Fuchsia Dunlop

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Fuchsia Dunlop in 2018.

Fuchsia Dunlop is an English writer and cook who specialises in Chinese cuisine, especially that of Sichuan, and was the first westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in Chengdu. She is the author of five books, including the autobiographical Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper (2008). According to Julia Moskin in the New York Times, Dunlop "has done more to explain real Chinese cooking to non-Chinese cooks than anyone".[1]

Life and work[edit]

Brought up in Oxford, she studied English literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Already an adventurous cook, she became fascinated by China while working as a sub-editor on East Asian media reports for the BBC Monitoring Unit at Caversham.[2] She took evening classes in Chinese at the University of Westminster, volunteered as a writer and editor on China Now and visited China twice. She had determined to eat "whatever the Chinese might put in front of me"[3] but her gastronomic experiences were "random and haphazard". A few days in Chengdu introduced her to classic Sichuan food such as mapo doufu and yuxiang qiezi. In 1994 she won a British Council scholarship for a year of postgraduate study in China where she chose to study at Sichuan University. She initially began as a researcher on Chinese ethnic minorities but eventually stayed on to take a three-month chef’s training course at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, the first westerner ever to do this.[4][5]

Returning to London, Dunlop studied for an Area Studies master's degree at SOAS and began to review Chinese restaurants for the Time Out Eating Guide to London. Continuing to write on Chinese food for newspapers and magazines, she now worked on her first book, rejected by several publishers as "too regional"[6] but published as Sichuan Cookery in Britain (2001) and as Land of Plenty in the United States (2003). It won the Guild of Food Writers Jeremy Round Award for a best first book.[7] A different measure of the book's success is the frequency with which Dunlop is named by other authors as the expert on Sichuan food.[8] She has made many television appearances as local expert, hosted by Anthony Bourdain, Adam Liaw, Kristie Lu Stout and others,[9] and featured in the Chinese documentary series Once Upon a Bite (2018).[10]

For her next book, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, she looked eastwards. Hunan province is "revolutionary" as the birthplace of Mao Zedong, but Hunan cuisine, unlike that of its neighbour Sichuan, was scarcely known outside China: "Both are fertile, subtropical areas with rugged, wild terrain and rich cropland fed by major rivers, and they share robust folk cooking, big flavors and blazing hot chilies. Yet [she] argues persuasively for Hunan as a separate culinary presence", Anne Mendelson wrote in a review in the New York Times.[11][12] Continuing an exploration of regional Chinese food, in "Garden of Contentment" (in The New Yorker, 2008) Dunlop profiled the Dragon Well Manor,[13] a restaurant that is "committed to offering its guests a kind of prelapsarian Chinese cuisine" in Hangzhou, a centre of the ancient region of Jiangnan.[14] The cookery of this same region, modern Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, is covered in her third regional cookbook, Land of Fish and Rice (2016). In China, she explains, this cuisine "is known historically for its extraordinary knife work, delicate flavors [and] extreme reverence for ingredients,"[15] as encapsulated in the nostalgic phrase chún lú zhī sī "thinking of perch and water shield", two ancient local specialities.[6]

Meanwhile with Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking (2012)[16][17] Dunlop gained her fourth James Beard Award.[5] Her journalism includes frequent articles on cooking and restaurants in China for publications including the Financial Times, Saveur, Observer Food Monthly, 1843 and the now-defunct Lucky Peach and Gourmet. Her cookbooks are praised for explaining "real Chinese cooking" to cooks from elsewhere,[1] and for identifying and highlighting local ingredients such as the bridal veil mushroom of Sichuan's "jade web soup",[5] the fermented soy and broad bean sauce of Hunan, Zhejiang's aquatic vegetables like water bamboo and fox nuts,[6] and the "intensely flavored cured ham from Jinhua".[13] "Extra-culinary insights" have also been noted: she captures "fading memories of the many violent 20th-century transformations" of the Chinese provinces (quotes by Anne Mendelson).[11] Her autobiographical memoir, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper (2008), won the IACP Jane Grigson Award and the Guild of Food Writers Kate Whiteman Award. Paul Levy, in a review in The Observer, noted a "distinctive voice that marks out the very best travel writing". The focus is on her long and deep experience of Chinese cuisine, an early landmark being her visit to Qingping Market in Guangzhou in 1992, encountering "cages of badgers, cats and tapirs that are testimony to the willingness of the southern Chinese to regard most forms of life as potential food".[18] There have been moments of doubt, as quoted in a New York Times review, "as if my gastronomic libido is slipping away ... I’ve seen the sewer-like rivers, the suppurating sores of lakes. I’ve ... breathed the toxic air and drunk the dirty water. And I’ve eaten far too much meat from endangered species".[3] But at length, learning to think like a Chinese and to "dispense with her own cultural taboos about eating", as Levy says,[18] she has recognized in her own life the progression "from ‘eating to fill your belly’ (chi bao), through ‘eating plenty of rich food’ (chi hao) to ‘eating skillfully’ (chi qiao)".[3][19]

