By Joseph Steele.
As the lunar calendar flips to a new year, the culinary world buzzes with anticipation, preparing for one of the most lavish and meaningful celebrations: the Chinese New Year. The preparation of a banquet for this occasion is an art form, embodying tradition, innovation and a deep-rooted sense of community.
We sat down with Chef Christian Corpuz, the mastermind behind Miss Mi Melbourne’s (12-Hat) celebrated Chinese New Year feasts, to uncover the secrets of planning and executing a menu that leaves an indelible mark on its guests.
The Art of Menu Planning: A Creative and Logistical Ballet
At the heart of any memorable Chinese New Year banquet lies meticulous planning. Chef Corpuz explains: "Planning the menu in advance is the first step. Imagining how to plate it is another. Most important is gathering all the ingredients needed. I always make sure that every year it’s something different. Gone with the old, welcoming the new."So, I take time to plan the menu. Even during the service, ingredients and execution play in my head. I always want to recreate and use other techniques and methods. At the same time, I want to make sure that when our guests eat the food at Miss Mi, they will remember tradition - the taste of their childhood, the memory of that plate that their Nanna made for Chinese New Year.”
Overcoming Challenges: The Quest for Perfect Ingredients
Preparing for a grand celebration is no small feat, especially in today's unpredictable global climate. With logistical delays and ingredient scarcity, the Chef's ability to scout and secure ingredients months in advance becomes crucial.
"It's always challenging to be perfectly ready for such a big occasion at the same time getting my kitchen ready for every day. I scout my ingredients months before any certain event so I have ample time to adjust. Nevertheless, when circumstances arise, my specialty with dealing with what you have comes out of the box.”This foresight and adaptability ensure that even when faced with the unexpected, the feast goes on without a hitch, showcasing the Chef's ingenuity in overcoming obstacles to deliver an exquisite dining experience.
Balancing Tradition and Modernity: The Culinary Tightrope
In a world where culinary trends evolve at breakneck speed, Chef Corpuz strikes a delicate balance between honouring tradition and embracing modernity.
"I respect tradition and culture. There’s always a story behind the dishes I create at Miss Mi. I’m making my New Year dishes with traditional flavours but a different take on garnishes and presentation.
"Let’s admit it, some people look for something new and exciting. I may change the way it looks or add more to it, but I’ll make sure it will be worth it spending and dining on Chinese New Year’s with us,” the Chef explains.
Crafting New Year dishes that resonate with traditional flavours yet surprise with modern garnishes and presentation is an approach that caters to a diverse palate, satisfying those craving the comfort of tradition and those seeking the thrill of something new and exciting. When you look at the essence of the New Year celebrations, it is about ushering in the future with a reverence for the past.Essential Dishes: The Soul of the Banquet
No Chinese New Year banquet is complete without its star dishes. Jiaozi, symbolising wealth with its gold ingot shape and an abundance of exquisite seafood, including prawn toast, are must-haves that reflect prosperity. These dishes, learned from Chinese Chefs in Macau, have become a staple in Chef Corpuz’s repertoire, infusing the banquet with the essence of Chinese New Year's rich symbolism and traditions.
One of the most touching anecdotes shared involves a diner being moved to tears: "I had a lady and a gentleman dine at my restaurant for dinner. We had an open kitchen so I would always have the privilege of seeing the guests while they enjoyed the dishes I created. I noticed the lady wiping her tears.
"To my thinking, 'is there something wrong with my food?', so I approached their table and asked what was on her mind. She then told me that the dish she just had reminded her of what her Nanna used to cook for her on Chinese New Year. Afterwards, she introduced herself as a CEO and the gentleman she was with was the Butler of Queen Elizabeth."It's always fulfilling to get compliments on the flavour of my dishes regardless of what background and status.”
Such moments underscore the profound impact of food on our emotions and memories, it is an opportunity to connect on a deeply personal level through the universal language of cuisine.
Innovation on a Plate: Chili Crab and Prawn Dumplings
Among the innovative creations at Miss Mi Melbourne, the signature chili crab and prawn dumplings stand out, marrying the traditional jiaozi with the flavours of the classic chilli crab dish. This fusion embodies the Chef's multicultural culinary journey, offering a fresh take on beloved flavours and showcasing the art of dumpling making at its finest.
"My dumplings are done by hand freshly before service. Sometimes even at last minute since it’s one of the best sellers.”
A Gift to Readers: The Macadamia Tofu Recipe
In the spirit of sharing and celebration, Chef Corpuz offers a beloved recipe to our readers: macadamia tofu, a dish that promises to add a touch of Miss Mi Melbourne's culinary magic to your own Chinese New Year festivities.
As we usher in the Chinese New Year, the story of Miss Mi Melbourne's banquet preparation serves as a reminder of the power of food to unite, evoke memories and celebrate tradition and innovation. Through meticulous planning, a balance of flavours and a commitment to excellence, the Chefs at Miss Mi Melbourne craft more than just a meal; they create an experience that resonates with the spirit of renewal and togetherness that defines the holiday.