Flying in to Chongqing was an adventure in itself: first I’d felt very jet-setter by briefly stopping in Helsinki and then flying over the North Pole; landing in the huge and ultra-modern city airport. A limousine whisked us off to the Intercontinental Hotel: huge and impressive with a great welcome from the staff and Rotary contacts. Toby was thrilled by the view over the city from our rooms on the 29th floor while I was more entranced by being able to open the windows and hear the noise of busy life so far below. Its surprising how well sound travels upwards and meant that I had a real sense of the city’s life and pace – night and day.
Jet-lag meant that the next 36 hours are still a blur of welcome lunches and dinners – and somehow I managed to give a presentation to our Rotary Club sponsors. Meeting masses of new people is always a challenge when you can’t see: no visual clues so it’s all a matter of recognising different voices and being able to tie each to a name. Not easy when there are lots of them all talking at once in different languages – so you’ll understand if I make mistakes. And, adding to the confusion, most of the local people I met have adopted English names to overcome our poor pronunciation of their proper Chinese names.
Sam, the Food and Beverages Manager at the hotel had done just this – and he is a very memorable character for his energetic enthusiasm and tireless good humour in the face of coping with this strange blind woman. Not only was he the prime mover in arranging all the cooking sessions there but he madly took me shopping too – I’ll save that for another day and stick with the cooking now.
Chef Dillon comes from a family of professional cooks – both his father and brother are in the industry. His Cantonese style is more fragrant and subtle than the hot and spicy flavours usually associated with Chongqing cuisine. He taught me his Sichuan-style Kung Pao chicken https://youtu.be/Sruq3G5VymE
One of my most precious gifts from the visit is the bottle of his special mix of vinegar, sugar and soy sauce used in the recipe – and which is so typical of Chinese cuisine. That bottle has travelled the world, been mistaken for shower gel and is, at last, safely ensconced in my own kitchen ready to re-create Dillon’s magical flavours.
Special thanks go to Sharon, the General Manager of the Intercontinental, and all her team plus Julia, the local architect from the Rotary Club who dedicated a whole week of her life as my translator for the visit. She was indomitable amidst the sometimes chaotic kitchen dramas I created.
Next week, my first attempt at sweet and sour pork – and there are two more versions to come as different cooks gave their own interpretations of this classic delicious dish.