Monday, June 30, 2008

Rainy Day

It is now Beijing's rainy season... It has rained here every evening (always in the evening, starting around 7pm) for the past several days. It keeps the days humid and it makes it very difficult to get a cab at the end of the day. Don't know why, but for some reason most taxi cabs quit running when it rains. Fortunately, there are some cabs running, but it takes a long time to wait for one. Annoying.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Future Summer Olympic Games

While this year's Olympics is still more than a month away, planning has begun for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England.

Bids are in for the 2016 Summer Olympics, as well. Several countries have submitted bid applications, though not all were complete. Four host bids have been accepted: Chicago, USA; Madrid, Spain; Tokyo, Japan; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The International Olympic Committee will hold make the decision October 9, 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark

My vote is for Brazil... I lived in Sao Paulo for 2 years and would love the opportunity to return, especially as a chef.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cost of Living in Beijing

I've learned some things about the cost of living in Beijing. It seems a house in Beijing runs around 14,000 RMB per square meter (that's around $2,000 US pre square meter). However, housing outside the city is around 3,500 RMB per square meter (around $500 per square meter). This means a 2,000 square foot house would cost around $240,000 in Beijing and the same house would cost around $60,000).

To make matters even more difficult, the average annual income for a Chinese family is only 30,000 RMB (around $4,500 per year). This kind of money makes owning real property difficult, almost impossible for most...

Olympic Challenges

What are the challenges we face providing the food service for the Olympics? In the case of these Olympic Games there are several... The first and most obvious - the language barrier. As a Western chef, I am here teaching Western food, methods, and techniques but I have no grasp of the Chinese language. Several of the Chinese cooks speak at least a little English, and that helps. I speak slowly and use broken, simple English, similar to their level of English. That coupled with a lot of demonstration seems to do the trick. If I need to give more complicated directions there are interpreters on hand.

Another major challenge right now is the availability of product. We are going through many levels of bureaucracy - customs approvals, Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, federal government, local government... All the red tape has left our refrigerators empty and our cupboards bare. For example, we have absolutely no fresh or frozen vegetables and none will be available for another week or so. It appears that all of these levels of involvement in the supply chain were not ready for the volume of purchasing...

Now is the time to work out these issues... If this happens when the games start we could be in real trouble.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Pollution - An Update

While the Chinese government, the city of Beijing, and the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games has worked together on a plan to vastly diminish the amount of pollution in the air in Beijing, it is apparent that nothing has been done yet. Just as an example:

This is a picture from the third floor of the International Broadcast Center. You can see the Olympic Tower and can faintly see the Olympic Stadium (the Bird's Nest), less than a block away, through the flag poles in the background. The Bird's Nest, as you can see, is veiled in fog and mist; that mist is the pollution in the air at around 4pm.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

IBC Main Dining Opens Today

The main dining area at the International Broadcast Center opened today.

This is me and Andy - don't know his Chinese name... It doesn't really matter anyway - he goes by Scotland. He just came back to China after graduating from a Culinary school in Scotland.

A couple of pictures of the serving lines in the main dining area:

This is me with Chef Ozzy (from Turkey) and Chef Dan (from Arizona):

These banners are flying in corridors all over Olympic Venues:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Just A Lazy Day

Nothing went on today... and it was a good day. With everything I did over the past 3 days I wanted to spend this last day of my 4-day break just relaxing, getting ready for the upcoming work load. With the Olympics a little over 6 weeks away, (6 weeks from Friday) days off and time to relax will become more and more infrequent. Techinicians and camera crews from all over the world are arriving to get their boradcast stations set up and ready for the Games. The party is about to begin.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Visit to the Summer Palace

It was a beautiful morning in Beijing - just perfect for a visit to the historic Summer Palace. This is the place the royal family would go, as recent as the early 1900s, to escape the heat and humidity of the Forbidden City. The vast number of trees helps keep the Summer Palace cool, even in Beijing's summer heat.

Traditional Chinese music was being performed at the Grand Theater of the Palace.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Beware the Street Vendor

Sanitation standards are certainly not the same in China as they are in the US. When traveling here, be careful when eating food from a street vendor; be careful eating food from a supermarket even. Meat, for example, is not generally kept under refrigeration. This short video clip, for example, shows snacks available at a street market - WaFungJing. Not to mention the selection of foods available (scorpions, chicken hearts, grubs, squids, and unknown meats) all of it sits out all day and none of it is refrigerated. Enjoy, at your own risk.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Whirlwind Tour of Historic Beijing

