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- Tuesday, 01 March 2016 17:49 | Written by Matthias Tesi Baur
1. You are managing the restaurant Hunan in Pimlico London. Please tell me a bit more about you, what do you do in the restaurant?
Michael Peng: I'm first generation British born Chinese to Taiwanese immigrant parents. My parents settled in the UK during the early 70's and opened Hunan in 1982 with dad in the kitchen and my mother front of house. As children, my sister and I were always roped into helping out in the business whether it be in kitchens or on the floor. Back in the day my father had yet to grasp child labour laws! Looking back it put us in good stead and a work ethic was drilled into us at a young age.
The restaurant business can be a tough place and we grew up with all its ups and downs. Fires, fights, near bankruptcy, we have experienced it all. We have also met along the way some brilliant chefs, waiters and managers. But it's the level of customer loyalty that drives me and continues to astound.
It has been a journey which encapsulates life, in many respects it's really life mimicking art. Although he "retired" 10 years ago my father still comes in every day to "look after the kitchen" and also keep an eye on everything else.
I'm responsible for front of house and run the restaurant very much in the same mould as my parents did 34 years ago.
2. Nearly everyone knows Chinese cuisine but nearly nobody knows the cultural background with its deep insight. Can you tell me more about Chinese cuisine?
Michael Peng: Food and Chinese culture go hand in hand. I'm not an expert in the different Chinese cuisines (I believe there are 8), dad would be best versed in that area. But I know that the Chinese live to eat. Food permeates through all aspects of life and transcends to the afterlife as well. Food is often the main offering in Taoist and Buddhist temples.
When you are invited into someone's house, it's always "hello nice to meet you" followed by "have you eaten?" Even if you say "yes" the host will still bring out lots of pre cut fruit, tea and snacks.
3. London as a culinary destination has changed in the last years. Where will the restaurant scene of London be in five years?
Michael Peng: With ever increasing rents especially in central London I hope the culinary scene in London remains a place where ordinary Londoners can continue to dine in. I hope the influx of casual eateries will continue. People should be able to dine out more often and at different levels.
4. What's your favourite dish and why?
Michael Peng: If you are talking about a dish from the restaurant then it would be crispy garlic chilli beans. They are very moorish, perfect with a glass of Riesling or an ice cold beer.
If it's something I ate recently it would have be shredded turkey rice I had in a night market (Chiayi, Taiwan). Steamed local rice topped with finely shredded turkey served with lashings of turkey oil and a pickled radish.
5. What does good food mean to you?
Michael Peng: Good ingredients prepared with some love and attention by someone who knows what they are doing!