Slurrp Exclusive- Chef Zhang Who Believes That Each Dish Requires Passion And Nurture
Image Credit: Chef Zhang, The China Kitchen at Hyatt Regency Delhi

Chef Zhang Hong Sheng’s love for food took him from Tongzhou (a district in Beijing) to Delhi, India to The China Kitchen at Hyatt Regency Delhi. Chef Zhang had travelled and worked in restaurants across Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen and gained world class culinary experiences that he treasures the most. His first experience in the kitchen at the age of 18 saw him working as a wok chef in a local restaurant in Beijing. His career developed along with his experience and he quickly got promoted to a sous chef. His flair for his work can be seen in his determined culinary practices and his menus that brim with a variety of wonderful dishes. His enthusiasm for food by serving sumptuous Chinese delicacies to guests, family and friends and he believes that this is the best way to spread happiness and connect with people.

What was that one driving factor behind you becoming a chef?

My mother is someone I've always turned to when it comes to cooking and getting inspiration for food. I used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen as a kid, just watching her cook. Her cuisine was usually quick, but flavorful and healthy at the same time. She would always choose the freshest ingredients and endeavour to prepare simple yet delicious and flavorful dishes. I believe she is the most important driving factor behind me becoming a chef. 

What food takes you back to your childhood?

Almost all of my memories about food from my childhood revolve around my mother.  Her braised pork is one dish that stands out in my recollection. Even now, when I try to recreate the dish, I aim to capture the same flavour that she did, and I always encourage guests to give it a try. It is a popular dish in China, where pork is consumed far more frequently than chicken or duck.

What is the most popular dish on the current menu of The China Kitchen?

The chilli chicken has long been the most popular dish at The China Kitchen. I believe it is comfort food for Indians, and most dinners would be incomplete without ordering that.

What do you keep in mind while designing a menu that caters to the Indian audience?

The team is consisting of two ex-pat chefs including me and we take pride in our extensive understanding of the culture, cuisine, and flavours of the regions we hail from. It is critical to be well-versed with the produces, spices, and tastes in order to add authenticity to the flavours. Curating a new menu requires constant brainstorming to mix and match flavours, ingredients, and other components to provide customers with the finest dining experience possible. The China Kitchen is always experimenting with new and ancient ingredients in order to produce dishes that are both unique and exquisite. For example, for the latest menu, I drew inspiration from the Sichuan province of China where I spent 2 weeks before the pandemic. I had the opportunity to try the Sichuan cuisine and when I came back, I thought of recreating the same dishes for the new menu back here in New Delhi.

What has been your food philosophy?

Hard work, consistency, and a strong passion for the food served are key aspects of my food philosophy. From selecting the ingredients to putting the finishing touches on each dish, passion and nurture are required. These qualities, together with the constant desire to bring dishes that are highly original in idea but still exploding with flavour, are the most important qualities for me. 

Have you noticed any changing trends in your Indian patrons over the years? Please elaborate.

The palates of the Indian population have evolved a lot over the years. Chinese has been the preferred cuisine of Indians, although it has mostly been catered to Indian tastes, resulting in the establishment of a cuisine known as 'Indo Chinese.' People preferred this cuisine because the flavours were familiar, but as they have travelled more, they have been exposed to flavours and foods from other countries, particularly the younger generation of diners who are more aware of different cuisines today and prefer food that is organic and authentic in flavour.

China is known for it’s great street food. Do we see some of that influence in your menu?

Yes, it does have some influence on our menu but not so much. Only about 10% off the menu is inspired by the street food in China. 

Do you use any special ingredients that you get specifically from China?

The ingredients are sourced as organically as possible to maintain the cuisine's originality in flavour and deliver truly authentic Chinese food to the guests. Sichuan pepper, chilli paste, bullet chillies, chilli black bean sauce, dark soya, light soya, and chicken powder, among other components, are all obtained from China. Sauces and condiments, such as bullet chillies, contribute to the required level of spiciness for the cuisine. 

Do you use any seasonal Indian ingredients in your food? How do Indian ingredients inspire you?

No, none of the dishes contains any Indian ingredients. To create an excellent dish, I believe it is critical to use ingredients that are both fresh and flavorful, as well as as authentic as possible. This is strictly adhered to while curating any of the dishes at The China Kitchen, and it is critical to maintaining authenticity. There's also the perception that true Chinese food is tasteless. As a response, organic ingredients originating from the region are used, allowing guests to taste the actual flavours of the dish and dispelling this myth.

What has been the toughest challenge of your career so far?

The most difficult task for me has been creating authentic Chinese meals in India due to the scarcity of ingredients. These ingredients are readily available in China, even in small shops, but we don't get them as easily here, and without them, it's tough to duplicate the same flavour, which can affect food quality. This is undoubtedly the most difficult challenge for me because I sometimes have to make the ingredient on my own, which is not easy.