Steven Liu: "Simplicity is the Key"

A chat with Taipei–born chef Steven Liu, known to millions as a judge on MasterChef, mentor for the China region at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016.

Known to millions as the tough–cookie judge on MasterChef China, Steven Liu learned all about discipline the hard way. From flipping burgers at McDonald’s, to braving the sharp tongue of Gordon Ramsay, the Taipei-born chef has truly earned his spurs in the cut and thrust world of professional cooking.

But the founder of high–end food and beverage consultancy The Steven’s Concept Ltd. is surprisingly approachable when it comes to encouraging young chefs into the fold.

Having learned the fundamentals of French cuisine at Taiwan’s top cooking school, the self-styled “ambassador of delicacy” wants to share his knowledge and experience. Which is why he’ll make the perfect mentor for Chang Liu, finalist from the China region at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2016.

Chang Liu, finalist from the China region

Ahead of the contest in Milan, he spoke to Fine Dining Lovers about his cooking philosophy and why the kitchen is a battlefield.

How is Chinese food changing?
Chinese food has incorporated more and more international elements into both its cooking techniques and the seasoning of its dishes. Chinese people also pay more attention to the original flavour of the food material. They prefer a healthy diet and dishes that are easy to make.

How do you strike a balance between tradition and modernity in your cuisine?
I respect traditional cuisine, both in terms of its cooking techniques and its flavour. But as the world becomes more open, people’s tastes also change with the times. To meet the guests’ expectations, the colour, aroma and flavour of the food should also advance with the times. However, I’ve never forgotten my ‘Shoshin’ (beginner’s mind) during the process of creating.

Why is simplicity key to your cooking philosophy?
Good food is not about fancy techniques or delicate seasoning. It’s about delivering humanity and emotion to the eaters. A bowl of rice congee is nothing special at ordinary times, but it can warm up the stomach and heart of the patients of a bad cold, or those who brave the cold weather and still rush to work. In that case, this congee can be the best food.

You have a reputation for being tough and uncompromising on MasterChef China, are you anything like that in real kitchens?
Kitchens are like battlefields, and the chef is the general. A chef needs to be calm to orchestrate who should do what. A chef also needs to set the standard. If someone’s cooking can’t reach that standard, the quickest and most effective solution is to make him/her drop everything and redo the dish, because the guests are waiting for the delicacy. If any guest shakes their head to the dish we make, we have lost the battle.

What did you learn about discipline working with Gordon Ramsay?
Progress arises from our self requirement. First of all, you need to be confident in your dish, so that your dish is qualified to be presented to your guests. This confidence is not blind; it means that even if you fail 10,000 times, you’re still passionate to draw your lessons and try your best on your 10,001st time.

Has MasterChef China inspired many young people in China to become chefs?
I’m not sure if many people change their career to be cooks because of Masterchef, but Masterchef does lead a lot of people to fall in love with cooking. The show has also transformed people’s impression of cooks — they no longer think Chinese cooks are always big–bellied and greasy. Chinese cooks can be clean, sharp and stylish.

What projects are you involved with at the moment?
Recently I’m busy shooting Star Chef 3, and I was invited by Finnair to help them design the customised menu for the business class of the flight line from China to Helsinki. This year I will devote more time and energy to my professional career.

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