People laugh dismissively when I tell them that being a judge for the Chinese Restaurant Awards is hard work. “Yeah right!” they say in that tone. Well, it is indeed hard work (eating at this pace is hard work!). But it is kind of work – seeking dishes that give substance to this city’s reputation of having some of the best Chinese food outside Asia – that I love doing. I would do this anyway, and so would the rest of the judges on the critics panel with whom I have had the great privilege of sharing dozens of meals over the last few years.
We all take this “work” seriously: during “eating season” (September to January), we often ate Chinese food nearly every night of the week. In our first few meals together at the start of the season we shared new finds from our own personal dining from the past year, and discussed new trends in this city’s evolving Chinese dining. One notable trend is the growing representation of food from the Mainland – namely Spicy Chinese cuisines from Sichuan and Hunan, and beer-friendly Beijing-style dining. New Chinese immigration patterns and changing demographics mean that we will be seeing more and more regional cuisines that were heretofore nonexistent in this city.
The Home Stretch
Starting in November, we started to compile all our candidate dishes into a long spreadsheet. Then for the next few weeks, often over dinner, we debated about each dish’s merits until we pared down a year’s worth of eating into a workable shortlist of about 40 dishes. Finally in January, we held a secret ballot (administered by the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCooper) to get to this final list of 20. This year, we decided not to follow the pre-categorized (but ultimately limiting) structure of our previous awards. We freely nominated dishes that we thought were worthy without having to worry about slotting them into strict categories. This change resulted in a more balanced list with more “new” dishes than in previous years.
Also new this year is our expansion to the east. Toronto has a excellent and growing reputation for its great Chinese dining scene (some say it surpasses Vancouver’s) and we knew we needed people who could navigate this unfamiliar territory for us. We enlisted some new judges based in the Greater Toronto Area; intrepid eaters who – like the judges here in Vancouver – would do this “work” anyway. They quickly became a formidable team and dined aggressively for months to come up with their own “must-eat” list. Since this is the award’s first year in Toronto, the list of winning dishes is shorter (10 compared to Vancouver’s 20 dishes) – but nevertheless represents the best of Toronto’s Chinese cuisine. This list will surely grow over the next year as GTA crew find their legs.
(Vancouver, B.C.) The 5th Annual Chinese Restaurant Awards celebrated the achievements of Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto’s Chinese culinary elites today at River Rock Show Theatre, Richmond, B.C. Attended by the industry’s professionals, media, and VIPs, the Oscar-style award ceremony was hosted by Breakfast Television’s Dawn Chubai and OMNI Television’s Sunny Chiu.
For high resolutions of the winning dishes / Chinese Master Chefs, please email [ rae@ChineseRestaurantAwards.com ]
The presentation opened with a dazzling tasting reception, which included live cooking demonstrations by Vancouver-based Chef Andy Liu of Sea Harbor Seafood Restaurant, Chef Wing Ho of Fortune House Seafood Restaurant, and Chef Hung Ching-Lung, founder of Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle.
Chef Hung, who travelled from Taiwan especially for the ceremony, gave a riveting noodle-making performance that delighted guests including Consul Li Yue of Overseas Chinese Affairs at the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Vancouver. During his speech, Consul Li praised the growing success and contribution of both the Awards and the chefs.
“2013 is the year of reaching for new heights,” said Craig Stowe, Chinese Restaurant Awards’ Founding Director. “To further raise the public’s awareness of the fine Chinese cuisine existing in Canada, we must expand beyond the borders of Vancouver.”
Greater Toronto, another bustling hub for Chinese food, was selected to be part of the Awards as a result. Four locally acclaimed food critics and writers—Jen Chan, Jennifer Kwan, Renée S. Suen, and Charles Yu—were invited to search for ten Critics’ Choice Signature Dishes.
Their expertise and experience with different media outlets, such as Chowhound, Yelp, and Toronto Star, are invaluable in developing a reliable new dining guide. One of their notable choices is Richmond Hill’s Omei Restaurant. The winner enticed the judges with their different cooking methods used in Lobster Five Ways (Steamed, Stir-fried with Maggie Sauce, Deep Fried Lobster Legs, Steamed Egg Custard with Lobster Brain, Fried Rice with Lobster Brain).
In Greater Vancouver, the Awards’ legacy continued with seven judges voting for the best dishes after a full year of tasting. The results, audited by Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP, highlight the diversity and popularity of Chinese regional cuisines in the area. Top Shanghai Cuisine’s Pan Fried Shanghainese Buns, a 2013 Diners’ Choice Awards winner, is also voted as a must-eat by the judges. Kirin Restaurant at City Square wowed the judges with three dishes—Deep Fried Boneless Chicken with Minced Prawn, Glutinous Rice, and Chestnut Paste, Geoduck Two Ways, and Smoked Live Lobster with Assorted Mushroom—making them a top winner in the category. The new title, Greater Vancouver’s Critics’ Choice Awards – Most Awarded Chinese Restaurant, is bestowed upon Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant. From 2009-2013, the restaurant won eight Critics’ Choice Awards with Signature Dishes such as Fried Squab (2009-2012) and Pan-fried Spot Prawns with Soy Sauce (2011-2012).
Adding to the excitement of 2013 is the new Chinese Master Chefs (CMC) program. After five years of planning, the Awards selected Raymond Cheung (Landmark Hotpot House), Wing Ho (Fortune House Seafood Restaurant), Andy Liu (Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant), Wing Leung (Shiang Garden Seafood Restaurant), Tong Luk (The Jade Seafood Restaurant), Timmy Tsui (Big Chef Restaurant), Tony Wu (Tin Tin Seafood Harbour) and Ming Yeung (Bamboo Grove) as Master Chefs based on their winning records, worldwide reputation, and continuous contribution to Greater Vancouver’s culinary landscape. Their relentless effort in defining Chinese cuisine with innovative ideas has inspired a new generation of chefs and connected the Chinese community with other cultures.
The CMC program wishes to share the Masters’ dishes recipes with the public on www.ChineseMasterChefs.com . A 90sec cooking demonstration of each chef’s selected creations will be aired in March and April on OMNI Television’s Cantonese and Mandarin news. All ingredients used in the recipes such as Alberta beef, Alberta Pork and B.C. seafood are available at Vancouver’s PriceSmart Foods—Chinese Master Chefs’ preferred store for fresh and affordable ingredients.
The public is encouraged to experience the Master Chefs’ creations at their restaurants and participate in a charitable test drive at one of the three Dueck Auto Group’s locations (Terminal Avenue, Marine Drive, and Richmond in Vancouver). By simply presenting the test-drive card received from the restaurants, diners can help raise funds for Vancouver Community College’s prestigious Conrad Leung Award. For each test drive, Dueck Auto Group will donate $25 to the scholarship program that recognizes the achievement of an outstanding student in the Asian Culinary Arts Program.