Black Sesame Kitchen In Beijing

Black Sesame Kitchen In Beijing

I met Chairman Wang in September 2010, while travelling in China. I attended one of Black Sesame Kitchen Cooking Classes, and I didn’t know at that time, it would give me a story to tell…

Black Sesame Kitchen

Black Sesame Kitchen developed out of founder Jen Lin-Liu’s passion for Chinese food. A Chinese-American writer, Jen is the author of two memoirs, Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China, and On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta. After working as a foreign journalist in China for several years, Jen enrolled in a cooking school in Beijing, became a nationally certified Chinese chef, and interned in several Chinese restaurants. Her cooking experiences are told in lively, narrative fashion in her first book, Serve the People. After the book was published, she found a space in a courtyard residence on Black Sesame Hutong in central Beijing in 2008 and renovated it into an open kitchen and dining room where she invited friends to cook, wine, dine, and socialize. Since then, Black Sesame Kitchen has received numerous awards and honors, including being mentioned in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and being named one of Asia’s Top Restaurants by the Miele Guide. In June 2015 Black Sesame Kitchen moved to an elegant courtyard tucked away on Zhonglao Hutong, a short walk from the Forbidden City. One of Jen’s original cooking masters and a character in both of her books, Zhang Aifeng, continues to lead the team as Black Sesame Kitchen’s executive chef, along with dining manager Coco Yue.

Beijing, September 2010

Chairman Wang is a woman and a fascinating character (as the name suggests) and a bit of a force to be reckoned with. Employed by Black Sesame Cooking School in Beijing, Chairman Wang’s specialties are handmade noodles and dumplings – and I owe her some wonderful tricks ! – so what to expect? A Sarong meets Beijing experience of course!

Sarong Meets Beijing

The following article was previously published in Hello Bali in July 2011.

With Sarong’s cuisine culture campaign taking full flight, chef Will Meyrick brings in culinary mavens from around the world to share their expertise and entice our taste buds.

Asia has arguably one of the richest varieties of cuisine in the world, and as tradition has it, the best-tasting picks are the authentic grub found on the side of the road, sold straight from a rickety cart by an old street hawker who has been cooking the same brand of cap cay for the past ten years and, even better yet, has a secret recipe for it that has been passed down from generations past. A tad overly romanticised, yes, but very true in a way – old favourites are an Asian specialty, without offering too many frills and thrills in their traditional cuisine, but still managing to capture one’s fancy through good, honest food. It takes a maverick to take a bite out of life, literally speaking, and to be able to twist these traditional recipes just so, so as to give them a brand new taste without belting out the whole “avant-garde fusion cuisine” song and dance. This maverick is named Will Meyrick, former leading chef at Jimmy Liks and Longrain in Australia, and creator of Husk at Sofitel Bali and LOTUS in Hong Kong. Will is known for exploring Asia’s culinary playground, tasting his way through the street stalls while coming up with new ideas for cooking some old favourites in South-East Asian cuisine. As the chef’s latest hat trick, Sarong’s kitchen is where he applies these ideas. The fine dining restaurant recently launched a programme titled ‘Cuisine Culture’ – the foodie version of a student exchange programme – which brings in guest chefs from around Asia to come cook at Sarong for a limited time. Before that, though, Will scours the kitchens of South-East Asia and studies with these guest chefs in their respective kitchens and cooks for their patrons as well.
Sarong’s warm ambience would be nothing if not for the masters behind the cooking counters, and the latest guest chef to join Will Meyrick in his “laboratory” in Seminyak is Chairman Wang of the Black Sesame Kitchen, a cooking school and private dining venue in Beijing, China, which was founded by Jen Lin- Liu, author of ‘Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China‘. Black Sesame Kitchen is an organic institution, located in a cosy corner in central Beijing and comprised of an open kitchen and dining room – modest, down- to-earth, authentic, and simply delicious; the four pillars that make home cooking what it is.

The star of the night, Chairman Wang, is a Beijing native, and has been a cooking teacher for 12 years, previously of the famous Hualian Cooking School. The ever-smiling and stoic 60-year-old woman does not speak a word of English and her young translator from New York, Candice Lee – also a chef at the Black Sesame Kitchen – is always by her side to make sure nothing gets lost in translation.

“Chairman Wang has never left Beijing, let alone the country, in her whole life, this is her first time abroad,” Candice explains, after which Chairman Wang adds a short remark, said in a soft and unfaltering tone. “She says she is very nervous to be here,” Candice translates, although I could not sense even an iota of nervousness coming from the Mandarin-speaking chef – she is the proverbial master I used to watch in old kung fu films, the one that harbours the secrets of life but chooses to divulge them slowly over time to the worthy few.

There is a sly glint in Chairman Wang’s eyes that is both humble and wise at the same time; through Candice, Chairman Wang says, “I have been cooking since I was six years old, first because of necessity – in traditional China, it is essential to be able to cook – and before China opened up to the outside world, we had to make do with limited ingredients, mostly flour and cabbage, so cooking became a form of discipline and creativity.”

While we are on the topic, I can’t help but ask about the communist regime and the affect it had on her cooking techniques and style. “Nothing has changed except for access to ingredients; nowadays, it is easier to obtain certain ingredients, whereas before, everything was rationed and controlled. But as for my cooking, nothing has changed.”

