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Pieces of China, Chef Lucas Sin, 7.16.20

Pieces of China, Chef Lucas Sin, 7.16.20

Pieces of China is an online series using objects to tell the story of China.

In our seventh episode, we explore the tradtional cooking vessel of the Chinese clay pot with Chef Lucas Sin. Called “Shāguō” 砂锅 in mainland China, or “Wǎ bāo” 瓦煲 in Hong Kong, Chinese clay pots are believed to be one of the oldest earthen cooking vessels in the world. Most Chinese household have at least one of these classic cooking implements — a workhorse in the kitchen that can be used to make soups, stews, or simple rice and noodle dishes, such as claypot rice, or bao zai fan 煲仔飯.

Lucas Sin is the Head of Culinary Arts at Junzi Kitchen. An Eater Young Guns Class of 2019 and Forbes 30 under 30, Sin opened his first restaurant when he was 16 in an abandoned newspaper factory in his hometown of Hong Kong. While studying Cognitive Science and English as a Yale undergraduate, Sin became spent weekends running a “Y Pop-up” restaurant out of his dorm. Beyond the bings and noodles at Junzi Kitchen, Sin also directs the funkier After Hours menu: fried chicken, instant noodles, juice-box cocktails, and the like. His monthly personal project is a collaborative high-end tasting menu exploring the narrative of contemporary Chinese cuisine, called Chef’s Study.

Selected Quotes from the Program from Lucas Sin:

The most important thing cooked in this vessel is obviously claypot rice. It’s a dish that means a lot to me, as a chef, but also my upbringing in Hong Kong.

I opened my first restaurant in HK when I was 16, and the signature dish was claypot rice with taro, and porkbelly, and a variety of cured Chinese meats. The restaurant was called bozai, meaning claypot, and—like a rapper—I called myself Bozai, too.

With claypot rice, it’s a very humble dish. At the end of the day, all you are really doing is cooking rice with meat on top of it – and it couldn’t be simpler – but there is so much technique involved.

The claypot is amazing for rice because it is semi-perforated. The clay does an amazing job of letting things breathe, as well as soaking up some of the moisture and then releasing it later. When you are cooking this claypot, traditionally over coal, you’ll have this sort of smoky perfume, as well as pushing all this heat through the claypot into the rice, and the rice ends up with a toasty, earthy flavor that is impossible to get any other way. It’s probably my favorite food in the world!

It’s still quite special to have a cook make an individual pot of rice where the meat or the fish or whatever is steamed on top of the rice is just for you.

You hear stories about chefs knowing how far away their customers are, like which table they are sitting at, and therefore timing how hot to get the food or how much to cook it, knowing that the heat of the claypot will take it the rest of the way, so when they open it it’s perfect.

The Hong Kong culinary and restaurant landscape is a petty complicated one. You can’t talk about the Hong Kong restaurant scene without thinking about gentrification, without thinking about economic inequality, about the different types of people who live there. The landscape has certainly evolved a lot, and there is a lot of worry about these old school mom and pop, traditional shops having a difficult time, for every reason possible. I think that we, as chefs who are from Hong Kong, have a bit of a responsibility to keep telling these traditional stories about traditional cookware and techniques, and also to keep spreading it with us as the diaspora expands.

Full Video of Pieces of China with Lucas Sin

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