People nowadays place especial emphasis on food, whether it is foodie culture, haute cuisine, or organic health food. In many cultures around the world, food has been served up as a luxury, though it has also been plied as a curative or a preventive for illnesses. Fresh ingredients that undergo a minimum of cooking and processing served in the proper proportion is perhaps the golden rule of health, now and in ancient times. This principle of healthy eating is also at the heart of the menu of the 2018 Tang Prize Banquet, which will be held this September 21 at the iconic Grand Hotel in Taipei. This year’s theme is When the Tang Prize Meets LOHAS. Such popular foods as red quinoa, dried radish, salted mullet roe, pine nuts, dragon tiger grouper, and Japanese wagyu beef are on the menu for this night of haute and healthy cuisine. This dietary principle, Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, or LOHAS, and a meticulous cooking ethic, will celebrate this year’s prize recipients.
Each year of the Tang Prize is accompanied with a unique banquet menu. In 2014, poetry from the Tang dynasty (the dynasty that gives the prize its name) greeted the inaugural guests; in 2016, the four fields of the prize served as inspiration for new and creative dishes. Now, in 2018, the Tang Prize brings LOHAS to the banquet table. For this special occasion, the Tang Prize Foundation sought the assistance of the Chinese Gourmet Association, a giant in the Taiwanese culinary world, and its director Hong-Che Guo, a national level culinary expert. Guo’s menu design will be realized by Yeh Ba-Hua, head chef of the Grand Hotel and expert in Cantonese cooking. The menu was designed in consideration of the Biopharmaceutical Science field of the prize and used Chinese cuisine as its medium. For its materials, only the best, freshest local ingredients. With a well-designed menu and a skilled cook, the ingredients can find their freshest and healthiest expression in eight unique dishes. Before the night ends, the guests will also see the fancy knifework of Grant Hotel chef Xu Yao-guang, who will be carving chrysanthemum shapes out of tofu for each visitor. The flower-shaped tofu will be served along with a sweet chrysanthemum soup, giving each guest something sweet to remember the evening.
Light yet full of flavor, meaty yet melts in the mouth—Japanese Wagyu Beef Delights Diners
The Tang Prize, an international event, represents local flavors and international trends. As such, the many Taiwanese ingredients on the menu are joined by special ingredients from abroad. For this year’s guests, the designers chose Japanese Wagyu for the dish Pan-fried Diced Beef Seasoned with Garlic. It is rich and buttery, says Guo, but not overly so; it is so well marbled that it melts in the mouth. And to retain the flavor of this top-cut, the chef dry pan fries it without any oil other than the fat from the beef itself. It is served with just a dash of salt and pepper to taste, and a side of sliced garlic to clear the pallet and add another layer of flavor.
Three parts red cabbage and one part Taiwanese onion are fried in the pan from the beef and drizzled with white vinegar and sugar, creating another complement to the beef, not only to its flavors but also to the visual presentation of the dish as a whole. The high quality of the ingredients and their preparation are a tribute to the prize winners.
Aged dried radish—adding deep cultural tones
Of the many unique dishes on the menu, the one that best represents local flavor is perhaps Chicken Soup with Preserved Radish, a dish that in the eyes of many Taiwanese is synonymous with family and togetherness. The soup uses white radish, dried radish, and preserved radish (representing children, parents, and grandparents); these three “ages” of radish create a complex profile that supports the red-feather chicken leg that gives the soup its silken texture and slightly sweet taste. While the dish may appear simple, it is this rustic simplicity that draws people back again and again. Traditionally, during major holidays such as Chinese New Year, Taiwanese mothers use preserved radish prepared by the grandmothers to cook this special soup. Children grow up with the memory of the soup, and since it is only had a few times a year, it gains a special place in the heart.
Tofu—a health food and an art piece
The skills of internationally renowned chef Xu Yao-guang will also be on display at the banquet, especially in the second to last dish of the evening, a sweet chrysanthemum soup with chrysanthemum-shaped tofu. This dish is a testament to chef Xu’s knife skills. He first cuts the tofu with a round mold 6 centimeters in diameter and then makes a total of 108 cuts vertically, and 108 cuts horizontally, each 0.5 centimeters in depth. As a result, what was once a solid block of nondescript tofu becomes a chrysanthemum blossom with 11,664 individual petal-like strands. When placed in a bowl of sweetened chrysanthemum flavored soup, the tofu-flower blossoms into something truly verging on art…though the taste will remind you that art can also be a culinary delight.
Food will be not the only sensory experience at the banquet; the night will be seasoned with music and performance. The Tang Prize Foundation has again invited the internationally famous U-Theatre. U-Theatre is best known for its fascinating blend of traditional Chinese martial arts, drumming, Tai Chi-inspired body movements, and ritual dance. The group will perform two of its pieces for the guests, “A Downpour” and “Breaking Dawn.” These two pieces represent the hardships that test the mettle of people; only by becoming stronger do such people break through to the light of hope and creation. Also performing will be the Great River Arts Group, who will bring the East and West into a creative dialogue through music—just as the Tang Prize does so through ideas and innovation. Across culinary, visual, and audible arts, the Tang Prize Banquet will delight the senses and give due honor to its distinguished laureates.
Accompanying the Tang Prize Award Ceremony on September 21, Tang Prize Week will run from September 19 to 28. Events include a reception, banquet, concert, lectures and forums with the laureates, and many other side events. Please visit the Tang Prize website for more information on events: www.tang-prize.org/week.php