Li Dong, originally from Beijing, is the executive chef de cuisine of Jing Yaa Tang, the acclaimed restaurant of the Beijing boutique Hotel, Opposite House.
Li Dong’s experience includes widening training and the ability to cook in different Chinese cuisines. He is a member of the international committee of the World Association of Chinese Chefs, the China Cuisine Association, and the China Five-Star Chefs Committee. Over the years, he has cooked for several large-scale banquets and international events, hosting the president of Finland and the prime minister of Malaysia, among others. Jing Yaa Tang at The Opposite House, Beijing has been awarded a Michelin star in the inaugural Michelin Guide Beijing 2020
China-underground: When and how did you start to get interested in food? How did you understand you wanted to be a Chef?
Li Dong: Growing up I’ve been interested in everything that went on in the kitchen. I found the fast-paced environment fascinating. Food is a way for people to share their history, their culture, and their hopes for the future. It’s an art form that we enjoy daily. When we’re happy we celebrate with food. When we’re sad we turn to food for comfort. I can’t think of a more interesting way of expression than through food.
Li Dong, a Beijinger Chef, brings classic and contemporary Chinese cuisine together with an effortless flair
Jing Yaa Tang Restaurant of The Opposite House Hotel
Jing Yaa Tang restaurant, designed by internationally-recognized restaurateur Alan Yau, opened in 2013, has a tranquil and upscale ambiance. The restaurant presents a selection of dishes inspired by the famous Peking duck and serving up some of the best Peking Duck of the city. Chef Li Dong says diners must order the duck at least three days in advance. The menu has also a wide range of selection classic regional dishes across China. Jing Yaa Tang restaurant is located in the basement of The Opposite House Hotel, in the heart of Beijing, Sanlitun. Chef Li Dong and his team, using the finest ingredients, will prepare expertly a wide variety of main savor authentic courses to stimulate the appetite.
Address: North, No. 11 Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing
Who influenced you as a person? Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?
My mom has always been an inspiration in my life. She was the first chef I looked up to and her philosophy on food and life has played an integral part in my personal life and my career.
What are some of the main differences in food habits when you were little and now? What are some of the changes you’ve observed?
We have a lot more access to different ingredients that I didn’t have access to as a child. Things as simple as avocado or as prized as truffles simply didn’t exist when I was young. With access to any ingredient we want from anywhere in the world, chefs today have brought culinary arts to a whole new level.
Chef Li Dong’s passion lies in making authentic Chinese regional dishes, and manage big flavors delicately executed
Traditional recipes are constantly evolving. Naturally, things adapt and change. Can you tell us about your culinary philosophy?
I love the food I grew up with. That’s why I try to pay homage to classic recipes that some chefs have forsaken for the new and innovative. To me, these classic recipes are a part of our history and deserve to be preserved for future generations to enjoy.
If we want to try to understand Chinese culture through its cuisine, what do you think Chinese cuisine would tell us?
The term Chinese cuisine is too broad. Each region has its specialties that are completely different from the others. If the generalized terminology of “Chinese cuisine” tells us anything is how vast China is.
Beijing native Chef Li Dong heads up his team to draws you in with rich traditions local and regional Chinese dishes
Chinese cuisine spans massive, diverse geography, reaching across various climate zones, with cooking techniques and ingredients specially adapted to each unique regional environment. What are your favorite Chinese cuisines to cook? What are your favorite dishes as a taster and why?
As a born and raised Beijinger I’m partial to our local cuisine. Classic dishes remind me of my childhood and bring back memories like nothing else.
Chinese cuisine is appreciated all over the world. Only recently overseas people have begun to know about regional varieties. Are there ingredients or Chinese dishes do you think would deserve greater popularity?
In recent years Beijing breakfast street food has gained popularity worldwide. These items have been our comfort food here in China for generations and I’m thrilled to see that the rest of the world has embraced them as well. I believe the next Chinese cooking method to catch on is the use of bold spices. The typical Chinese kitchen doesn’t just have soy sauce. We use a wide variety of spices when we cook to accentuate flavors and explore bold new experiences.
Can you share with us any interesting stories from the kitchen or related to your work career?
I’m very fortunate to be working with a creative and supportive team here at The Opposite House. My less conventional ideas and creations are supported which gives me the platform I need to express my creativity. Each season I take a trip to a different region in China to explore their local cuisine on a deeper level. This allows me to understand how and why these dishes were created.
How much has changed the concern about healthy food and the environment in China? Does this have influenced your way to be a Chef and make dishes?
Like with any other country in recent years there’s been an increase in the healthy dining trend. Some restaurants have sectioned off their menu dedicated especially to low-calorie dishes. As a chef, although we might not necessarily consider every food trend, we definitely will devote more time to the ones that do make sense – and healthy eating is always a great idea. Keeping this in mind, we would sometimes need to alter our preparation methods to increase the ingredients’ nutritional value. One of the simplest examples I can give that applies to any type of Chinese cuisine is the use of fresh ingredients instead of frozen or preserved.
Photo courtesy of The Opposite House