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October 27, 2011

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Laris to open Chinese restaurant

CHEF David Laris is known for bold ideas and experiments in the kitchen. The Greek-Australian is perhaps taking on his biggest challenge yet, launching a Shanghainese restaurant at the end of November.

The restaurateur and entrepreneur set the local media abuzz with the news, with many critics questioning whether a Western chef could run a Chinese restaurant.

Laris also tells Shanghai Daily he will reopen his iconic Laris restaurant, which closed late last year at Three on the Bund, next year in a new location.

The chef says the Chinese restaurant will be called Le Sheng and will have the "Laris spirit."

"The whole team from the chef to waiters are mainly Shanghainese to ensure the authenticity of flavors," he says. "From my side, I am doing all of the plating, presentation and food styling to give it a modern view."

This may reassure skeptical Chinese diners that favorite Shanghai dishes will still taste the way they expect.

Laris, who moved to Shanghai in 2002, says he has no plans to leave.

"I see Shanghai as my hometown," he says. "It is an energetic city with the belief that anything is possible, which has been lost in the Western world."

The chef has taken this belief to heart. Since moving to Shanghai, Laris has slowly started evolving from a chef into an "entrepreneur chef," as he likes to call himself.

He is the founder and CEO of David Laris Creates, a consulting company he started in 2008 that creates restaurant and boutique hotel concepts. He is behind the Fat Olive and Funky Chicken restaurants and he also created Slice, a high-end delicatessen, and worked on the Barbie Cafe.

With all these plates in the air, Laris can more often than not be found in meetings during the day. At night, he dons an apron at 12 Chairs, his private dining room at Sinan Mansions, designing new recipes and occasionally cooking a meal for VIP guests.

Some of his loyal customers have expressed concern that all these business endeavors may influence the quality of his food, and tarnish his reputation as a great chef.

He responds that there is no need to worry.

"All the dishes you see in restaurants with a David Laris Creates label are my recipes," he says. "My management team is increasingly mature, so I have more time now in the kitchen. Anyhow, in my heart, I am and always will be a chef. Cooking is what has made me happiest from the very beginning."

Laris is from a multicultural family, his mother is Australian and his father Greek.

He says he first got a taste for cooking in south Greece, when he was eight years old, after his family moved there from Sydney.

"I had a typical Mediterranean lifestyle in Greece," he says. "Our house was by the sea with a vegetable garden in the backyard. When making dinner, we took the boat out to catch fish and pick some fresh greens and herbs in our garden."

This background helped him fall in love with food and cooking. He took a classic French apprenticeship at the age of 12.

But he says life in Greece did more than just inspire his choice of career. It also influenced his perspective on life.

"I really appreciate Greece's strong sense of community and family," he says. "That is why I love staying in China, the country emphasizes family culture and respecting elders."

His professional career started in Sydney before moving on to Hong Kong and London, where he headed the popular restaurant Mezzo.

During these years he says he started combining classical culinary techniques with fresh takes and unexpected ingredients, leading to his now trademark style.

After London, Laris moved to Shanghai.

In 2003, a time when fine dining was not that common in the city, his Laris restaurant quickly became one of the top three Western restaurants in the city.

From the beginning, Laris says the restaurant was popular with both locals and expatriates.

"There's no secret behind it," he says. "It's all about being authentic and respecting locals."

Laris says some Western chefs treat locals and Westerners differently. He says these chefs underestimate the openness of locals to try new things and change classic Western recipes to cater to the so-called "Chinese taste." It's similar to how Chinese food has been "dumbed down" to sweet and sour dishes in Western countries.

He says when Laris first opened, some locals were not too familiar with some Western ingredients. He trained the wait staff to introduce dishes in a way that would not make diners feel embarrassed.

Away from the kitchen and his business, Laris says his daughter, who is 12 years old, is now studying in Shanghai and learning Chinese culture. He says spending time with her is what he enjoys most when he is not working.

His daughter has already shown some cooking talent, especially in the pastry area. She can recall most recipes after reading them and copy them correctly, Laris says.

Not that her father is putting any pressure on her. "I said to her, 'don't be a chef'," he says. "It's a terrible life."

David Laris

Chef at Laris Restaurant, from Australia

Q: What's your life philosophy?

A: Do all things well to get happiness, which money cannot buy.

Q: Is there anything you want to say but people never ask you?

A: Respect the classic, build on foundations of knowledge, but be creative, fresh and dynamic.

Q: What is your latest inspiring dish?

A: "Scallop with scallop liver mayonnaise, Shaoxing butterscotch sauce and aged sherry vinegar." The dish was inspired after my Chinese friend gave me a bottle of Shaoxing wine. I wanted to combine it with the flavor of butterscotch to create something Chinese inspired but with a different twist.

Q: Is there a moment you are really proud of?

A: Opening my first Chinese restaurant in Shanghai. After being here for over eight years, I am confident enough to show true Shanghainese food culture.

Q: Your next great dining project.

A: Reopening Laris. It's my landmark restaurant and big monster machine. I will spend six days a week there after it opens.

Sea bass 450g; flour 200g (for breading); salt a little; pepper a little; olive oil 4tbs; parsley (leaves picked and cleaned) 70g; dill (leaves picked and cleaned) 70g; capers 30g; preserved lemons (sliced very thin) 20g; lemon juice 30ml; extra virgin olive oil 120ml

1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degree Celsius. Whisk the lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

2. Once the fish is cooked, toss 4tbs of the vinaigrette with the salad and sprinkle over the fish. Keep the rest of the vinaigrette on the side for sauce at the table.

3. Scale gut, remove gills and clean the fish, then make three slices into each side of the fish.

4. Pat the fish dry and season with salt and pepper, then lightly bread with the flour and sear in smoking olive oil.

5. Once the first side is nicely browned, flip the fish over in the pan, and place the entire pan into the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for eight minutes.

6. Remove from oven and garnish with the salad, serve with a few kalamata olives on the side.


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