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Sichuan cuisine in crisis?

Reporter: Tao Yuan 丨 CCTV.com

08-13-2016 13:52 BJT

Sichuan cuisine has long been one of China’s favorite styles of dining. Its bold flavor, particularly the spiciness, is increasingly winning popularity in the world. But in Chengdu City, the capital of Sichuan Province, there's a sense of panic wafting in the air for the region's most celebrated cooking.

In China’s food capital - a bustling food scene. From rowdy street-style dining, or chic modern restaurants with a touch a bourgeois atmosphere, there’s something for everyone.

But beyond the energetic dining boom, some argue, there’s chaos. Leading this theory - retired chef, Wang Kaifa.

“I said they are a cooking disaster. They said, 'Well, customers like it.' So this is a story of when the willy-nilly chefs meet the willy-nilly customers,” said Wang Kaifa, retired chief.

Wang Kaifa started a mission to preserve tradition. He and dozens of his friends started a club, called the Sichuan Old Chefs Traditional Skills Exchange Society. Every week, they meet to swap recipes… and opinions against what they see as the downgrade of standards.

“Everyone is fixated on the spicy and numbing flavors, because that’s the easiest, you just throw in the chili peppers. It’s as though they were what the cuisine is all about. We’ve lost the essence, which is the many varieties of flavors for every dish,” Wang said.

A disconcerting trend for some but it’s certainly gaining traction. Proud owner Zhu Jiantao even named his restaurant, “The Chef is Crazy.”

“The recipe says 50 grams of chili and 100 grams of peppercorn, but we want it be to 100 grams of chili and 200 grams of peppercorn. We are crazy in a sense that we are after big-time spicy and big-time numbing,” said Zhu Jiantao, owner of The Chief Is Crazy.

The dauntingly strong flavor making a name - as the “underworld style.” Your stomach may protest later, but certainly not your taste buds.

“It’s spicy, tasty. Look at this meat, it puts you on fire. When you eat it, it makes you feel so good.”

It sure doesn’t have same effect on Wang Kaifa.

“You use 200 grams of chilli peppers today and he uses 400 tomorrow. How much is right then? I’m not against the underworld style, but even the underworld should have its rules,” Wang said.

But Wang Kaifa also tries hard not to be a traditionalist.

“I’ve been doing some reflecting. The world has become all-encompassing, and cooking should be too,” Wang said.

Now at the age of 71, he and his students are also doing something unheard of - promoting what they dubbed “refined Sichuan cuisine,” making the dishes suitable for the most graceful of occasions. Hoping that different styles and adaptions can bring the culinary heritage to greater prosperity.

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