Good things come in small packages: At Chinatown Brasserie yesterday, a preview was held for this Thursday’s James Beard Foundation benefit gala. An accompanying conference (the whole shebang is called Dumplings & Dynasties) takes place Friday and Saturday, and will explore the state of modern Chinese food. Yesterday, Chinatown Brasserie’s Joe Ng prepared snacks and a roster of visiting Chinese master chefs—many of whom are legends— were introduced. Hong Kong-based Chow Chung, for example, operates a speakeasy in his home where the entire menu changes completely every day. Also in town is Ken Tam from Toronto’s Lai Wah Heen. The Times once called Lai Wah Heen’s dim sum "maybe the best in North America."
In an interview earlier this year, chef Chris Cheung explained how Chinese cooking traditions differ from the cuisines of other countries, like France or Japan, that have more or less all gone global in the last forty or so years:
You don't really see American chefs really cooking Chinese food. The reason for this is that the "old men" Chinese chefs keep their recipes secret. I worked for one who used to make his sauces in the walk-in refrigerator during lunch just so nobody could see what he was doing. Basically, it's partly a "they're mine" mentality, but in the community it also means your job. My aunt and uncle owned a small Chinese coffee shop, and my uncle has never given away any of his recipes- they're just secret. He won't even write them down for my aunts, even if they want to cook this stuff at home for themselves.
Missing from yesterday’s lineup was acclaimed chef Susur Lee, of the soon-to-open Shang, his first New York restaurant. Lee is known for his reverse degustation menu, where the flavor profiles of courses get lighter as the meal goes on. The chef will warm up for New York on Thursday by serving oyster consommé, crab dumpling, white fungus, and wolfberries.