As part of our Chef Chat series, we talk with JinR (Zhang Jinjie), founder and owner of Green T. House. JinR combined her profession as a talented and award-winning classical musician with her passion for cuisine to create a tea house that takes tea drinking to the next level.
Since its inception in 1998, Green T. House has transformed in many ways; what was once a tea house and restaurant, has now become an events venue where guests can experience the very best entertainment while taking their taste buds on a culinary journey. Of course, those who want to visit the restaurant during regular hours can still do so for lunch and dinner.
The concept you convey feels very utopian. People have described it as being inside the mind of an artist. How would you define an artist?
I think an artist is one who acts simply as a medium for the beauty of the true creator.
What piece of advice would you give a fellow artist to bring his/her visions that step closer?
Keep your soul simple and clear, trust your instincts completely and be true, no matter what, to your purity of vision.
In a past interview you have said, “[...] Cooking is a design process in my mind, rather than in the kitchen physically.” Have you ever found when you visualise a dish, that sometimes it may not work physically? After all, perfecting cuisine involves a lot of trial and error and time in the kitchen?
Of course. I like to visualise first, which sometimes may not come to fruition physically, although usually it does because I work from the existing tastes and balances of Chinese cuisine which are so diverse. So there is usually a solution with, as you say, a little “trial and error”.
How has your heritage influenced your food?
Very much so, my cuisine is Chinese, after all. There is so much to work with historically and regionally, I am always discovering new ideas. The beauty and ritual of ancient tea culture, especially from the Tang and Song dynasties, continues to inspire my presentations every day. I never tire of this traditional beauty.
What makes your menu at Green T. House unique?
The actual use of tea helps but it is not the only thing. I like to think the menu is true to my roots, sometimes adopting a wider global palate to expand it and evolve it but not “fuse” it. I cannot really think menu alone. There must be a physical and spiritual beauty, too.
In the dining experience, how much value would you place on food quality, service, presentation and ambience? Can you rate them in order of importance?
I cannot separate these things. In a Daoist sense, they create a unity, or a “one”.
When national dished have been transplanted, can they be as authentic as they are in their homeland?
It used to be quite difficult with regards to ingredients, even just 10 years ago, but now the world seems so connected you can find what you need almost anywhere. Authenticity then simply takes care and respect, as it does anywhere.
What are your thoughts on fusion food? Can they work without diluting culture and identity?
Personally, I’m not a great fan of fusion. It often seems executed for its own sake purely as a concept. I try to make my dishes inherently Chinese, but sometimes with “international co-operation”. Isn’t that how we want the world to be? Be ourselves, with the help of others.
What is the next evolution in the cuisine world? We have had many eras and many trends. What do you think is next?
I don’t know, but I feel it will be towards simplicity, appreciating ingredients in their own right. True beauty uncovered.