Chairman Wang is an embodiment of placidity – I do not spot one fidget throughout our whole conversation – a polar opposite to Will Meyrick, who is sitting at the table with us. Will is fiery and dynamic, passionate and restless, excitable and full of life and things to say.

“I was very impressed with Will when he spent time to study under us. He is not Chinese but he is so eager to learn the cuisine; such a good student, so open-minded, so detailed, so enthusiastic. I am very happy to share a kitchen with him,” Chairman Wang speaks in Mandarin, pointing to the grinning chef of Sarong, to which he adds, “You know, it’s amazing how the small differences in cooking technique can completely change the flavours of a dish. I know how to cook Chinese food, mostly from the southern regions [Chairman Wang specialises in north Chinese cooking], but to observe the cooking technique of someone who has been doing it her whole life, so much so that it has become a natural part of her person, you absorb random tidbits of information that…like I said, it can change a dish completely!”

I am lucky to have Chairman Wang and Will Meyrick prepare a collaborative masterpiece of a meal for me that night, in which the menu consists mainly of dumplings and noodles – both are Wang’s specialties – but I could taste Will Meyrick in each dish as well; innovation coupled with tradition; this is not mere fusion, this is a diffusion of culinary revolution. Poetic, no?

It seems this ‘Cuisine Culture’ thing is working out tremendously, having recently hosted a guest chef from Cambodia for Sarong’s last event. I am curious of who else I will be expecting in Sarong’s kitchen in the future.

“Oh, you ain’t seen nothing yet!” Will enthuses. “Get ready for guest chefs from Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, Thailand, and of course, all over Indonesia. Watch this space.” •

Black Sesame Kitchen : website


Sundanese people are renowned for their exceptional cuisine. Let me present you today one of their most famous snacks

A little story…

“Combro” is a Sundanese recipe, and the most famous snacks in Indonesia can be found in the city of Bandung, West Java.

The name “combro” means more or less… “smelly inside” (abbreviation of “oncom in jero” in Sundanese language). Do not be afraid to try them: they are absolutely fantastic.

Best places to eat “combro”

Bandung: Combro Capitol, a hawker stall you can find in Jalan Astanaanyar Jakarta: Combro Mas Halim, in East Jakarta, in Pondok Kopi Bogor: Combro Nirwana, in Empang, south of the city  
Kalimantan, Warung Katupat Kaganangan and Warung Novi

Kalimantan, Warung Katupat Kaganangan and Warung Novi

On our first stop with Kevin Cherkas, we went to Warung Kaganangan, in Kandangan, which is renowned in Kalimantan. This place serves a dish made of a signature smoked fish, simmered in a coconut gravy, served with rice parcels, also well known as ketupat. After filming, I was able to get some inside information that allowed me to serve it my way, at Hujan Locale, during our April 2019 event “A Dinner in Kalimantan”. Next stop was Warung Novi, in Banjarmasin, to try her famous Soto Banjar. At first, this dish was a challenge for Kevin to reinterpret, but in the end, very inspiring as we literally transformed this soup into Xialong Bao’s for our Kalimantan dinner on May 11, 2019, at Som Chai.
Ancient duck “tom kha bpet”

Ancient duck “tom kha bpet”

Som Chai, my Thai restaurant in Bali, tells cultural stories through recipes: coming from the late 19th Century to the table, here is a short story of the “Tom Kha Bpet”

It was a soup…

Tom Kha is originally a type of soup consisting of a spicy chicken-curry in coconut milk. 

The soup typically includes coconut milk, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, Thai chili peppers, coriander (or dill weed), straw mushrooms (or shiitake or other mushrooms), chicken, fish sauce, and lime juice. Fried chilies are sometimes added.

… but in the late 19th Century, it was not anymore !

In the late 19th century, “tom kha” was not a soup at all: it was a dish of chicken or duck simmered in a light coconut broth with a generous amount of galangal. The coconut broth adds sweetness to the meat, and the galangal helped to mellow the meat odor. It was then served with a basic roasted chili jam as a dipping relish seasoned along the salty-sour-sweet spectrum.

Let me take you on a trip to the Ancient Siam

At Som Chai, I introduced this modern version of “Tom Kha”, and invite you to discover its complex flavours, its rich scent and the guilty pleasure to dip the meat in the roasted chilli jam !

Kalimantan, Warung Hj Yuli and H Alan

Kalimantan, Warung Hj Yuli and H Alan

In this episode, Kevin Cherkas and I are searching for intense flavours for our dinner event that happened back on the 11th May in my restaurant Som Chai. This experience also gave me inspiration for some dishes we now serve at Hujan Locale. We started our culinary journey at Warung Hj. Yuli, in Banjarbaru, where fishes are sublimated in a Kalimantan style. Then, we went on to Amutai city, to try the legendary Warung Itik Tanpa Tulang H. Alan. Pak Haji Ali was serving up his signature duck dish, which is deboned duck marinated in soy and a few other spices. He would rub the duck across the grill as if he wanted it to absorb the flavours of the grill which looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since he opened back in 1993!