Photos: in courtesy of Kiyo and Rebecca Lin
The Reclusive House (避暄食舍) had its first event over the weekend featuring preparation of Wagashi, a traditional Japanese confectionary that is usually served with tea. The newly started lifestyle workshop has apparently charmed its first-time visitors through well-designed activities and its unique perception of “seasonal eating”.
The Reclusive House, which is a classical Ming dynasty architecture covering an area of nearly 300 square meters, is situated in the Hutong area of Beijing’s Andingmen, a neighborhood popular among expats.
Zhang Chengzhi, one of the two founders of Reclusive House, who is now managing the startup said, “The house was formerly a popular restaurant featuring exquisite home-cooking dishes and seasonal eating. The owner, also a friend of mine, is a talented cook who’s famous for looking into all details of his work. He knows I’m a real advocate and practitioner of a seasonal diet just as he is, so he transferred the business to me in belief that I would continue its tradition.”
Zhang demonstrated how to make a Sakura-shaped Wagashi to a group of people sitting by his side around a long, wooden table. The young man is not only skillful with his hands, but capable of telling food stories in an intriguing way. Before starting his kitchen business several years ago, Zhang had worked for nearly 10 years as an English teacher for New Oriental, one of China’s biggest English education providers. “My teaching career has endowed me skills to communicate to a group of people in a more effective way,” he told Sino-US.com.
Zhang’s partner Kiyo, or Liu Qiyuan, prepared cheese cake and fruit tea for the whole “class” during tea break. Kiyo, who is also an English major, now teaches bakery, Cantonese cuisine, and flower bouquet for the workshop. He materialized the House’s core idea about seasonal diet through the delicately made cake topped with a thin layer of jelly decorated with Sakura.
“We are taught by our mothers to eat vegetables and fruits during their peak harvest time when their flavor and nourishments are at the best,” he said, adding that the culture of seasonal eating actually also puts a lot of value on local specialties.
“All of the Sakura we use are from Japan. They’re salted to be preserved longer. Although the flowers are not fresh, we know they would be better ingredients considering their cultivation method prevents air or soil pollution,” said Kiyo. According to Zhang Chengzhi, the bean paste used for making Wagashi is produced in northeast China where the latitude is similar to that of Hokkaido, where Wagashi was originated.
Seasonal eating is practiced by common people like our parents instead of professional chefs who tend to be limited by standardized procedures to make food, according to the owners. “When we were kids, our parents naturally learnt from their parents what part of pig or sheep may taste well in which dishes or by which cooking methods, but now, more and more Chinese people have begun to neglect those traditions,” said Kiyo, adding the workshop aims to restore that culture and remind people that these traditions could not only make them healthy but also bring unforgettably great eating experience.
The duo has partnered to organize seasonal eating events for a while. “We now have our own place,” said Zhang, referring to the Reclusive House. The entrepreneurs are confident about the cause. “People would say it’s not good timing to venture into your own business because of the gloomy economy, while we think if we could make a start now when people are tightening their belts, we could prosper when the recovery comes,” Zhang said.
Zhang has worked as a private cook for several years in a part-time way. While other chefs cook for their customers at restaurants, he cooks for his customers at his home. “We would eat together, drink wine and talk casually about food, life and everything. They feel at home, have a good time and learn more things about eating,” Zhang explained. He finds out he enjoys the life more than his full-time career as an English teacher.
Kiyo, like his partner, also aspires for a life that allows varied experiences. “I believe that when you’re young, you should travel more.” After graduation, he travelled from Beijing to Shanghai, Xi’an, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hangzhou for short stays, to work in a local company for several months, but no more than one year. When he came back to Beijing, Kiyo worked successively for the Apple Company and China Central Television for several years before starting his own business now.
“I would not waste time in a life that’s basically predicable. Like my partner Zhang Chengzhi, who had given up his well-paid job as an English teacher, we chose to do things we really love and believe in,” said Kiyo. And here comes the Reclusive House, where they could stage various lifestyle workshop activities and meet with people of similar interests.
Zhang and Kiyo also invited Liu Huiqin, a respectable crafts woman of paper-cutting which is an intangible heritage in China, to teach basic skills of the art.
Pink is from Thailand. She had come for the activity with her two Thai friends. “It’s a great activity for me to learn about different cultures, diet, and meet new friends. It’s kind of VIP treatment in the sense that the teacher is able to pay attention to every participant,” said Pink, who is now a Master’s student at the Beijing Normal University.