by Celia Sin-Tien Cheng
February 13, 2006
Taiwan-born sculptor, Shida Kuo, exhibits internationally and is an instructor in the Deparment of Art and Art Professions at New York University. He and his wife have been living in New York for nearly twenty years now.
Shida’s culinary interest started in middle school. By college, while other students used the dormitory kitchen to merely boil water to pour into their cup-o-noodles, he would experiment and cook up a storm.
Shida likens the process of cooking to art. He explains the difference in the amount of time it takes to achieve results: In cooking, the results are instantaneous, whereas creating a piece of sculpture or a painting takes much longer and you are never quite sure how it’s going to come out. With cooking, you know immediately if it’s good or bad. Art takes longer.
Besides art, cooking is Shida’s main passion. He finds it relaxing and exciting at the same time. He’ll ride his bike or scooter to the markets in Chinatown and, after returning from grocery shopping, he takes no rest as he can’t wait to start cooking.
Even as Shida describes cooking as a quicker cycle than creating one of his sculptures, when he hosts a dinner, it involves a long and deep thought process. He is constantly planning out the sequencing and combination of a meal. At the end of it, one should feel content but not overstuffed, so Shida conceives his dishes and portions to leave one wanting more, for next time. As an artist, the visual effect of the meal is also of utmost importance. He plans out which dish should go with which ware, and he collects and makes ceramic pieces especially for his menu. Considering that Shida’s dinner parties might involve him making some dishware, we’re not talking about your average hospitality.
Like his sculptures, Shida’s cuisine is contemporary. Although based mainly on the Chinese tradition, he modifies to match a contemporary palate. His cuisine is not contrived but very fluid and natural. For our New Year’s Eve banquet, for example, he modified the traditional sixteen-course meal to ten (to avoid the overeating habit at Chinese banquets), used fish fillets instead of whole fish for a modern aesthetic and paired the Shanghainese pearl meatballs with Taiwanese vinegar, which he thinks is a lighter and more elegant choice than the darker and heavier tasting vinegar used by the Shanghainese.
Shida’s one of those people who can taste a dish, decompose the ingredients mentally and recreate it at home. His cooking is not limited to just Chinese, and, in fact, his roast beef is the best I’ve ever tasted. He is open to experimentation and his goal is to create the most suitable and excellent flavors.
I consider myself extremely lucky to be privy to Shida’s cooking. We agree that most of the Chinese food in New York is too heavy-handed and leaves a bad aftertaste. And while I continue to search for decent Chinese food in the City, I wanted to share with my readers a glimpse of what Chinese food could and should be.
Click here to read about Shida’s Chinese New Year’s Feast.