Globalization is a hot word these days, and nowhere has it been more apparent than in the food world. Americans are eating more eclectically and adventurously these days, and foods that were probably foreign to our parents’ generation are now commonplace and part of the contemporary culinary vernacular. One of the biggest changes in American eating is our approach to Asian cuisines, and our increased exploration into regional Asian foods and exceedingly exotic flavors.
Back in 1986, one New York City restaurant strived to make itself more than just another Chinese restaurant and was one of the pioneers of what is now considered to be Asian fusion cuisine. China Grill was one of the first restaurants to think outside the box when it came to Asian cuisine by offering dishes such as wasabi mashed potatoes, and they exported this concept to over a dozen different locations, including the iconic South Beach location, which has been a landmark for over a decade. Such a global concept in dining requires a globally-minded Chef, and South Florida is grateful to have Chef Keyvan Behnam manning the kitchen at China Grill Miami. Born in Iran, having worked in kitchens throughout Europe and the United States, and possessing effortless skill in marrying French technique with Asian flavors, Chef Behnam is the epitome of a modern, cosmopolitan, and globally-minded chef. Joonbug is pleased to offer its readers a glimpse into Chef Behnam’s culinary inspirations and insights.
First of all, I’m very interested to know about your affinity for Asian cuisine, especially considering the fact that you are not of East Asian background. What is it that first attracted you to Asian flavors and what is it that keeps you attracted to Asian cuisine and its ingredients?
“I love the spice and complex flavor profiles that comes from thousands of years of culinary traditions. I have always been of the global mind when it comes to food; if it tastes good together, put it together! There are no borders.”
Upon doing a bit of research, I discovered that you lived in England, Greece, France, and Italy – all of which have rich culinary heritages. Additionally, you are classically trained in French culinary arts. How have these experiences influenced your cuisine, and how do you incorporate them into your interpretations of Asian cuisine?
“The French training gave me the backbone for my cooking and from there I can bring in all the other flavors I love. The global format of the China Grill concept has allowed me to utilize all the methods and flavor profiles that I have seen over the years.”
A lot of chefs are also greatly influenced by the cuisine of their childhood or national origin. Having been born in Tehran, do you incorporate Persian flavors and techniques in the restaurant or at home?
“At home, I love when my mom comes over because no one beats her Persian cooking. I have my wife learning but no one beats my mom for that! The use of fresh veggies and complex spice profiles is defiantly influenced my choices on the china grill menu. I am so lucky to work with a Global concept so there are no boundaries or borders.”
Being a chef that specializes in Asian fusion cuisine, how do you manage to create innovative dishes that incorporate eclectic influences while still maintaining an Asian “soul” to your dishes?
“Always honor the umami! Work with rich flavor that develops over time and you will keep the soul. “
It has become evident that Americans’ palates and attitudes toward food have changed over the years. How do you think Americans have changed their attitudes toward Asian cuisines, and what we can expect to see in the future?
“There is so much [in the] media now about regional cuisine and getting back to fresh ingredients and trying new [and] interesting foods, and we are running with that trend. Not to mention, interest in food, in general, has grown. People are much more adventurous than they used to be.”
How does your menu reflect these changes in Americans’ taste for Asian cuisine?
“You see more unusual ingredients. We are able to be more creative; flavors that used to seem foreign to most now have become quite familiar.”
I’m always fascinated at the quantity and variety of ingredients one finds at Asian markets. What are some of your favorite Asian ingredients, and how are you incorporating them in your cuisine?
“The one ingredient that has stood out the most [for] me is Ginger. It is so versatile [that] we use it in all areas of the menu, from appetizers, entrees to desserts & specialty cocktails.”
For more information on China Grill, please visit: www.chinagrillmgmt.com