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Professional Recognition for Hotpot Chefs Creates Recipe for Success

By JAMES ALEXANDERICHONGQING|Nov 16,2022

Chongqing– China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security has officially recognized the position of hotpot chef as a specific category for professional employment, thus filling a long-standing void in the industry nationwide, as hotpot chefs are estimated in the tens of thousands in Chongqing Municipality alone.

It can be said that condiments form the basis of hotpot, while chefs who prepare this spicy concoction may be considered the soul of this famous delicacy. In light of this official development announced in October, the nationally recognized hotpot master Pan Lian shared the background story behind his success.

Pan Lian

Chongqing hotpot Masterchef Pan Lian photographed at a promotional event for cultural heritage in 2014 (iChongqing/ Pan Lian)

Pan, now a 56-year-old native of Chongqing, has worked as a hotpot chef for more than twenty years and has won many prizes for his culinary skills displayed in various competitions. However, the road to success was far more challenging than first expected when he initially tried his hand in the industry.

“Initially, I entered this profession because I wanted to give friends in Chongqing the most flavorsome hotpot. However, I used to think hotpot was simply a matter of base condiments at the time, so I never imagined becoming a skilled and qualified chef would be so difficult,” Pan reminisced.

The first challenge for a budding hotpot chef is to gain a thorough familiarity with the ingredients, each of which has unique characteristics and changes according to how you blend them. This skill can only be mastered through continued practice rather than a written procedure. In the case of Pan, this involved personally visiting the locations where ingredients are produced.

“It would be fair to say I covered every blade of grass in search of the right ingredients. I visited many places to learn about their subtle differences because they play a vital role in making the perfect condiment base.”

Hotpot

The skills behind making hotpot base condiments require long-term practice with repeated trial and error to eventually master (iChongqing/Hotpot School)

For example, the prickly ash and chilies used in hotpot bases have various flavors and spiciness. As a result, Pan traveled widely across Chongqing to source the best ingredients, including beef fat, an indispensable part of the condiment mixture.

Once a chef has determined the right ingredients, they must fry them together in different ways to find the right blend. However, many additional factors, such as heat, cooking times, and weather conditions, impact the final product. Qualified chefs must master it through repeated trial and error before achieving excellence.

In recent years, hotpot culture in Chongqing has gained ever more popularity, which has compelled the industry to diversify and innovate new condiment bases, including non-spicy options that use mushrooms and tomatoes as crucial ingredients. This way, the delicacy has developed more appeal in other regions of China, where local palates are less orientated towards spicy cuisine.

This also means foreign visitors and residents who can’t eat spicy food may still enjoy Chongqing hotpot in a way that suits their tastes. In this respect, the contribution of hotpot chefs like Pan cannot be ignored. Simultaneously, spicy Chongqing hotpot has expanded well beyond the frontiers of China in recent years, as major brands and independent outlets have opened in cities worldwide.

Liu Yishou

The Liu Yishou brand of Chongqing hotpot can now be found across China and 15 countries overseas as its popularity grows worldwide. (iChongqing/ James Alexander)

For example, Liu Yishou Hotpot was founded in 2000 and has since grown from a single 200-square-meter streetside restaurant to over 1,500 branches worldwide. These include 31 provinces in China and 15 overseas countries, including the United States, Canada, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Spain.

In many English cities before the new millennium, the local Chinese cuisine market was dominated by Cantonese-style restaurants, opened mainly by families who had previously immigrated from Hong Kong. However, the significant uptick in overseas students from Mainland China provided the basis for more regional cuisine to flourish and gain popularity amongst the local community. Nowadays, even in smaller cities such as Leicester, restaurants serving Chongqing hotpot and Sichuanese cuisine are familiar sights.

Now the profession of hotpot chefs has been officially recognized. Pan sees this development as exciting news for hotpot lovers in Chongqing. “This will stimulate enthusiasm to improve culinary skills, benchmark standards for the industry, and spread hotpot culture to the world!”

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