percent Shanghai, he says, "and gradually more Shanghai than Hawaii".

"I don't think it's possible to capture the taste of a place over such a short time. I'd like to pick it up piece by piece," he adds.

Wong thrives on variety at every one of his "culinary studios", where new ideas and new flavors are objects of experiment. He operates two restaurants in Honolulu and for a time had an outlet at Tokyo Disneyland.

The founding group of what's come to be known as Hawaii regional cuisine made an art of such experimenting, highlighting Hawaii's locally grown ingredients and diverse ethnic styles. In 1992, they teamed up to compile a cookbook, The New Cuisine of Hawaii, to be sold for charity.

Besides being famous for its original cuisine, Wong's original restaurant in Hawaii is also known for visits by US President Barack Obama, who invited the chef to cook a luau for the annual White House Congressional picnic in 2009. Three years earlier, as a guest judge on the season finale of TV's Top Chef, Wong welcomed contestants to lunch in Hawaii and then challenged them to cater his birthday luau.

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