VTC 30th Anniversary Fundraising Gala

Hong Kong’s Vocational Training Council overcomes modern limitations to spirit guests back to ancient China for an imperial fundraising feast of a lifetime, writes Prudence Lui

The Vocational Training Council (VTC) recently celebrated its 30th anniversary with a Manchurian-Han imperial feast-themed fundraising dinner. In ancient China, this feast was only hosted by the Chinese emperors, spanning three whole days with six banquets of over 300 dishes. A diverse range of culinary skills would be gathered from all over imperial China to put together the best of both Manchurian and ‘Han’ (Chinese) cuisines into one lavish event.

Lawrence Wong, director of Chinese Cuisine Training Institute (CCTI), VTC’s member institution, said: “The last royal feast held in Hong Kong was more than three decades ago (November 1977) when the crew from a Japanese TV station hosted the two-day event for a documentary film.

“This unique event took us almost a year to research, concentrating on the banquet menu and rituals, sourcing of ingredients and modernising of the presentation and cooking methods.”

Menu development proved a challenging aspect because original ingredients such as bear paws and elephant trunks from the Manchurian-Han feast are unavailable now due to the protection of endangered animals and the environment.

Hence, the institute’s trainees, instructors and guest chefs chose to re-engineer recipes with a contemporary twist and new presentation. For instance, a molecular gastronomy technique was employed for desserts such as the pearl-like white chocolate mousse with apricot puree. The menu included luxurious dishes such as sautéed sturgeon fillet with chrysanthemum, braised sliced abalone with skin of giant garoupa, and double-boiled chicken and bird’s nest soup.

Wong added: “Veterans from the catering industry, including chefs, service staff, restaurant owners and food writers, were consulted to ensure the essence of the banquet was genuinely reflected in this 2012 version. Guest chefs, who are graduates of CCTI’s master and advanced courses, were invited to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and to showcase different provincial culinary arts.”

Additionally, mountains carved from ginger and lotus roots were showcased as one of the key decorations of a typical Manchurian-Han feast in ancient China.

Elementary Chinese Cuisine Diploma trainees picked up carving skills to make carrot pagoda decorations for the dishes. They were also exposed to rarely seen ingredients, such as giant garoupa skins, pigeon eggs and sturgeons. F&B trainees also went through stringent training on serving the heavy dishes.

“According to history, as the Emperor could not spare time to accompany his guests, he instructed for the food decorations to represent his royal gardens to show hospitality. At VTC’s banquet, the masterpiece, hand-crafted by CCTI trainees and instructors, showed miniature streams, trees and cliffs. Carrots and yams were carved into pagoda and bridges, while cinnamon sticks represented logs.”

To reflect the Qing Dynasty ambience, the event floor was transformed into an ancient Chinese imperial palace. Upon arrival, guests were welcomed by greeters dressed as imperial guards and ladies, before going through a ‘time machine’ via the elevators to the eighth floor.

Apart from performances of ancient imperial dance, music and magic shows during the dinner, there were also pre-dinner activities, such as Chinese fan calligraphy and silhouette paper cutting. There was also a photo corner comprising a dragon chair and pillars with dragon carvings. During the cocktail, guests could dress up as an emperor or empress and have a picture taken while seated on the dragon chair.

Throughout the gastronomic journey, ancient Chinese imperial serving rituals were followed. Front-of-house trainees and instructors were dressed from a wardrobe of over 100 traditional costumes to enhance the imperial ambience.

VTC wowed its VIPs well through this innovative dinner. Its in-house team took full charge of planning and execution. More than 150 instructors and trainees from CCTI and the Hospitality Industry Training and Development Centre participated in this memorable event.

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