When Gastronomy meets Art

21 artistic dishes from Da Dong

When it comes to the different types of aesthetics, most people tend to believe that those which are traditional and superficial enjoy widespread acclaim, whereas those which are trendsetting and audacious fail to break into the mainstream and therefore are difficult to integrate. In Dong Zhenxiang's eyes, however, these two views are not contradictory, but instead only differ in their depth.

Nowadays, many people regard alluring dishes as works of art, and compare chefs to artists. Dong is not only an "artist" who expresses his personal artistic concepts through his dishes, but also a "designer" who is brilliant at solving problems. 

二十四节气摄影图:雨水 by Da DongWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

Specifically, Dong believes that the so-called widely welcomed aesthetic of food is about the preliminary judgment of the flavor and shape. This equates to dishes with splendid flavors and widely-accepted aesthetic forms which indicate a unification of color, fragrance, flavor, and shape. 

Correspondingly, the aesthetic that fewer people favor is more closely connected to artistic expression, which adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the dishes and is based on their preliminary judgment. This may be conveyed by the flavors, ingredients, shape, or originality of the dishes.

Da Dong's photography workWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

By deftly combining the freehand technique seen in Chinese painting and assembly concepts which are part of penjing (an ancient Chinese art of depicting artistically formed trees, other plants, and landscapes in miniature), Dong has created scores of delicious and attractive dishes, all while conveying the elegance of Chinese cuisine. 

Squid Ink Soup with Bean Curd Threads and Black TrufflesWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

1. Wensi Tofu Soup with Black Truffle and Squid Ink

Wensi tofu is a typical Huaiyang dish. A chef with superb knife skills must cut a piece of ordinary tofu into hair-thin strands and soak them in the soup, where they resemble a white chrysanthemum in full bloom. 

Dong believes that Wensi tofu is the most appealing when placed in a black container because of the dynamic juxtaposition between the two opposing colors of black and white. Seasoned with black truffle and sprinkled with squid ink, the white tofu strands are postmodernism incarnate. 

Nespresso Ristretto Origin India ala Cuttlefish Roe SoupWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

2. Braised Cuttlefish Roe Soup with Nespresso Indian Coffee

Nespresso Indian coffee is a blend of fine Arabica coffee beans with a dash of Robusta coffee beans from the southern regions of India. It has a bold and spicy flavor that pairs wonderfully with the braised cuttlefish roe soup, a Shandong dish. 

Dong adds Nespresso Indian coffee into the chicken broth and proceeds to whip it into a foam. He then pours it over the braised cuttlefish roe soup, giving it the appearance of a caffè macchiato. With the strong fragrance of Nespresso coffee serving as a foil, the sour and spicy flavor of the dish becomes more palpable. 

Italian Risotto with Slow-braised Fresh AbaloneWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

3. Simmered Abalone with Italian Black Truffle

Simmer the fresh abalone until it becomes as chewy as dried abalone, then season with black truffle, a world-class ingredient from Alba, Italy which provides a refreshing burst of energy and vitality. 

Iberian Ham DumplingsWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

4. Iberian Ham Zongzi

While there are a plethora of different zongzi fillings (a traditional Chinese dish consisting of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves), one constant is that they are all wrapped in rice. Dong's Iberian ham zongzi, however, is nothing like a traditional zongzi. 

Dong substitutes rice for Iberian ham, resulting in a variation of zongzi that nevertheless remains just as exquisite as the traditional ones. This dish is one of Dong's innovative masterpieces made using traditional Chinese methods and fusing Chinese and Western ingredients. 

JARDIN DE MONETWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

5. Monet's Garden in Summertime

For this dish, Dong was inspired by the French painter Claude Monet's gardens. A kaleidoscope of colors (the red of the dragon fruit, the yellow mango and passion fruit, and the white coconut milk shaped like fish roe) brings this miniature Monet's garden to life.

Peking Bean Curd with Scallions & Curd ResidueWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

6. Beijing Ma Tofu and Stirred Tofu with Chopped Spring Onion

Ma tofu is the leftover byproduct of making mung bean starch, and has become a Beijing delicacy that conjures up notions of pleasure and refinement. While it may take some getting used to for some, those who enjoy it can't get enough of its sweet and sour flavor.

In this dish, the ma tofu is paired with a traditional Chinese mixture; stirred tofu with chopped spring onion. This dish may not be much to look at, but it packs a punch. The bold flavors are enough to transport diners to a land composed entirely of picturesque landscapes.

Ensemble of Multi-Flavored White Chocolate ShellsWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

7. Shell-shaped White Cheese Chocolate

The seemingly all-white concoction can actually be subdivided into three parts according to its ingredients: cheese, chocolate, and powdered sugar. These colors all come in different shades, which create a densely-layered look that exudes perfect harmony.

So subtle are the flavors of this dish, that one can taste all eight of the typical Chinese cooking seasonings, such as mustard and peppercorns, hidden in the chocolate after chewing it. 

Tofu with Cedrela ToonWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

8. Stirred Tofu with Chinese Mahogany

Chinese mahogany, also referred to as the beef and onion plant, is mentioned in a saying that goes, "Chinese mahogany is tender as silk before the rain, but as hard as wood after". Dong's ingenious conception makes this traditional dish made of Chinese mahogany and tofu appear mundane, when in actuality it is exceedingly profound.

Mushroom SaladWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

9. Mushroom Celebration

The Huitengxile Grassland has dense pastures containing seas of blooming flowers. More importantly, a large number of mushrooms grow here that are difficult to find anywhere else.

After the rainfall, drops of water cover the treasure trove of white mushrooms hiding under the grass of the pasture. When Dong first witnessed these mushrooms, what impressed him most was their strong aroma.