I visited many historic places around Beijing today, starting with Wal Mart.
After Wal Mart, I took a subway to Tien' anman Square and the Forbidden City to see the historic Royal Palace.
From the Forbidden City we walked to the Temple of Heaven. We took a wrong turn and ended up down an alley, witnessing some incredible poverty, in the middle of one of the wealthiest cities in China. This is definitely still a developing country.
Finally... We made it to the Temple of Heaven. This is the Hall of Prayer.
It was a great day... Lots of walking; we covered almost 15 miles today, on foot.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Beijing Public Transportation - the Adventure

Public transportation in Beijing is an adventure all to itself. It seems as though traffic signals, painted lines, and speed limit signs are only suggestions. Taxi drivers, most of them anyway, drive as though they were the only ones on the road. In reality, there are 15 million people in Beijing, many with cars of their own. According to a recent National Geographic documentary on the the traffic problem in Beijing, the city never intended on having personal vehicles on the road and never designed a road system that would accomodate the vast number of vehicles. Of course, the number of vehicles on the road also contributes to the pollution problem. Beijing, according to the documentary, accounts for 20% of the vehicle fatalities in the world - all in one city. I believe the problem will only get worse.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tightened Security

Security at the Olympic Park and all around China has gotten and will continue to get tight in anticipation of this year's games - the largest Olympic Games in history. There is the threat of terrorist activity from Islamic extremists from Tibet. So much so that the government has ordered citizens indoors during the torch run, as the torch makes its way through China towards Beijing. As the torch enters a city, cars are prohibited from being on the roads, shops and businesses are closed, and people are encouraged to stay indoors and watch the torch relay from home. Many go out to witness the relay in person, but most comply with the orders of the government.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Lesson From the Chinese

One of the culinary students from Shanghai, Cheng Hui, has taught me an important lesson. Hui is on his way to a very bright career in culinary arts, but not before paying his dues. He knows the price to pay for success, respects the system, and is willing to follow it. He is ambitious but focused. Hui is dedicated to his art and wants to learn all he can. In his pursuit of excellence, and the lesson for me, is that he is patient and not only learns but masters one skill before moving on to another. That's the progressive learning that takes place in a Chinese culinary school - start with basic skills, master them, and then move on, building on those basic skills. His desire to master the culinary arts has taken him to pursue self-study, outside the classroom. He has mastered the art of oriental fruit carving by careful observation and practice. There's a lesson in that for everyone.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Beautiful Flowers in Beijing

Enjoyed a day at the Beijing Flower Market. Beijing is a large city full of rich history, some of the richest history in all of Asia; but, as very large cities go, it is a dirty city. Not dirty from the position of morality, but rather literally dirty. The construction going on around town, the number of cars and busses on the road, and the factories in production all add to a terrible pollution problem. It was a breath of fresh air to find such beauty in the midst of dirty city.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Trip to the Beijing Zoo

Today, James Stack (a Chef from Australia) and I asked the Shanghai group to join us on a day trip to the Beijing Zoo. It was a very nice day for a visit to the zoo - not too hot, not too crowded (for Chinese standards), and most of the animals were out and about. It seemed as though half of the zoo were birds; very few apes, cats, etc. However, the highlight of the day was the Giant Panda House. It was magnificent.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Great Wall of China

Spent a wet and rainy day at the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This section of Wall was built 1404 BC. It was a difficult 550 meter climb to reach the Wall, sometimes at an 80-degree incline. We hiked about 1 1/2 miles of the Wall; that, too, was a difficult climb. When the Wall was built soldiers used a variety of steps - depth, width, height. The view was incredible. The thought of the 3,500 years of history that took place on this very place was an incredible experience. It was an awesome day.

Friday, June 13, 2008

No Fresh Air

The pollution today is so bad in Beijing that you can't see across the street. Everytime you inhale you suck in dust and dirt particles and you can feel each and every one. It gets trapped in your chest and you gag and cough and cough and cough and cough some more.

Such has been the past few days. And today really is a day in which one can not see across the street. The pollution resembles really dense fog, but you can tell when you inhale that this is not fog.

The government has a plan, though, to clean up the air quality before the games. One month before the games begin no personal cars will be allowed on the street, only public trasportation. Also, all construction projects will have to cease and factories will have to close. They are hoping that this will clean up the air quality. I am hoping the same thing, 'cause it's really bad.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Surprising Chinese Food

There is a big surprise in Chinese food. Cumin and cilantro, staple ingredients in Latin food, are also prominent ingredients in a lot of Chinese food. Before coming to Beijing, I considered garlic, ginger, and soy sauce as Chinese staples. Well, come to find out, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce are certainly prominent. But, cumin, cilantro, sizchuan peppers, cloves, cinnamon, and star anise are just as widely used to add flavor to a variety of dishes. How these spices are used is a subject to be covered some other time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gearing Up For Show Time

