A gathering of gourmets
Updated: 2013-11-08 23:58
By Mike Peters (China Daily)
Mike Peters joins an elite group of serious eaters in Beijing for an evening of gastronomic indulgence.
There are invitations to dinner, and there are invitations to dinner. When one is invited to dine in Beijing with members of the Chaine des Rotisseurs, the oldest international gastronomic society, it's hard not to lick one's lips in anticipation.
"Devoted to preserving the camaraderie and pleasures of the table," says the society's webpage of its founding in Paris in 1248.
The dinner's theme of "color" is reflected in every dish, like the orange course of pickled carrot soup with citrus-cured salmon. Photo by Mike Peters / China Daily
That was the time of the High Middle Ages — a few years before the Treaty of Paris would end 100 years of conflict between the ruling houses of France and England. In China, the Mongol khans would soon solidify their holdings to form the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). France's king was determined to bring order to the country's trade guilds, and the meat roasters were organized into the Chaine, eventually earning their own coat of arms. The brotherhood prided itself on developing the culinary arts.
Like peace in Europe and the Yuan Dynasty, the Chaine had its ups and downs over the next centuries. In fact, it pretty much disappeared until being reconstituted after World War II in 1950.
Today there are more than 25,000 members in more than 70 countries, amateurs and professionals eager to share the pleasure of good food and wine — and to celebrate the art of a well-laid table.
The Beijing bailliage (chapter) of the Chaine is a relative newcomer, but on a recent weekend it was clear that local gastronomes intended to make up for lost time. Dinner was presented by the Fairmont Hotel's executive chef, Andreas Block, who presides over The Cut restaurant at the hotel.
That eatery is described by one Beijing blogger as "a steak spa with a $1 million sculpture of individual glass-blown fish swimming into the shape of a giant dragon to watch over you and ensure satisfaction".
While the Chaine party of about 50 was too large for The Cut's intimate space, the Fairmont staff turned a ballroom into a fantasy dining room, with multicolored orchids to reflect the chef's dinner theme of "color". Block himself — and perhaps the spirit of that glass dragon — circulated among the tables to make sure guests were enjoying every morsel.
But before dinner, there was a traditional champagne cocktail and an even more traditional ceremony to swear-in new board officers and new members.
On this night, Block's meat cleaver was not the biggest blade in the house: Master of Ceremonies Beat Muller, who runs Swiss Bread and the Beijing bailliage of the Chaine, touched a traditional sword to the shoulder of each honoree, including Block and new members Michael Ho, managing director of American Clubs International (Tianjin) and JC Liu, CEO of Richfields Capital.
The mix of old military swords and colorful sashes sometimes lent an aura of The Three Musketeers — though there were no plumed hats — but the whole package always felt inspired, never absurd.
"We come here to escape the daily routine," says longtime member Marcel Greenberg, who has spent a decade in China as a cosmetics entrepreneur and now a marketing consultant for Swiss firms.