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Private kitchen, public restaurant

Update: January, 05/2015 - 16:24

Noodling around: Shrimp noodles with lemon cream.

CHEF

by Dong Fangyu in Beijing

On a Sunday morning in late August, I approached a ramshackle six-story residential block hidden away in southeastern Beijing, and had to steel myself to walk down the dark corridors and climb to the fifth floor. I then wandered around the dingy corridor for several minutes before spotting the faded room number painted on the door, which was suddenly opened before I knocked. The owner was immediately recognisable – Dong Yang, an epicure, whose private kitchen (a residential space open to paying visitors) is a prime attraction for hungry foodies.

The unprepossessing location of Dong Yang's Private Kitchen may be off-putting for some potential diners, but once they enter the house, their worries will evaporate. The clean open kitchen, the soothing jazz music, the natural fragrance of essential oils, a large stack of books, and a delicate teapot, all make you feel at home and relaxed.

Timing: Dong Yang has different menus for different months.

Private kitchens are renowned for their limited number of tables, but Dong Yang's is the ultimate in minimalism because it has only one, with seating for just three people.

To reserve a table, one has to book at least two weeks in advance. Dong's kitchen is only open on weekends and on public holidays when the owner has time away from his regular weekday job as a book editor at a publishing house.

His private kitchen only opened in May, but news soon spread among Beijing's many foodies because of Dong's innovative savoury dishes.

He said the popularity of his private kitchen was a surprise and has far exceeded his expectations. He does not plan to expand, though, and try to earn a living as a chef. "It would be terrible if my interest became my work", he says.

As in most private kitchens, Dong provides a set menu, which is updated once a month to incorporate seasonal ingredients and new improvisations.

"My culinary skills are limited because I haven't received any professional training. But I enjoy the study of gastronomy and creating innovative menus," he says. Each of the well-designed monthly menus is themed by certain cultural elements.

One of his signature dishes is sauteed toufu and vegetable mince patties with a dressing of braised pork broth. Dong says the dish is entirely new and was inspired by the book Qing Cheng Zhi Lian (Love in a Fallen City) by Eileen Chang (1920-95), a popular Chinese writer. "In the book, she says frying toufu mince with the broth of braised pork makes a tasty dish. I reinvented it based on her ideas", Dong says.

Dong opened a public account – UNIQUEDONG5491 – on the social networking site WeChat to publish his monthly menus, and also as a platform for reservations. He also shares his culinary experiences with the followers of the account.

Musky:Stir-fry with fish and sweet pepper in musk-melon.

Dong says the most important aspect of running a private kitchen is maintaining the owner's individual style. "I bring to my guests what I like most," he said. "In return, they have to follow my rules. I'm into tea and coffee, and will serve the ones I like most. But I don't smoke or drink alcohol. So no smoking or alcohol are allowed in my house."

When Dong graduated from Harbin Engineering University in 2005, he landed a job in Beijing. He started to cook for himself after work simply because "eating out is expensive and unsafe," he says. "But eventually, I fell in love with cooking because it is such a trivial thing, but gives me a real sense of achievement."

Dong believes that it's crucial to allow guests to play at being the owner of the private kitchen. "When I have customers, I have to give away my sitting room, restroom and dining area, and I try to make myself 'invisible'. That's out of respect for my guests."

"If you choose to have dinner at a stranger's home, you probably want an intimate environment where you won't be disturbed." — China Daily

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