Antique WrapWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

10. Antique Wrap (Dunhuang)

Dunhuang once contained a myriad of murals, painted sculptures, and scriptures, but most of them have been lost to time. Many of the scriptures displayed in the Dunhuang Museum are incomplete, which might make visitors feel a sense of woe at what has been lost. Having been inspired by a delicacy that was presented by one of his friends, Dong refined it and modeled it in the shape of the Dunhuang scriptures out of a sense of nostalgia, and to lift his own spirits.

Cuttlefish Roe Cold Soup with LimeWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

11. Simmered Cuttlefish Roe with Jiangshui Noodles

Simmered Cuttlefish Roe with Jiangshui Noodles (noodles in a fermented vegetable juice) was one of Dong's masterpieces when he returned from his journey to Dunhuang. This dish is an integration of braised cuttlefish roe soup, a part of Shandong cuisine, and Dunhuang jiangshui noodles. 

Jiangshui noodles are one of the eight main delicacies in Dunhuang. The primary ingredients of jiangshui are celery or cabbage. Soak them in the noodle soup, add yeast, then put it all into a container and let it ferment for three days in a warm place. The braised cuttlefish roe soup is seasoned with rice vinegar and pepper, and boasts a sour and spicy flavor that is sure to whet your appetite. Dong substituted the rice vinegar with jiangshui and combined the two dishes. 

Traditional Kaolaolao Rolls with Bolognese SauceWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

12. Traditional Kaolaolao Rolls with Bolognese Sauce

There is a proverb in the northwest regions that says, "You can walk twelve miles after having noodles made of naked oats, nine miles after having cake made of glutinous rice, and only six miles after having noodles made of buckwheat." Dong cleverly combined Chinese and Western ingredients, filling rolls made of naked oat dough with ragu, thus creating a strong visual impact.

Mung Bean Rice with Salted Duck Egg YolkWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

13. Mung Bean Rice with Salted Egg in Lemon Leaves

In Wang Zengqi's article, The Salted Eggs in My Hometown, he mentioned that Gaoyou salted eggs were supple and oily. People usually crack the egg on one end and proceed to dig it out of the shell using chopsticks. When the chopsticks pierce through the egg white, the oil oozes out. 

Dong puts the eggs in mung bean rice wrapped with lemon leaves, which will cool you down in summertime and leave you feeling refreshed.

Caramelized Frozen PersimmonWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

14. Caramelized Persimmon

Persimmons are not picked until right before the Spring Festival, at which time they are placed on the windowsill. The persimmons are hardened by the low winter temperatures. 

After the Spring Festival, the frozen persimmons are brought indoors and put in bowls. The juice of these persimmons is sugary-sweet. 

Chocolate Leaves with Candid RaspberriesWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

15. The Taste of Frost

In September 2013, Dong attended a celebration of celebrity chef Alain Ducasse's 30 years as a chef in France. After the event, Dong left Arles and proceeded along the old motley roads of Marseilles to Alain Ducasse's villa in the countryside.

Every morning, he got up early to enjoy the beauty of rural Provence. The picturesque and silent France landscape was covered by a thick layer of white frost. Dong's creativity makes this dish look like the stunning frost-covered French countryside.

Unfinished DumplingWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

16. Unfinished Dumpling

The unfinished dumpling is representative of traditional Chinese culture. Dong wraps the highest quality fish roe with sliced cuttlefish, resulting in a creation that resembles unfinished dumplings. In Chinese culture, dumplings are symbolic of joyous family reunions. Dumplings mean a lot to Chinese people, as they are deeply ingrained in Chinese culture.

EggWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

17. Egg

This unsurprisingly egg-shaped dessert with an edible "shell" provides an opportunity for the chef to interact with diners. The diners witness the chef approach while holding an egg and an empty plate. When the chef greets them, he or she pretends to accidentally drop the egg on the plate and profusely apologizes for their "mistake". This little trick adds a touch of theater to the dining experience. 

When diners taste it, they will be surprised to find that the egg is in fact made of persimmon pulp. When the season is right, Dong works the widely favored persimmons into egg yolk and powdered sugar into eggshells, which seems simple, but actually requires a high degree of creativity and panache. 

Bird's Nest and Rhapsody BlueWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

18. Rhapsody Swallow

This dessert is made of butterfly pea blossoms and ordinary lemon, whose colors make for a deeply romantic pairing. This dish features a stunning array of charming colors, ranging from light-pink to deep purple.

Mung Bean PuddingWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

19. Fermented Mung Bean Pudding

Dong heats up mung bean milk, then adds soy flour and keeps it refrigerated until it begins to cool down and firm up. It is then seasoned with a sauce made from basil leaves and chili oil, which is a combination of Chinese ingredients and Western seasoning.

Crispy Pan Cake with Cheese and Chinese ToonWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

20. Crispy Pancake with Cheese and Chinese Mahogany

A fusion of tradition and modernity, this seasonal pancake is served with Chinese mahogany and cheese. The unique aroma of Chinese mahogany, combined with the strong savoriness of the cheese, makes for an incredible combination.

Black Char Siu with Finger LimeWorld Federation of Chinese Catering Industry

21. Roasted Pork with Nespresso Brazilian Coffee

Nespresso Brazilian coffee is ground from pure Arabica coffee beans, which are lightly roasted to give them a sweet and light aroma. 

Dong roasts the pork with a prepared sauce, and then dips it in Nespresso Brazilian coffee to absorb the aroma of the roasted grains, before roasting it once again. Once it is soaked in the Nespresso Brazilian coffee, the roasted pork becomes a mouth-watering entree that no diner can resist. 

Credits: All media
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