A GLOBETROTTER WITH A PASSION FOR FOOD. 对食物充满热情的世界公民.
Rob Cunningham is a celebrity chef – but he hates this label. And yet he and the restaurants he runs keep winning awards, his dishes are often featured on different lifestyle publications and he is always part of the most exciting events happening in Beijing.
Rob Cunningham是一位名厨 – 尽管他不喜欢这个称号。但他和他经营的餐厅不断获奖，他的菜品不停出现在不同的生活方式杂志上，他还总是北京最酷的活动里的一部分。
He is in so many ways different from what you would expect from such a well-know personality – he is humble, straight to the point, fun and open-minded. We met for a chat and, while sipping some very-bubbly San Pellegrino, we discussed about Beijing, food, passion and future plans.
尽管他已经如此有名，然而他跟你印象中的名人却完全不同 – 他谦逊，直接，风趣，且开明。品着圣培露气泡水，我们在一起畅谈了北京，食物，热情和对未来的计划。
What’s your relationship with Beijing?
When I first came to China from Japan to work for Capital M, my first impression was that Beijing was a little more chaotic, a little more raw and a little more exciting than every other city I knew. From the very beginning I thought this was a good thing, and it’s getting a lot easier and even more fun for me day after day. Beijing is extremely interesting, especially for people who are a little more ballsy, people that live on the edge and don’t care too much about breaking/changing their habits. It’s in how you adapt, you have to be open-minded when you live in different countries. The first two years in Beijing saw the biggest learning curve one can possibly have in their life. But it was well-worth it and now I love it.
Where are you from?
I’m from Australia, I grew up in county Victoria, in a little town called Miliwa, which now has about one hundred people, but which was about fifty when I was a kid. My first contact with food and cooking was encouraged by many of our neighbours, who were Italians. They would teach me to cook pasta and make risotto. Nobody in my family is in hospitality and they actually thought my interest in home-made jam, pickles and baking products was very peculiar. But they gave me freedom to pursue whatever career I wanted, and I will be grateful for this open-mindness forever.
What’s your cooking style?
Well, traditionally it’s Italian, and you can see bits of it here and there in the menu – whether it’s a risotto or a pasta, the way I do salads or I cook fish. During my time in London I worked in French restaurants so you can probably see that influence as well. Nowadays, it’s a bit of everything, with a focus on what is in season, and the availability of products, trying to go as local as possible. But being in China changed my cooking style – now I don’t look at salt as a basic ingredient anymore, I’d rather add saltiness to a dish using pickles or spices. And there is still so much to explore!
呃，传统意义上说是意大利式，你能从菜单里不同的地方看到 – 不管是意式烩饭还是意面，或者从我做沙拉或者做鱼的方式里看出。我在伦敦时在一家法国餐厅工作，所以你大概也能看到法式的影响。目前来说，大概各种风格都有一点吧，主要还是要看应季的菜品，及我们能找到的最好的配料，我们尽可能的做到本土化。中国的北京改变了我的烹饪方式 – 现在我不觉得盐是最基本的调味品，我更偏向于用腌菜或者香料来调节菜的咸度。可以发掘的东西真的太多了！
Who do you admire in the business?
I admire different people for different reasons. Nowadays it’s not really something I focus on role-models as much as when I used to when I was younger. In Melbourne I had the opportunity to work with well-known chefs and I tried to learn as much as possible from them, but my main focus currently is getting better at hotel managing. But I do think certain chefs are leading the way with conscious eating and better ethical animal treatment and I deeply admire them – this thinking is definitely the future, because the way we eat and consume today is not sustainable. In 50 years or so people will look back as think, “What the hell were they doing during this period?”. I think a conscious decision will change the way we eat, and we need someone to show how to make it happen.
