Fabulous Feast for a King
As part of Sands Resorts Macao Celebrity Chefs Series, Chinese master Chef Hu Limei cooked up a storm at the Four Seasons Hotel Macao’s Lotus Ballroom between October 17 to 20. Gracing the dining tables was Chef Hu’s famous signature Beijing imperial banquet. Invited guests were given a night to remember when they were treated to an exceptional dinner and a show with a performance by Liang Yuan and Wang Tianyi, two popular contestants from China’s hit reality television phenomenon BEYOND SHOW.
The ongoing Celebrity Chef Series is part of Sands Resorts Macao’s initiative to promote and celebrate the best of food culture around the world. Chef Hu was an extra special choice, as the septuagenarian is also revered as one of China’s national treasures. One of the very first generation of professional chefs in China, she was executive chef at Shanghai’s oldest hotel, the celebrated Park Hotel, in the 1980s, serving served many big names, including heads of state and other dignitaries.
Standing a petite five-foot-two or so, it is hard to imagine how Chef Hu ever commanded a kitchen staff of more than 100 people. Asked about the responsibility of being the first female chef in a male-dominated industry in China, she boldly replied, “It never occurred to me I could not do it. Any perceived shortcomings, I always proved my worth with hard work.” With this, she invited us to feel her interossei, the muscle between her thumb and index finger, which, despite her retirement, is still as hard as steel. “My master told me that I would not get far in the kitchen if I could not flip food in a wok with one hand, so I filled a wok with dried foods such as beans and rice and practised. In the end, not only did I flip the contents with one hand, I could throw it in the air and catch it, too – still can.”
Chef Hu applied that work ethic, and not just to the tasks at hand. “At the beginning of my career, I taught myself Shandong dialect to better communicate with my Shandong master. I am from Ningbo, and we were working in Shanghai. In the end, I could speak Shandong dialect better than his son, who grew up
On the night of the banquet, Chef Hu was assisted by her son Chef Liu Hong, a respected industry professional in his own right, who heads the culinary team at a leading hotel in the mainland. When we asked how she faced the challenge of balancing family with such demanding work, Chef Hu replied, “If men in the kitchen can start a family, so can I.” She added, “A lot of people thought I would eventually stop work to start a family. I worked in the kitchen until two weeks before I delivered both my children.”
While many women’s training in the kitchen leads them eventually onto a career path as private chefs for larger families, Chef Hu’s master and mentor encouraged her to pursue the quest of becoming a master chef. “He told me I could do more, gave me opportunities and encouraged me to take on more tasks.”
When asked about the proudest moment in her career, Chef Hu does not name any prize or award, nor was it a moment of acknowledgement from her peers. Instead, it was the ability to empower other women that she looks back on with fond memories. “I was tasked to train a lot of women throughout the years, and we shared a lot together. I told them to come to me when they faced any challenges, and not to give up.” She added, “Many did go to work as private chefs for large families, and some for the consulates. They did such a good job, when those families went home they took their personal chefs along with them. Finding pportunities abroad was a rare occurrence back in those days.”
With her students moving on to such great success, we asked Chef Hu what elements of imperial cuisine make it so iconic. She replied, “Beijing cuisine is representative of China’s great northern food traditions, and is often presented as part of national banquets. It is a great honour to be invited to cook at this special event by Sands Resorts Macao, which I hope will allow more people to experience the essence of Beijing cuisine, a long-held passion of mine.”
During the banquet, distinguished guests sampled an array of exceptional cuisine featuring an appetiser of jellyfish Beijing style, deep-fried walnuts in syrup and spicy cabbage; grilled Guangdong sea cucumber with shallots; garoupa in rice wine sauce; and A5 Wagyu beef with cilantro.
It was an evening fit for a king. While Sands Resorts Macao is inviting more amazing chefs from around the world to participate in this exclusive dining series, the honoured guests of the integrated resorts can look forward to many great gastronomic experiences to come.