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China Daily Global / 2021-04 / 01 / Page014

An acquired taste

By Li Yingxue | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-04-01 00:00

Food doyen's photography helps dish up the creativity of chefs, Li Yingxue reports.

The career of food editor Liu Dahua has been built on good taste and hailed as a recipe for success. The 83-year-old has visited thousands of restaurants and catering companies, talking to hundreds of chefs. Since 1998, as well as writing food articles, he has also been taking food photos.

In October, Liu published a book titled Zhuanshi Liuhen (meaning "records of catering"), a selection of articles about food companies and chefs in China. Five months later, on March 21, his second book, Jingtouxia Huameishi ("discussing food through the lens") was released.

"If the first book is based on my eating experience, the new one is based on my photo shoots," Liu says.

The book collects 136 dishes from more than 50 chefs. What is striking is that it not only collects dishes from master chefs, but also selects the culinary offerings of the profession's rising young stars.

The dishes are divided into three categories-time-honored and classic, new and creative, and the exotic.

Unlike most food books, which usually provide the recipe of each dish, in Liu's book, he simply records when and where he took the photo, who the chef was, and his comments on the dish.

The photos are selected from tens of thousands that Liu has taken over the years, but ones snapped before 2000 were all captured on film and were not saved in any electronic form.

The earliest photo selected for the book is a "duck pyramid" taken in 2003 in Beijing.

The dish was created by Li Fengxin, who had, at the time, just been named chef at a Beijing branch of Quanjude, one of China's best-known roast duck chain restaurants.

Li was inspired by a traditional pork dish, whereby a large square piece of cooked meat is sliced into a long ribbon, which is then folded and formed into an inverse pyramid. It is then stuffed with pickled vegetables before being upended onto a plate and served. The duck meat was prepared in a similar way and steamed in a specially-shaped bowl before being presented to the diner.

Wang Renxing, former deputy editor-in-chief at China Food Newspaper, has always been an admirer of Liu's work. He says that Liu, unusually, delivers both articles and photos.

"There are usually two types of food books in bookstores-recipes and catering management," Wang says. "Liu's book impresses me because it covers food from a culinary aesthetic angle, and his reviews come from decades of experience in the catering industry."

Wang takes the first dish in the book, stewed crab meat and silver carp head-a traditional dish from Jiangsu province which dates back to the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)-as an example.

The book can be used as a reference book for chefs and restaurateurs, according to Wang.

"The dishes in the book cover the culinary history of China over thousands of years, as well as recording the culinary innovation of the past two decades," he says.

"The photos also show the philosophy and cultural differences between Chinese and Western cuisines," he adds.

Fu Longcheng, president of the China Cuisine Association, believes that Liu's book is not just a collection of hundreds of delicious dishes, but also bears witness to the development of the modern catering industry in China.

"In the book, both the inheritance and creativity of Chinese cuisine are shown, as well as the fusion of Eastern and Western cuisine. It reflects the persistence of restaurateurs, the ingenuity of chefs, and the enterprise culture of each restaurant," Fu says.

"Liu is a catering industry observer and a recorder, and his focus on food makes his style of food photography sincere and down-to-earth," Fu says. "We can see an octogenarian's love for culinary art in the book."

Trends in food photography change every couple years, as Liu observes. Sometimes the focus is a single color background, other times it's colorful. Equally, the accessories around the plate also change over time.

"Taking photos of food is different from other subjects, as it not only presents the appearance of the dish, but should also transmit the 'flavor' of the dish," Liu says.

"Taste cannot be reflected by pure words, or within the frame of the picture, so we need to use the plating, the color pairing with the main ingredient, the side dish and the tableware to present the 'flavor'," he adds.

Liu usually gets his inspiration when the dish is served, and will take dozens of photos of a dish before selecting one that meets his requirements.

A veteran expert in food photography, Liu still has many plans for the future.

"Even though I've taken photos of food for over two decades, I still haven't found my own style," Liu says. "From this year, I plan to work on forming a unique style, then, maybe when I am 90, I'll think about quitting."


Some pictures which veteran food editor Liu Dahua has taken of dishes that are included in his new book, titled Jingtouxia Huameishi ("discussing food through the lens").They are braised fresh bamboo shoots (left), lotus seeds coated in sugar (middle), sweet cherry tomato (top right) and abalone (above right). LIU DAHUA/FOR CHINA DAILY



Liu Dahua attends the launch of his recent book Jingtouxia Huameishi in Beijing on March 21. CHINA DAILY



The cover of the book and some of the inside pages, with pictures and his accounts and comments on the dishes. CHINA DAILY

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