It is 6am in the morning and the wet market in Shanghai is bustling. Led by Executive Chef Sam Gao, the team of Chefs at Gui Hua Lou Restaurant surveys each stall sternly, picking and inspecting every ingredient. Worthy items are hand-picked, and the suppliers receive personal instructions from Chef Gao regarding the kitchen’s requirements.
“Only if the bamboo shoots are dotted with the fresh morning dew, and only if the prawns are still active and jumping, will the sweetness that nature intended be captured in my cuisine,” says Chef Gao.
It has been such five years in the making, alongside extensive travels and research, all in preparation for the WuZeTian Imperial Bun to be presented to the most discerning guests.
From July 2013, Gui Hua Lou restaurant will present a new “58 Dim Sum Quest” menu, including Executive Chef Sam Gao’s WuZeTian Imperial Bun. First launched in May 2011, the Dim Sum Quest menu consists of 58 authentic and creative Cantonese dim sum specialities with Gui Hua Lou’s Huaiyang and Sichuan influences. To continuously cater to the luxurious modern diner, the restaurant makes a bold step to change nearly half of the menu. The new dim sum items spot premium items such as abalone, bird’s nest, white fungus and Angus beef - products not usually found in dim sum items.
WuZeTian is the only female emperor in the history of China, whose military and political success includes major expansion of China’s empire deep into Central Asia and also to the Korean peninsula. Her luxurious and impeccable imperial kitchen’s recipes use only the best Chinese ingredients, many of which were wild and scarce.
After five years in the making, Chef Sam Gao presents the Premier Imperial Bun from the WuZeTian Imperial Menu from the residence of Gui Hua Lou Restaurant at Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai. The Premier Imperial Bun is well-known amongst top chefs in China, but seldom attempted as it requires extensive technique and scarce premium ingredients as follows.
• Abalone: Top grade Web Abalone from the deep seas is used. This coffee coloured abalone with a thin lip is tender, smooth and emits a golden glow when cooked. Slice it horizontally and you will find hexagonal web-like patterns, and hence the derivation of its name. It is only available only during the summer and autumn seasons each year. To attain, the free-diver is required to challenge the depths by using breath holding techniques with a spear in hand to pry at the rocks. A known Chinese delicacy, the abalone is known as one of the eight treasures from the sea. It also boasts nutritional qualities such as richness in iron, omega 3 fatty acids and low in fat.
• Thorny Sea Cucumber: Known as the “Ginseng of the Sea”, this small and delicate sea cucumber is found only in the sub-zero deep seas of LiaoNing Province. Also one of the Chinese eight treasures from the sea, this delicacy rich in collagen is refined in texture, and has an almost crispy feel when cooked.
• Wild Boar from Changbai Mountain range: Unlike other wild boars whose diets adapt easily to surroundings, the Changbai Mountain (also known as Eternally White Mountain) range wild boars feed solely on mushrooms and insects. The mountain range being the tallest peak in Northeast China, and is a difficult peak to hike, much less hunt. Due to its diet and living conditions, the meat is refreshing and spared from the earthy odor normally found in wild boars.
• Stone Bamboo shoots: Harvested off the cliffs of Zhejiang Province, these rare bamboo shoots grow are for their ability to grow through the rocks. Due to its resilience and will to survive in harsh conditions, people in ancient China believed that eating it will build one’s strength and will power. Top chefs use only the sharp tip of the shoot, promising a fresh, tender and juicy combination.
• Bamboo Forest Free-range Chicken: These wild chickens are caught from the depths of the bamboo forests in Zhejiang province. They feed on worms according to nature’s intention. The skin is soft and tender, and the meat is juicy, succulent and spared of excess fat.
• Wild Prawn Roe: The roe from wild prawns caught off the Yangtze river are used.
• Feng Huang Island Flour: The most important ingredient of all is the flour that makes up the bun’s skin. Chef Gao chanced upon this idyllic agricultural island located near Yangzhou city in Jiangsu Province on one of his travels. It was then when he found that the flour made from the home-grown wheat at Feng Huang Island was especially delicate, smooth and silky.
Another item worthy of the attention is Chef Gao’s latest creative spiel - the Imperial Lobster Dumpling. Presented on a precious Jade stone plate, it requires some of the best ingredients in the world, such as the Australian blue lobster, wild caviar from Iran, and black truffles from Italy.
Both the WuZeTian Premier Imperial Bun and the Imperial Lobster Dumpling are not available off the menu, and will be prepared upon request only.
Last but not least is the star from the new ’58 Dim Sum Quest’ is the Taro Pie topped with Australian Abalone. This dish was designed as two gold ingots stacked one atop another - the symbol of fortune and prosperity in Chinese culture and tradition. The top, is the Australian Abalone doubled-boiled for 8 hours and enriched with the essence of a free-range matured hen, dried scallops, phoenix claws, pork bone soup. The bottom is an ingot-shaped baked taro pie，which crust was made of alternating layers of dough and oil dough at 18 degrees to ensure its complexity in texture.
“I am the most critical when it comes to food quality, colour, aroma, and styling. I see culinary as an art form, where every dish is a reflection of an inspiration or realisation in life,” says Chef Sam Gao.
The Gui Hua Lou Chinese restaurant at Pudong Shangri-La, Shanghai offers authentic Huaiyang, Cantonese, Shanghainese and Sichuanese cuisines. Opened in January 2006, the restaurant has been a popular choice amongst locals, and have been named the “Best Chinese Restaurant” by influential media Modern Weekly, Food and Wine China, and Shanghai Tatler Magazine just to name a few.
Gui Hua Lou restaurant is helmed by Executive Chef Gao Xiao Sheng, also referred to fondly by his English name Sam. Chef Gao, who is 43 years old, has 26 years of Huaiyangnese culinary experience. He is fond of blending culinary influences with his own recipes and he takes great pleasure in creating dishes with the new ingredients he discovers. Recently, Chef Gao was also voted one of the “Top 50 Chefs in China” by Food & Wine China magazine.
Gui Hua Lou is open daily for lunch and dinner. For enquiries and reservations, please call Gui Hua Lou at 5888 3697 or food and beverage reservations at 6882 6888.
Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai is located in the Lujiazui finance and trade district of Pudong (or East Shanghai), which is being developed to become the country’s business hub. The hotel is ideally located on the eastern bank of the famous Huangpu River, overlooking Shanghai’s legendary waterfront strip, The Bund. A historic landmark famous the world over, The Bund was Shanghai’s financial centre in the early 1890s. Today it is a showcase of turn of the century architecture.