Food & Wine
Beijing has welcomed its first celebrity chef, French restaurateur Daniel Boulud, in time for the Olympics, adding to a trend for European fine dining in the Chinese capital that has lagged Shanghai in the culinary stakes.
Boulud, a two-star Michelin chef with six US restaurants, opened Maison Boulud in June in the walled compound of the former US embassy by Tiananmen Square that has been converted into an upmarket development called the Legation Quarter.
Boulud, 53, whose signature restaurant Daniel is in his adopted home New York, said like many chefs he had been looking for a way into Asia for several years before settling on Beijing.
"Beijing is definitely happening right now and the momentum of the Olympics has given an amazing boost to the city," Boulud, dressed in his chef's whites, said in an interview during a break from the kitchen.
"I am the first big chef from the outside coming to Beijing. . . the front warrior who will have to figure out the suppliers, the best ingredients, and train staff. It takes time to do that but I'm happier being first in Beijing than the last in China."
Boulud is the latest in a string of celebrity chefs to bring French cuisine to China, but only time will tell if they succeed.
Rival Joel Robuchon has gone to Macau, Alain Ducasse is in Hong Kong, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten set up in Shanghai, a city often viewed as more cosmopolitan and social than Beijing.
Of five former diplomatic buildings in the Legation Quarter, a project founded by Chinese-American lawyer and entrepreneur Handel Lee, Maison Boulud occupies the grandest, a two-storey Victorian building with a sweeping, double staircase, and canvas wall-hanging of Florence's Fountain of Neptune in the foyer.
The compound, built in 1903, also houses Japanese restaurant Shiro Matsui, run by Hong Kong restaurateur David Yeo, and Sadler, with two Michelin-star Italian chef Claudio Sadler.
The Zagat dining guide said the list of other hot openings included restaurants in upmarket hotels such as the Regent Bar & Grill, Jaan at Raffles and Le Pre Lenotre at the Sofitel Wanda.
The new chefs in China are sticking to their culinary roots rather than going Asian, saying the market in China has grown sophisticated as its economy booms and people travel more.
By 2011, Chinese drinkers are expected to drink more than 1.1 billion bottles of wine, double the figure of 2007, according to a study by the International Wine and Spirit Record in London.
Exports of Swiss chocolate products to China have soared to 308 tons in 2007 from two tons in 2001, according to latest data from Chocosuisse, the association of Swiss chocolate makers.
Boulud, who serves fixed price menus for 428 yuan, said he would not be changing his style.
"I don't think as a French chef I should try to turn Chinese tomorrow just to make everybody happy. Asian people are well aware of what good dining is now," said Boulud.
"Asian clients love food. They're crazy about chefs, about restaurants. Food is something they do spend money on."
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