There are three main buildings with food services: the International Braodcast Center (IBC), Media Press Center (MPC), and Athlete's Village (AV). Currently, IBC is the only building open. There are 6 eating venues in the building, two of which are open. The main dining area opens in a couple of weeks and the staff is preparing for that opening. We are currnelty feeding about 1,000 people, mostly staff, but expect to be feeding as many as 18,000 within a month or so. That kind of volume requires a considerable amount of perpartation - menu planning, recipe development, practicing, etc. A rotating 8-cycle menu with food featured from all over the world will require a great amount of practice and preparation.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

And the Staff Keeps Growing

Another nine chefs arrived today at locations all around Olympic Park - three Executive Chefs and six Sous Chefs. Only a few are internationals while most of them are from China. This is still only a fraction of the management staff yet to arrive. In total, there will be about 700 managers, 230 of whom are internationals, all managing about 7,000 cooks, servers, and other food service workers. This is a world-class event staffed by a global team.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Week 2 begins

This is the second of twelve weeks for me in China and what an awesome experience it's been so far. We're starting to gear up for the influx of media and athletes. Finish carpenters are putting the final touches on the main dining area in the International Broadcast Center. We take over the kitchen by the middle of this week and start cooking on the hot line. We won't be serving anyone out of that kitchen for several days. All of the cooking we will be doing from there will be simply to teaching the Chinese how to use Western equipment and teaching them the recipes and menu items from around the world.

In the IBC main dining we will be serving pizza, pastas, sandwiches, kabobs, salads; we will be preparing Italian, German, Indian, Mediterranian, and more. Within a few weeks, we will be serving thousands. So, we need to take the opportunity now to work everything out so that we get it right when it's show time.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Some Photos from the Orient

Here are some of the pictures I've taken of my first week in China...
Sightseeing in Beijing:

My Kitchen:

My Apartment:

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Look at ancient China

While people settled present-day Beijing as early as 1,000 BC, it wasn't until 1 October 1949 that the People's Republic of China emerged, after centuries of war and strife. The revered Chairman Mao Zedong struggled to overcome the effects of ancient fuedalism and colonialism to create a new China.

I spent the day visiting part of China's rich history. A was asked to accompany a group to Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. An entire day was still not enough to soak in all of the history of this part of China's story. Tianamen Square was the chosen place for many royal ceremonies while the Forbidden City was the center of China's government and home of centuries of China's royal family.

The most significant aspect of today was the events surrounding my tour of the Square. I manage several cooks from culinary schools throughout China. A group of six cooks from Shanghai extended the invitation for me to join them on their tour. This is significant because the Chinese rarely interact with Westerners. This was an expression of deep respect and honor.

The Chinese, according to their culture, live by guanxi - a belief in honor and respect according to status. They seek out the person or people of highest standing and try to draw closer to them by showering them with invitations and gifts. The fact that I was invited to accompany them on this excursion was a mark of guanxi and I feel deeply honored.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Day At A Beijing Hospital

This morning was interesting, to say the least. In order to work in food service in China, one must have a license - a kind of Chinese health permit. So I had to go to one of many local health clinics in Beijing for my health permit physical exam. Blood sample, stool sample, chest x-ray, and more in an ironically less-than-steril environment. I'll have to go back for a renewal in 2 months.

I work with some great chefs - some of the best in China as well as world-class talent from other parts of the world. I work directly under Dan Noonan who works at a resort on Northern Arizona's Lake Powell. We have become really good friends, as we have been able to spend time talking about familiar places around Lake Powell (me and my family spent 5 years in St George - southern Utah).

This is the beauty of working the Olympic Games. The opportunity to soak in the rich cultural diversity of this planet is available no where else like it is at the Olympics. More than 200 countries will come to Beijing, partaking of China's rich history, but also sharing part of their own. The culinary staff is just as diverse as the athletes of the games. I am truly honored to have this opportunity.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Typical Day

Days at the Olympic Park start around 6 am and end around 4 pm. In a couple of weeks food service will run 24 hours per day. Currently, we only feed the staff (about 1,000 people) and only feed them breakfast and lunch.

The culinary staff is divided into teams, representing food from all over the world - Mediterranian, Western, Chinese. I am working with the Western hot food section, preparing multiple entrees, starch, and vegetables from the United States. The challenge right now (and possibly going forward throughout the whole event) is to prepare and present global cuisine with Chinese ingredients. The availablility of ingredients and the quality of those ingredients is something that requires daily adjustments - but, that's the business we are in.

Soon, we will open additional venues - the Media Press Center and Athletes Village. Soon, we open 24 hours per day. The past several days and the next few days of preparation will start to pay off.

