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Our cookbook of the week is the Bao Family Cookbook by French restaurateur Céline Chung and team.
The Bao Family Cookbook connects restaurateur Céline Chung’s two cultures: her Chinese heritage and Parisian home. An extension of her Bao Family chain of restaurants, where chefs use locally sourced French ingredients to make classic Chinese dishes, the aesthetic is bold and modern. The recipes, inspired by her mother’s home cooking and favourites shared by Bao Family chefs, celebrate the diversity and regionality of Chinese cuisine.
Since Chung founded Bao Family with Billy Pham in 2018, one restaurant has grown into four, with the first outside Paris slated to open in Marseille in spring-summer 2024. The Bao Family Cookbook was published in France in 2022, then in Italy that same year and, in 2023, in Canada and the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. “It’s an honour to have it published in countries other than France,” says Chung.
On Jan. 18, 2019, Chung and Pham opened Petit Bao, the first Bao Family restaurant. In designing the space, they took equal inspiration from Paris and Shanghai to show a different side of Chinese dining. Their addition to Paris’s gastronomic scene hit its mark; people lined up for a table just one week after opening. They weren’t just coming — they were coming back.
“I remember my heart was beating so fast. It was so exciting. And this excitement and this happiness led us to today,” says Chung, laughing. “Having now four restaurants and a cookbook published worldwide and new projects to come.”
Chung was born in Paris, and her family is from Wenzhou, a city in China’s Zhejiang province. At 20, driven by a desire to discover China firsthand, she did a university exchange in Shanghai. “I had this double culture inside myself. When I was growing up, I didn’t understand how we could live so differently in different cultures. The values are not the same. The traditions are not the same. We don’t eat the same food. And I was always questioning who I am. ‘What is my place in this world? How can I define myself?’ So it was really an identity quest.”
Drawn in by the rich food culture, she ate widely, visiting Yunnan, Sichuan, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Beijing. When she returned to Paris after her studies, she craved the food she had tasted there.
Chung had long looked for ways to bridge her cultures. When searching for a meaningful project, she realized that sharing meals with family and friends are life’s best moments, whether in China or France.
“For me, the link between China and France is our sensitivity to the table and to food,” she says. “We wake up in the morning, and we are thinking about, ‘What am I going to get for my breakfast? What am I going to get for lunch? What am I going to get for dinner? What am I going to cook for this weekend, because I will welcome my family? What products? What wine?’ We always think about food. It’s part of our daily life.”
When Chung quit her job as a business consultant to launch Bao Family, she had no prior experience in the restaurant industry. “I left everything — my job, my salary, all my studies — to follow my passion for Chinese cuisine. And I had to start from zero.” To learn more, she managed the Parisian burger brand PNY for a year and took a culinary class in Shanghai.
Chinese restaurants tend to be more traditional in Paris, says Chung, and take a conventional approach to the decor, the dishes and plating. She feels the Bao Family brand has resonated with younger generations because of its unique aesthetics and overall vibe.
“I love art. I love architecture. I love travelling. I built the company by assembling everything I loved in one project and offering a new way to experience Chinese cuisine. So, with very good food but also nice architecture, nice music, very cool service.”
Chung wrote the Bao Family Cookbook with the help of her team. The more than 80 recipes span chapters on breakfast, appetizers, bao and dim sum, soups and noodles, mains, rice and noodles and desserts. They designed the dishes to be reproducible at home, with straightforward techniques and accessible ingredients.
The same creative process at play at the restaurants is reflected in the recipes. The book features portraits of Bao Family chefs alongside their visions of Chinese cuisine. When they came up with a name for the restaurant group, “Family” felt right. “Our actual culture is more like family style. We take care of each other. We spend a lot of time together. We create a lot of things together, like the recipes. It’s always between me and all my chefs. Even the drinks — it’s the (servers) who create the drinks. It’s a co-construction with all the talents that we have, and we build this together.”
Growing up eating her mom’s cooking and visiting Wenzhou with family, Chung started learning about the regionality of Chinese cuisine when she lived in Shanghai. For the first time, she travelled outside her parents’ hometown and experienced the differences. (“That’s when I discovered that China was like a continent.”) Though the book takes a broad view, the recipes hail from China’s eight culinary regions, and Chung highlights each area’s specificities.
