When two of the biggest names in their own respective industries got together to curate an all day event, you know something exciting is about to happen.
IDEO is one of biggest and most respected design consultancy in the world. The very first lesson of my very first industrial class was their famous “shopping cart” design process video. They practically defined “design process” and “design thinking”. Over the years they have evolved from product focused to a more holistic approach to problem solving. IDEO has nine branches in the world including Palo Alto, London, Tokyo and of course Shanghai. IDEO Shanghai has worked on a few food related projects include designing restaurants and bars.
Michelin Star Guide on the other hand, needs less introduction. After all, they ARE over 100 years old. Originally a service provided by Michelin Tires to encourage people to drive more, now it is as prestigious as the Academy Awards to movies. I know many people follows the Michelin guide religiously and “collecting stars” is apparently a thing amount foodies. I personally don’t see the merit in that but that shows the importance of the Michelin Star Guide to the restaurant industry. Last year, Michelin Star Guide officially announced the very first Shanghai restaurant guide.
“Food Forward” is a joint effort by Michelin Star Guide and IDEO Shanghai. The main goal is to elevate and give the recognition the Chinese food and beverage industry it rightfully deserve. Traditionally, chefs or cooks in China were not as highly regarded as the west. For this event, they invited many chefs from Michelin-Starred restaurants to share their insight, experience and knowledge.
The event took place at the Shanghai I-Pavlion. After I got my invitation scanned at the door, they hand you an ID card with the schedule for today’s event and a pin assigning you an ingredient in the traditional Chinese dessert “eight treasure rice”. I was hoping this would lead to some kind of social interaction but sadly it didn’t. The maze like entrance may felt intimidating at first but it asks questions like “Do you eat to live or do you live to eat?”. I thought it was a great way to prepare you for the rest of the day.
After a cup of coffee, people start to pack the venue. We sat down as the event starts. Florent Bonnefoy, the senior advisor from Michelin China and Eugene Lin, the co-managing director from IDEO Shanghai showed up on stage. After a brief introduction, we have our very first speaker today, chef Vicky Lau.
Chef Vicky Lau grew up in Hong Kong and moved to the United States when she was 15. She follow a career of graphic design at first, and the the height of her design career, she was even the creative director at the studio. She was then, trained in Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok. “Chang is the only constant” she said during the speech. We used to view chefs as “food preparers” but now chefs are considered as craftsmen, educator, influencers etc… Celebrity chefs or not, chefs are starting to have influences over the general public. People start to pay attention to what chefs have to say, do and think. As a chef with really solid graphic communication training, she understands how to use color and form to provoke emotions. She repeatedly expressed that she is not a female chef but just a chef. I can't help but feel this is a reflection on how she was awarded Asia's best "female" chef. One of her signature dishes is the Zen Garden made with matcha opera cake, jasmine macaron, passion fruit marshmallow and coconut dark chocolate. She is now the owner of Tate Dining Room & Bar which was awarded with one Michelin Star in 2017 and Poem Patisserie which just launched this year. She also has a catering business called Butler. Judging from the photos she showed at the presentation, I would say she is as much as a world class chef as a pioneer food designer.
Second speaker is Professor ZHAO Rongguang. Professor Zhao dedicated his career to study the history of Chinese culinary culture. He has countless publications under his belt. No one is more qualified to speak about this topic then him. Professor Zhao has a very strong stage presence right at the start. He used his commanding voice to touch on a few issues including poverty, agriculture and family structure. “Eating is a political issue” he boldly stated. He then started to talk about cannibalism during war time and said the silk road was the road for food cultures. He raised many topics but didn’t go deep on any of them. This is not a criticism, given he has only a limited amount of time. Regardless, I was hooked. I wanted to find out what he has done, to learn more information on the topics he touched on and I wanted to read his books. During the Q&A session, Professor Zhao has someone deliver a box to the stage and in it were a pair of chopsticks. Without answering the question, he started to speak passionately about the culture of Chinese chopsticks. People cheers as he expressed his feeling about the Chinese chopsticks culture are being forgotten. Florent, the moderator jokingly said “people are going to be very nervous holding chopsticks during our lunch event”.
The morning session wrap up nicely with professor Zhao’s passionate speech. Stay tuned for the second part of the three part articles on the afternoon session and the dinner event by 4 chefs from Michelin-Starred restaurants. Also find out who sat beside me during lunch at the communal table. (hint:he sell tires)