I have been looking forward to this dinner – I was introduced to Chef Zheng by many gourmands, among those many Teochew chefs, telling me to go to his private dining restaurant when I visit Chaozhou.
Chef Zheng Zhuoyang
A quick introduction to Chef Zheng. Chef Zheng Zhuoyang 鄭著陽 is the son of Chef Zheng Binghui 鄭炳輝, who was accorded Chaozhou’s four famous chefs in the first half of the 20th century. Chef Zheng Jr wasn’t too bad himself. He is currently the President of Chaozhou Culinary Association and designated masterchef for the Chaozhou cuisine genre.
In 2004, he and Masterchef Wang Hongxin 王鴻鑫 led the victorious team of Chaozhou chefs to participate in the 5th National Culinary competition and put Chaozhou cuisine firmly on the Chinese culinary map. Since then, Chaozhou cuisine is known as a fine dining choice in most cities.
Private A La Carte Dinner
Chef Zheng himself came and took our order. We were only a part of three, but he recommended a couple of dishes so that we can sample a cross-section of his Teochew culinary repertoire.
果肉海蜇頭雙拼 meatball and jellyfish
Starter – a combo of jellyfish and meatball. Teochew meatball is unlike meat roll as it lacks the five spices, just seasoning with meat and crab or fish. The combination of seafood and meat made up a lot of umami, just like the Chinese word for umami 鮮 is made of a fish and a goat.
The jellyfish uses the cap of the jellyfish instead tentacles, so it was crunchier and more flavourful.
醉紅羔蟹 drunken crab
This is the piece de resistance for Chef Zheng and he didn’t disappoint! It was by far the best drunken crab I have tasted. The crab was fattened with lots of roe (it was autumn when we were there, so the crabs were in their prime condition) and it was marinated in Chinese wine and spices. Unlike the Shanghainese version, it was savoury and retained the sweetness of the crab meat.
The technique of chopping the crab into 24 pieces was also derived after years of experience to have the best size for each piece of crab to be eaten.
荔芋香酥鵝 deep fried yam with goose
Usually we have deep fried yam with duck. This is the first time I had it with goose. Frankly, I could not taste much goose in the finished dish. But the yam was so smooth and fried well.
剁椒蒸石斑 chilli steamed grouper
The grouper served was about 800g, a bit small for filleting, but the right size for steaming. This is not a typical Teochew style of steaming fish, but it shows the innovative incorporation of other cooking styles (in this instance – Hunanese) to the repertoire.
What was interesting about this dish was the addition of noodles to soak up the goodness of the sauce – another technique borrowed from Cantonese cuisine.
While the fish was fresh and well presented, I wasn’t expecting a departure from Teochew cuisine. Would rather be trying Chef Zheng’s other fish dish.
紅燒魚翅 braised shark’s fins
While I am against shark fin harvesting, I would normally not order shark’s fin. But one of their specialty is braised shark’s fins soup, so I was tempted to try.
The braising stock was very delicious – just the right texture and not fishy like some I have tried in Singapore. It could have been paired with other ingredients and it would still be delicious so I was so guilt-ridden for ordering the shark’s fin.
八寶素菜 eight treasures vegetarian
八寶素菜 eight treasures vegetarian is a classic Teochew vegetarian dish that has been passed down for centuries, dating back as far back as the Tang dynasty. The eight treasures 八寶 include：gluten 面根泡（or dried tofu skin 腐竹）、chestnuts 栗子、lotus seeds 蓮子、black (hair) moss 發菜、Peking cabbage 大白菜、bamboo shoots 竹筍、straw mushrooms 草菇、dried shiitake mushrooms 香菇.
But the current format was closer to the version made popular during the Qing dynasty. According to records, a culinary competition was held during the reign of Emperor Qianlong at the Kaiyuan Temple in Chaozhou. Chaozhou chefs are famous to make vegetarian dishes by “flavouring” it with meat stock 素菜葷做, i.e. the vegetable are poached or steamed together with pork or chicken stock. As it is a Buddhist temple, it has to be a pure vegetarian dish. So an ingenious chef used a towel to soak in meat stock the night before the competition, and at the day of the competition, took the dry towel to the temple and boiled it in the water. Cheating but he won the competition.
酸梅芭樂 guava with sour plum
A complimentary dish, the guava was marinated with sour plum powder and it had a sweet and salty flavour profile, and a perfect ending to a great meal.
The restaurant is housed in the old city of Chaozhou, in a late 19th century house. The rooms of the house are converted to individual dining halls, so you have a lot of privacy when dining here. Do not expect very intricate plating – what you get is Teochew cuisine at its best.
We regretted not ordering a day earlier, so that we can try their more traditional (and laborious ) creations. But this was already a great introduction to traditional Teochew fine dining.
Chef Zheng’s Private Dining 鄭廚私房菜
Tel : 0768-3991310
Date Visited : Sep 2019