Five years after Chung opened her first restaurant, with a cookbook published in three languages, opening people’s minds is her goal. “What’s important for me is to break all the clichés that people can have of Chinese cuisine, because it suffers from a lot of stereotypes. And I want to showcase the beauty and the poetry and all the beautiful complexity that we have behind this culture. And so, that’s why, for me, everything is important. The food but also how you show it. That is my mission.”
Recommended from Editorial
Makes: dough for 15 to 20 jiaozi
4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Scant 1 cup (200 mL) water
1 tsp salt
Prepare the dough: mix the flour, water and salt in a bowl and start kneading. Transfer the dough to a work surface and continue to knead until you get a smooth dough. Cover and leave to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
Prepare the filling (recipe follows).
Divide the dough into four pieces to form balls, then roll them into logs of the same length and diameter.
Break the log into 3/4 oz (20 g) portions and roll each into a ball. Lightly flour each ball. Flatten each ball of dough with the palm of your hand. Use one hand to move the dough, and the other to use the rolling pin. Even pressure must be used over the lower part of the dough.
Rotate the dough and roll out gradually until you make a full turn. If the dough sticks to your work surface, put the dough round directly into the extra flour, and then continue rolling out.
When the dough is about 1/8 inch (2 to 3 mm) thick, and about the size of the palm of your hand, place about 1 oz (25 g) filling in the centre.
Using both hands, bring your fingers inward and squeeze the top of the dumpling with your fingertips and thumbs to close it.
Arrange in a steamer basket and steam or boil for 6 to 7 minutes. You can also cook them like guotie (pot stickers): fry for 1 minute, pour in water, cover, and then remove the lid.
Makes: 30 to 40 jiaozi
2 recipes jaozi dough (see recipe)
1 lb 5 oz (600 g) ground pork
2/3 cup (150 mL) pork broth
5 1/2 oz (150 g) garlic chives, chopped
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chopped ginger
2 stems scallions, chopped
3 pinches white pepper
Black vinegar, to serve
Prepare the filling: mix all the ingredients in a bowl, then allow to rest in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.
Assemble and cook according to the step-by-step instructions (see dough recipe). Eat with black vinegar as a dipping sauce.
10 1/2 oz (300 g) clams
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp white sugar
2 red Asian shallots
1 oz (30 g) white parts of scallion
1 fresh chili
3 1/2 oz (100 g) red bell pepper
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp chopped ginger
A few drops sesame oil
2 stems cilantro, chopped
Soak the clams in salted water for at least 2 hours, then rub the shells well to remove any impurities. Rinse.
To make the sauce, mix the Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and sugar in a bowl. Finely chop the shallots, the white part of the scallions and fresh chili. Cut the bell pepper into thin matchsticks.
In a wok over medium heat, heat the vegetable oil and sauté the garlic, ginger, scallion, shallots, half the chili and the bell pepper for 30 seconds. Add the clams. When the clams start to open, add the sauce and stir until they all open.
Pour a few drops of sesame oil into the wok and serve with chopped cilantro and the remaining fresh chili.
STIR-FRIED VEGETABLE NOODLES
9 oz (250 g) wheat noodles
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
2 garlic scapes
2 bok choy
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp chopped ginger
2 tbsp light soy sauce
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
1/2 cup (60 g) bean sprouts
Cook the noodles according to the package instructions, drain, and allow to cool. Soak the shiitake mushrooms in water for 20 minutes to rehydrate them, then drain, reserving about 3 1/2 tablespoons of the soaking water. Cut the
mushrooms into strips. If the garlic scapes are thick, cook them in salted boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes (otherwise, you can add them directly to the noodles). Cut off the bok choy roots and separate the leaves.
Add the oil to hot pan and fry the garlic, ginger and mushrooms in the oil. Stir for 30 seconds, then add the bok choy and garlic scapes. Mix again. Pour in the reserved mushroom soaking water and cook for 30 seconds.
Add the noodles and soy sauces and stir-fry energetically until all the sauce is well distributed and noodles are heated through. Finally, add the bean sprouts, stir one last time and serve immediately.
Recipes and images excerpted from Bao Family Cookbook: Recipes from the Eight Culinary Regions of China. First American edition published in 2023 by Interlink Books. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
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