Makansutra: Pigeon smoked to a Tea
China’s Xu Jingye is making waves
He came to our World Street Food Congress in the Philippines from China last year and set up a stall offering Cantonese soy sauce chicken rice, a style very unlike our Michelin-starred hawker Chan Hon Meng's version.
Xu Jingye is a rising hotshot heritage chef in Guangzhou who is making waves - just check out the buzz surrounding him on China's WeChat.
Only 32, he is also a co-owner of two funky dessert places (yes, Gen Y stuff) when he is not busy managing his private dinner gigs in a restored riverside house in Foshan, Guangzhou.
I have sampled his pineapple creme brulee served out of a carved pineapple, and it was breathtaking.
But I was even more fortunate to eat at his private dinner.
The restored double-storey courtyard house is situated by a river and some small cottage industries. This little cul-de-sac takes you to another world the second you step in. It is charming, not gaudy or too full of rosewood furniture and has statues based on old Chinese legends.
Chef Xu's kitchen faces the river on the ground floor. "My chefs get a nice view as they slog in the kitchen," he tells me, straight-faced.
His private dinners (advance booking required) are stunning and start from $50 a person.
We had a 13-dish extravaganza that included ordinary dishes done extraordinarily.
It began with a smoked pomfret with a cucumber roulade of shrimp.
Nice, but my expectations were beginning to go south. Then came the wonders.
The perfectly blanched dou miao (pea shoots) topped with sinful glassy ham brought some air back into the system. The cured oils from the ham did wonders for the healthy, crunchy greens.
Two chomps and it was gone.
Next up was an immaculately done creamy (despite no cream being used) spinach soup topped with roasted scallop and liver (the yummy part many Western chefs discard). I seriously wanted another helping.
Then came the fried quail eggs, fresh champignons (button mushrooms), crab and roe.
It was as good as it sounded and not much seasoning was used, just the natural flavours kicked up with a pinch of salt.
I then had four servings of tea-smoked pigeon.
Chef Xu used 20-day-old chicks (just before their feathers grow), poached then smoked them over tea leaves with sugar to enhance the smokiness.
It was so juicy and soft, with layered textures, yet delivered an intense smokiness with every bite.
I craved more than four pieces, actually.
You may think nothing of his signature sweet and sour pork until you realise it's made with 90 per cent fat pieces of pork.
The trick was marinating it in wine overnight to loosen the structure before frying it and tossing it in a classic sweet-sour sauce made with vinegar and Lea & Perrins sauce, among other ingredients.
Divine, said my scorecard.
Next was the milky almond chicken soup. The magic was in the bits of ham and chicken mousse - don't ask me how he made it, I was lost in the thrill of breathing it in.
And the finale was the glutinous fried rice.
He marinated a specific type of sticky grain overnight, then added stock as he fried it for more than 30 minutes in the wok. A lot of work and a lot of praise for this one.
I want to go back for more surprises.
Chef Xu Jingye Private Dining
102 Private Kitchen
Unit 1, Lane 1, Guicheng Shi Ken, Foshan
Tel: +86 132 8843 2145