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FT-Oct16 29 M Y S AY QUALITY AND CONVENIENCE… A TOP CHINESE RESTAURANTEUR’S MESSAGE FOR NEW ZEALAND When Da Dong walks into the room, the conversation stops and all eyes are on the man who has transformed one of the tired staples of Chinese cuisine – roast duck – into a cool and highly profitable restaurant chain. for wine, but I’ve never been to New Zealand. Companies should be constantly organising trips for chefs to see products for themselves. I would suggest that New Zealand companies choose a few restaurants that are influential in the Chinese market, and invite the chefs to New Zealand. Pay them a visit in China as well to see what else they might need; build those relationships. The Chinese market has changed very fast. What new trends are you seeing with consumers? China has been changing and opening up for many years now, and the growth in people’s spending power is a big trend. People are travelling more, broadening their horizons, and consumption patterns are becoming more varied. While China’s consumer market and GDP growth have slowed down a little, overall spending power is growing. As a result, the entire food and beverage consumer market in China is going through a transformation. Of course, the online retail models are having an impact — and people’s tastes are changing — but there have also been changes to how restaurants are managed and branded. I think this transformation of the Chinese restaurant market will be a big trend for some time. What changes do you see in eating habits? Big banquets used to be a very formal occasion, but now we see people interested in smaller restaurants. These smaller, fashionable restaurants are tak- He’s looking to strengthen the place of Peking Duck in the international cuisine firmament, but he also wants to integrate more international ingredients into his menus…therein lies a huge opportunity for New Zealand suppliers who offer the right products in the right way. He’s a big man – Da means “big” – and Dong is his surname, so everyone calls him Da Dong. But his shaggy hair, workmen’s boots and unusual black jacket mark him out as someone who creates rather than follows trends. From one small restaurant in Beijing, he has expanded to a chain of a dozen venues across China in just one decade, and is planning on opening restaurants in New York next year and Auckland the year after. Da Dong is one of a handful of people who could take Chinese cuisine to a whole new level internationally, and one reason for that is his very hands-on approach when it comes to suppliers and ingredients. There are now three brands under his command — the original Da Dong featuring high-class Peking Duck-based Chinese cuisine, a middle-level restaurant brand called ‘Little Da Dong’, and a fascinating fast-food effort called Da Dong Roast Duck Hamburger. He has big plans for all three. We asked Da Dong about what New Zealand suppliers need to do to get their products into his kitchens. How much do you use imported ingredients? Our menu includes many different types of dishes, a large variety of foreign ingredients and a wide range of cooking techniques. Da Dong restaurants are what they are today because we want to use the best quality, safest and healthiest ingredients. So Da Dong restaurants are good Chinese restaurants first — and we must maintain the good tastes of Chinese cooking — but we also want to combine the good tastes of China with the best foreign ingredients. That includes New Zealand veal, which has been consistently selling well (other restaurants ask where we get it from). New Zealand’s black gold abalone, lobster and shrimp are particularly good. What should suppliers do to become long-term providers to your restaurants? If an overseas supplier wants to talk with us, first of all they need to have very good products that align with the unique character of their country of origin. Take New Zealand lamb chops for instance – they need to be of high-quality and better than the Australian ones. We also have to consider price because, even if your product is good, if the price is high, my restaurants have to pass this down to their customers. Also, New Zealand companies need to teach me how they would prepare venison, for example, or lamb chops. More simply, what low-temperature methods would you use to bring out the taste of venison? Give me the ingredients, and also give me a few cooking styles, which I can adapt to suit Chinese tastes. Over the years I have been to many places to look at ingredients. Spain for pork, the Netherlands for vegetables, France

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