我因为不同的理由崇拜不同的人。我现在关注的方面跟我年轻时大相径庭。在墨尔本时我有个跟名厨共事的机会，那时我只想尽可能在他们身上多学东西，但是现在我关注的重点是学习酒店管理的不同方面。有时，我认为有些厨师在有意识的饮食及对待动物方面起到了带头的作用，我对他们充满敬意 – 这种意识代表了未来，因为我们现在饮食和消费的方式并不是可持续性的。五十年后，人们回过头来看，也许会想，“他们那时都做了什么呀？” 我认为这种可持续性的意识会改变我们的饮食方式，我们需要有人来使之实现。
What is different about working for a hotel restaurant rather than a free-standing one?
I’ve been working at East Hotel [www.east-beijing.com] for four years now, and it’s the first hotel I’ve worked at. To be the chef of a hotel is completely different, because we have five outlets, and I am in charge of all of them. You have to think of it as running 5 different restaurants. Instead of it being a normal free-standing restaurant, you have to be in the kitchen working very closely with your team, and you have to put a lot of trust into your senior management. In terms of customers, we have a lot of regular travellers at the hotel, because again, Beijing is more and more a business destination, and business people keep coming back again and again. Moreover, I’m deeply involved in marketing and PR activities. This’s an important part of our growth as a hotel. As a ‘contemporary’ chef, the social commitment aspect is also a big part of my job. If on weekends I can just spend my time with my family and just relax, during the week I’m always with people, building my network and promoting the work I’m doing.
If you could cook for anyone who would it be?
If my dad hadn’t died three years ago, I would definitely like to cook for him here in Beijing. I would get my team members to do some Chinese food for him, because he was curious about other culture’s food and never made it here. One of the reasons why I travel internationally is because when I was a kid my dad always wanted to go and live somewhere abroad, but just never had the opportunity to. I feel I owe everything that is happening to me to him. I’m actually living his dream.
What do you want to do next?
Ah! I never know – life is completely unpredictable! But I would quite like to continue on the path that I am on right now. I don’t really see myself having a place of my own in Beijing: starting a business is a long term commitment and I’m not sure that I can really commit to another ten years here. But sometime in the future, I can definitely see myself running my own place – that will be my retirement plan! I want to cook, and die. In that order. I have an active flexible life and you need that even when you get old, especially if you don’t want to become too rigid. My grandfather lived until he was 89, and pretty much worked the whole way through. When I’m 80 I want to be cooking, in my own place.
啊！我真不知道 – 生活是完全无法预测的！但我希望可以在现在的道路上继续下去。尽管我不认为我会在北京开一家自己的餐厅：创业是个长久的承诺，我不确定是否会在这里再待十年。但是在未来的某天，我一定会拥有自己的餐厅 – 这是我的退休计划！我想要烹饪，然后死去，就是这样的顺序。我的生活积极且灵活，当我变老的时候希望还是这样的，如果你不想变成老古董的话。我的祖父活到89岁，而且基本上一直工作到最后。当我80岁时，我想要在自己的餐厅里继续烹饪。
Rob, together with his team, has a mission – transform Beijing in a more lively and easy place for the travellers who visit East Hotel and for people living who live in Beijing and gather there for some sushi, a drink or a meeting.
Rob，和他的团队一起，有一个梦想 – 要把北京变成一个更有活力和更舒适的城市，这不仅仅为了住在东隅酒店的客人，也为了生活在北京的人们，品尝些寿司，啜饮点小酒，聚会就是这么简单。
His tools? Savoir-faire, kindness and an amazingly rich pavlova.
Rob Cunningham e’ uno chef australiano che lavora a Pechino da 7 anni. La sua passione per la cucina e’ stata alimentata negli anni da Italiani, che gli hanno insegnato a cucinare pasta e risotto, da Francesi, che hanno condiviso con lui l’attenzione per gli ingredienti, e da suo padre, che gli ha permesso di seguire il suo sogno. Che lo ha portato a gestire il dipartimento F&B di East Hotel, uno degli alberghi più ‘contemporanei’ di Pechino.
For the chat with Rob Cunningham at East Hotel I was delighted to wear:
The picture of the two us together was taken with my old-fashioned iPhone.
For all the other pictures, special thanks to East Hotel.
Translation by Vivian Zhou.