If there are a hundred ways to prepare a chicken, the HSBC Chinese Restaurant Awards hope to inspire chefs to discover a hundred more.
“Every chef knows how to make all these different dishes, but usually they have some special insight into particular ones, and that’s what we look for,” Stephen Wong, founding chair of the CRA told the Straight. “Then, it’s the same things that you look for: good presentation, smell, look, and taste.”
Wong led the judging panel for the CRA’s critics’ choice signature dish awards, which highlight dishes at Metro Vancouver restaurants that are deemed to be the best of their kind—for example, the best chicken dish, prawn dish, or best appetizer.
There were 25 dishes chosen this year, including executive chef Tony Luk’s tea-infused Jade Smoked Grandpa’s Chicken from Jade Seafood Restaurant (8511 Alexandra Road). It was named the best chicken dish of 2011 at an awards ceremony on January 18 at the River Rock Casino Resort. (Winners of the diners’ choice segment of the awards, which consisted of online voting in 15 categories, were announced last fall, and Luk was declared Chinese Chef of the Year after an intense cook-off in December.)
The critics’ choice panel consisted of 11 judges, each of them chefs, restaurateurs, or food writers. The judges spent five months tasting nearly 500 dishes, ranging from basics such as those based on chicken, beef, or pork, to favourites like dim sum, congee, and noodles, to more exotic fare including geoduck, Alaska king crab, and squab. The judges voted by secret ballot to determine the winning dishes, and many of the winners turned out to be the dishes that showed the most originality.
“There was one dish with B.C. wild rice and Dungeness crab,” judge and local food blogger Melody Fury told the Straight, referring to Red Star Seafood Restaurant’s (8298 Granville Street, Vancouver, and 8181 Cambie Road, Richmond) dish that won the Most Innovative award. “Wild rice isn’t traditionally used in Chinese cooking, but the flavours are still very familiar. It’s eye opening.”
“I want to encourage people to come up with new things,” Wong echoed. “That is the underlying purpose of the awards.”
The awards featured a new category this year, the Wine & Spirit Service Award, given to newcomer Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie (163 Keefer Street).
“I want to have a nice glass of wine, a good cocktail, but I feel like that’s often lacking in Chinese restaurants,” Fury said. “So props to Bao Bei for incorporating cocktails into Chinese cuisine. I think it’s a good move, and I hope to see more of that in Chinese restaurants.”
For Wong, the purpose of the CRA is simple—it is all about the pursuit of deliciously innovative food. “When you eat a good dish, you want more,” he said. “You put it in your mouth and you go, ”˜Wow, this is really good!’ And that actually captures what we call wok hei or wok qi in Chinese cooking. It’s that umami kind of coming-together goodness of it, and it’s kind of elusive.”
The complete list of CRA signature dish winners can be found here.
Chef Tony Wu carves a rose from a fruit while blindfolded.
Chef Tony Wu slices a cucumber into a coil while blindfolded.
Chef Tony Wu creates 16,000 pieces of dragon-beard noodles while blindfolded.
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