Publications[edit]

Books[edit]

  • 2001: Sichuan Cookery ISBN 978-0-14-029541-2
    • US edition, 2003: Land of Plenty: a treasury of authentic Sichuan cooking ISBN 0-393-05177-3
  • 2007: Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: recipes from Hunan Province ISBN 0-393-06222-8
  • 2008: Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: a sweet-sour memoir of eating in China ISBN 0-393-33288-8
  • 2012: Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking ISBN 978-1408802526
  • 2016: Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China ISBN 978-1408802519
  • 2019: The Food of Sichuan ISBN 978-1324004837

Selected articles[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Julia Moskin, "Gong Bao Chicken With Peanuts From ‘Every Grain of Rice’" in New York Times (16 September 2013)
  2. ^ "This woman changed the way we think about Chinese food" in Daily Life (6 March 2013)
  3. ^ a b c Dawn Drzal, "‘Eating Skillfully’" in New York Times (20 July 2008)
  4. ^ Fuchsia Dunlop, "'On the first day they gave me a chef's hat and my own cleaver...'" in The Observer (10 June 2001)
  5. ^ a b c Yang Yang, "Matter of Taste" in China Daily (30 November 2018), reprinted as "British writer explores texture of Chinese food" in Daily Telegraph: China Watch (12 December 2018)
  6. ^ a b c Rachel Cooke, "China’s best-kept food secret, revealed by Fuchsia Dunlop" in The Guardian (17 July 2016)
  7. ^ Susan Jung, "Cook book: Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop" in South China Morning Post (7 December 2008)
  8. ^ Jonathan Gold, "Chengdu Taste serves down-home Sichuan" in Los Angeles Times (3 August 2013); Joe DiStefano, "More Than Ma La: A Deeper Introduction to Sichuan Cuisine" at Serious Eats (26 August 2014)
  9. ^ Erin DeJesus, "‘Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown’ in Sichuan: Just the One-Liners" in Eater (26 July 2016); Rachel Bartholomeusz, "Fuchsia Dunlop’s top tips for Chinese home cooking, and more" at SBS (22 August 2016); "The spices that make Chinese cuisine unique" at CNN
  10. ^ "我带着《风味人间》里的英国美食作家扶霞吃了一顿北京的爆肚" in The Paper (30 November 2018)
  11. ^ a b Anne Mendelson, "Eat Drink Make Revolution: The Cuisine of Hunan Province" in New York Times (14 March 2007)
  12. ^ "Revolutionary Recipes from China's Hunan Province" on All Things Considered at NPR (28 February 2007)
  13. ^ a b Fuchsia Dunlop, "Letter from China: Garden of Contentment" in The New Yorker vol. 84 no. 38 (16 November 2008) pp. 54–61
  14. ^ Leo Carey, "The Exchange: Fuchsia Dunlop" in The New Yorker vol. 84 no. 38 (20 November 2008)
  15. ^ Tyler Cowen, "Fuchsia Dunlop on Chinese Food, Culture, and Travel" (2016)
  16. ^ Kate Williams, "Cook the Book: 'Every Grain of Rice'" at Serious Eats (19 February 2013)
  17. ^ Fuchsia Dunlop, "To Form "Water Caltrop" Wontons" at Epicurious (February 2013)
  18. ^ a b Paul Levy, "Anyone for caterpillars?" in The Observer (24 February 2008)
  19. ^ "My Life on a Plate" in The Independent (15 March 2008)

External links[edit]