Will Celebrity Chefs Make The Move To China?

Expo Gives International Chefs a Foothold in Shanghai

6SENS at the French Pavilion has been a Shanghai World Expo sensation

6SENS at the French Pavilion has been a Shanghai World Expo sensation

Aside from crowds, hours-long lines, and foreign brands hoping to make a splash with Chinese consumers, the Shanghai Expo has brought an impressive array of cuisines to a city that previously had few such options. Several of the pavilions are hosting restaurants run by internationally renowned chefs. Will these bastions of haute cuisine serve as celebrity-chef stepping-stones into China? Here are a few of the contenders.

6SENS offers Mediterranean fare in a luxurious 1,200-square-foot space in the roof garden of the French pavilion. Created by twin chefs Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, the menu offers their trademark “contrasting tastes,” with items like sea scallops carpaccio and rack of lamb with bouillon emulsion and squid-ink risotto, as well as an Asian-influenced Pavilion Dessert: a cream of green matcha tea with a crunchy center of Jivara chocolate served on a hazelnut biscuit. With furniture from French luxury design house Ligne Roset and a state-of-the-art kitchen displaying chefs in action on plasma screens, 6SENS is as much about the experience as the food. The menu runs between 300 and 600 yuan (US$44-88)—not the price range of French dining abroad, but it’s still expensive, even extravagant, to locals. With a customer base that runs 650-850 guests a day and 80 percent Chinese, 6SENS is setting the standard for refined taste in Shanghai this season.

The Pourcel brothers are themselves not new to Asia. After receiving a Michelin star in Paris for their first restaurant, Le Jardin des Sens, they quickly opened restaurants in Tokyo, Bangkok, and Shanghai. (Though Sens and Bund in Shanghai closed in 2008 in the wake of the global economic crisis.) With 6SENS a clear success, the Pourcels have already expanded beyond the Expo and taken a second location in Shanghai, opening Maison Pourcel in the French Quarter. Their conclusion: “the city is well prepared for fine French dining.” (via CNNGo)

The Spanish Pavilion restaurant, Acqua, chose to host a Gastronomy Festival, with teams of chefs—who can claim a total 49 Michelin stars among them—collaborating on 17 menus. Each team is comprised of Spanish chefs from the region being celebrated that week, along with foreign chefs, symbolizing “cultural integration and interaction” through food. Members of the Basque Culinary Center are represented on the teams, as well as the highly renowned Chinese chef Da Dong, Michael Roth from Paris, and Gabriel Kreuther from The Modern in New York.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Hong Kong

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Hong Kong

While the teams include Asian chefs, several of the most popular menus have a distinctly foreign flavor—for instance, the Valencia menu by Spanish chefs Jorge de Andrés and Jorge Bretón and Mauro Colagreco from Argentina. While total customer figures have varied week to week depending on the menus, attendance at Acqua has been more or less evenly divided among Chinese and Western customers. Tapas Week, scheduled for the end of October, should garner a similarly varied audience, as the participants include resident Chinese chefs as well as international ones.

Though not involved in Shanghai Expo, other chefs looking to expand beyond the US have been creating considerable buzz in countries around the region. With well-established restaurants in Paris, New York, and Las Vegas, Joel Robuchon has expanded to locations in Hong Kong, Macau and Taipei, opened this past year.

Singapore is seeing culinary action with new establishments by Daniel Boulud of Daniel, Bar Boulud, and DBGB in New York; Mario Batali of Food Network fame and the restaurants Babbo and Otto; and first-generation celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. With the arrival of two three-star Michelin chefs, Guy Savoy and Santi Santimaria, Singapore—specifically Marina Bay—is set to become the culinary epicenter of Asia.

By contrast, Shanghai is not yet awash with Michelin-star restaurants or celebrity chefs. But the first wave has already hit, including not only the Pourcel brothers but veteran celeb-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose Jean Georges Three on the Bund, open since 2004, now caters to a 90% Chinese clientele.

With the Expo as a high-profile platform for international chefs to test their menus on Chinese patrons—and cultivate Chinese palates—Shanghai now has the potential to become as sophisticated in its cuisine as it is in its art, fashion, and design.

Article by Felice Jiang

Categories

Market Analysis