In with the new – Bar & Kitchen

In with the new

It's Chinese New Year on 22 January 2023, so we asked Dave Critchley, the world’s first Western apprentice to a Chinese master chef, how best to host a Chinese New Year feast

My whole mission is to bring real Chinese culinary arts and the culture behind it to the UK,” says Dave Critchley. While Dave’s home is in Liverpool, his heart is in China. After years of working his way up in kitchens from the age of 15, 2019 saw him train and study in China with some of the world’s most acclaimed Chinese chefs. “I flew out to Tianjin in northern China where I got to experience the culture and learn about the food at first hand. It was part of a massive project to try and increase British culinary skills in the Chinese food sector because less people are going into the industry,” Dave explains.

“My whole perception of Chinese food was flipped on its head. What you see in China is absolutely nothing like you see in the UK; it’s an incredibly healthy diet out there. Theres a huge respect for ingredients, it’s very seasonal and very fresh. They’ve got a massive knowledge of food – it was eye opening.”

 

How to be authentic

As we look ahead to the prosperity and celebrations of Chinese New Year on 22 January, Dave shares five traditional dishes for those venues who would like to bring a touch of authentic Chinese cuisine to their customers.

1

Fish

The word ‘fish’ in Chinese sounds like the word ‘surplus’, so it’s important to serve fish at New Year, demonstrating you want to have made profits at the end of the year. Just steaming the fish in a little broth is ideal. The Chinese serve a whole carp, however, in the UK a lovely whole sea bass or bream using the same techniques would be delicious. Traditionally, the most esteemed guest would be served the head of the fi sh and everyone would leave a little on their plate to signify a year of surplus.

2

Chinese dumplings

A lucky food for the New Year, they are shaped like little Chinese silver ingots. The more you eat over the celebrations, the more money you’re going to get that year. The dumplings can be filled with pork, fish and vegetables but the veg always has to be fresh, not preserved, to show prosperity and to mark the start of the new season.

3

Soup

In a Chinese meal, a light soup is normally eaten towards the end. It could be salty, sweet or spicy but it’s packed full of flavour and a real celebration of the chef’s skills, using local vegetables and often lamb or pork. The soup would be served in a large bowl that can be shared among guests, symbolising the idea of coming together.

4

Spring rolls

Very few people in the West know that spring rolls should only be eaten during New Year. Named after the start of the Spring Festival, inside is a collection of all the young, fresh shoots so you wouldn’t ever use pickled or fermented vegetables.

The Chinese use a vinegar dressing for dipping as it’s a flavour enhancer – soy sauce is a real no as it effectively kills off the delicate flavours. But the real significance is their colour; when they’re deep fried, they look like golden ingots – and what’s more prosperous than a gold ingot?

5

Sweet rice balls

The Chinese don’t really do dessert. In their culture, they like to eat all five flavours – salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter – in harmony, so little sweet snacks will come out throughout the meal. But you could serve sweet rice balls; rice is made into balls and served in a sweet stock – it’s almost like a sweet soup that symbolises reunion and coming together. This would be eaten with fruit such as tangerine and pomelo, their shape and ‘gold’ colour representing wealth and fullness.

“"If we haven’t seen it or tasted it in China then it doesn’t go on our menu””
- Dave Critchley, Expert Chinese culinary chef
Save Article