The Chinese prep cooks and line cooks are great to work with. They all come from cooking schools from all over China. They have a strong work ethic and are eager to learn. It is a chore to work with them all day long, though. It is much easier in the Chinese section because they are already familiar with the cuisine. As a western chef working in the western section, I spend most of my time teaching, training, and micro-managing the cooks; as one would expect, they have no experience with western cuisine and have to be taught methods, techniques, use of ingredients, presentation, etc. The language barrier makes it even greater challenge.

I like to teach; that adds to my daily job satisfaction and enjoyment of this project.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Soft Opening

In restaurant terms, food service for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games is going through what we would call a "soft opening." During a time when very few people need to be served the entire culinary team opens the kitchen. Since very few people are being served, the kitchen crew, with all of its support systems, can work out all the wrinkles before serving the larger, main group of customers expected to arrive. When a restaurant goes through a 'soft opening,' the staff generally serves employees and family while keeping the doors closed to general public. After a week or so of this they are ready to open to the public, with everything running smoothly.

In a manner of speaking, we are going through a 'soft opening' and gradually building the staff, a little each day, until next month, when most of the media will be in China and the athletes are expected to start arriving.

There are two main challenges facing the culinary team at this Olympic Games - the language barrier created by the multi-national/multi-linguistic staff and working with the Beijing Health Bureau in the kitchen during all hours of operation. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done with either situation. I am making every effort to pick as much Chinese as I can, but fluency in a second language takes years.

As for working with the health inspectors... Well, that is a challenge. All we can do is our best to comply with their requests and try to educate them when their requests are unreasonable. Just yestarday we had to throw away alomst 100 pounds of frozen bread, beacause the original freezer case had be opened 4 days ago. Chinese standard for the Olympics is to discard all product on the third day ofter opening, in addition to discarding all leftovers. It is difficult to understand how we can discard clearly usable product with millions of people starving just a few miles away. However, I did not come here to get involved with political matters; I'm here simply to cook for athletes, trainers, broadcasters, journalists, etc.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Preparations for the games continue. The International Broadcast Center is open and serving. The Media Press Center will open next week, or at least it is scheduled to open next week; that all depends on the completion of a few minor construction projects.

The construction that has gone on and continues for these Olympic Games is impressive and almost unbelievable. State-of-the-art high-rise apartments have been built for athletes and trainers and construction continues, with only a few weeks before athletes start arriving. The Chinese are working literally around the clock to get everything finished. They are working at a record-setting pace to prepare for an event that will set records.

The food for the games is very good. As one would imagine, it all has a Chinese flare, though food from all over the world is featured. We are offering traditional Chinese, Mediterranian, Western, Italian, French, and Latin, to name a few.

The food is being prepared by an army of Chinese culinary students and their teachers, with a team of international managers leading the crew. They are eager to learn and have a strong work ethic. They are very professional and do everything asked of them.

The language barrier is evident but managable. Those who have been here for a while (a month or so) have picked up enough Chinese to give directions to cab drivers and basic instructions to their Chinese student cooks. I look forward to at least that amount of language proficiency and hope it happens soon.

Monday, June 2, 2008

No Time For Rest

I left Arkansas Saturday morning, May 31st and didn't arrive in China until Sunday afternoon, June 1st. The flight was long and uneventful. I thought I would be flying west; however, it seems that almost due north is the quickest and shortest way to Beijing from Arkansas. I left Little Rock and flew to Chicago. After changing planes and going through a customs and visa check I left Chicago and we flew north, crossing over Canada, passing within 150 miles of the North Pole, passing Siberia and a small part of Mongolia, before entering China.

My first impression of China is very positive. The people are very friendly and helpful. It seems they are already prepared for the influx of foriegn athletes, trainers, media, and spectators as they are very patient with the language barrier.

It will take some time to get used to the food. Nothing has made me sick, fortunately. However, rice and a noodle bowl (much like the Ramen noodles we eat in the US) at every meal, even breakfast, will take some adjusting. Likewise, the Chinese don't eat very much dairy or sweets; so, it will be a while before I get a good piece of chocolate or an ice cold glass of milk. These are things I have to look forward to when I return home.

My current assignment is the IBC (International Broadcast Center), serving broadcast media from all over the world. No media has arrived yet; we are only feeding staff and set-up crews. Most of the Olympic kitchens and venues are still under construction; it is a 24-hour-day 7-day-week endeavor to get everything ready for all the visitors expected to arrive within the next month or so. My work during this time will be to become familiar with the menu and recipes, the health inspectors of the Beijing Olympic Committee, all of the kitchens, and get settled in with the kitchen crew - and there's not much time to get it all done.

I am part of a very diverse management team, with culinarians from all over the world. Today, my first day, I have met chefs from several parts of the US, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Japan, Ireland, England, and, of course, China. This is truly a global experience - one I am very honored to participate in.