A Global Taste Test of Foie Gras and Truffles China is poised to become a major player in the gourmet foods market, exporting homegrown foie gras, caviar and truffles. A panel of expert chefs puts China's culinary offerings to the test.
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A Global Taste Test of Foie Gras and Truffles

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A Global Taste Test of Foie Gras and Truffles

A Global Taste Test of Foie Gras and Truffles

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We heard yesterday how China was aiming to dominate the world's gourmet food markets with its exports of caviar, foie gras and truffles. Today we're putting Chinese gourmet products to the taste test.

And that arduous task falls to our Shanghai correspondent Louisa Lim and her panel of experts.

LOUISA LIM: Hello, and greetings from what might be called the ground zero of gastronomy in China. I'm at Jean Georges, a much talked about restaurant, which overlooks Shanghai's famous waterfront the Bund. Now, when we visited the Chinese gourmet produces, they swore their products were as good as imported ones.

So we've decided to put them to the test. For this I'm joined by my expert panel. Eric Johnson is the head chef at Jean Georges and has worked in China for three years. And Stefan Stiller has been in China for three years and works at Mimosa Supper Club.

Both of them have the accolade of being some of the few chefs in China who've worked for restaurants that have won the coveted Michelin Star. Let's start with the truffles. Now, they look slightly different. Can you tell anything from looking at them? I mean, one is lighter than the other.

Mr. ERIC JOHNSON (Chef): Well, the light one could either be summer truffles from Europe or it could be Chinese truffles. Shall we try them?

Mr. STEFAN STILLER (Chef): Yeah, let's try them. The bright one had a nice mushroom flavor, but not really truffle. The other one got more also - a little bit, slightly stronger.

Mr. JOHNSON: I think so. Honestly, I think it could go either way...

Mr. STILLER: Yeah.

Mr. JOHNSON: ...which everyone ends up being European, is not of particularly high quality. But I'll guess - I'm going to guess that the darker one is European.

Mr. STILLER: Yeah, also I guess also in terms of texture and this is very, very, very soft.

LIM: Eric, you were pretty sure before we started this thing you would be able to tell the difference immediately.

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, I think if we were comparing fresh European black truffles with fresh Chinese black truffles, it's a non-issue. But these are both canned, and honestly, not either one of particularly high quality, so they're a little - therefore a little bit hard. Why don't you give us the answer? Which one's which?

LIM: (Unintelligible) actually neither of them are canned.

Mr. JOHNSON: Frozen.

Mr. STILLER: They have been frozen.

LIM: The darker one is the Chinese one and the light one is the French one. So...

Mr. STILLER: So we were wrong. Okay, maybe the French export only would - they can't use it...

Mr. JOHNSON: So this is a summer truffle.

LIM: So let's move on to the next product. We have two goose liver pates, one is imported, one is Chinese. If you'd like to try it?

Mr. JOHNSON: This one has got to be the imported one though.

Mr. STILLER: I guess so. I also guess so. This is whole pieces of liver, some - maybe some truffle. But this is texture and taste-wise terrible. This is a little bit better. Not very much but...

Mr. JOHNSON: Stefan Stiller calling it like he sees it.

Mr. STILLER: If you look at it, it is. It's terrible.

Mr. JOHNSON: It's true. You can't take another bite.

Mr. STILLER: Yes. Very, very (unintelligible) I think the theme was gourmet products? This is far away from being a gourmet product.

LIM: I'm happy to tell you on this one you're correct, but the one that neither of you like at all is the Chinese product. The other one is the French product.

And finally, when we come to the gourmet products, you still think that European suppliers and produces, they're still sort of safe from the Chinese threats for the moment?

Mr. STILLER: I think the market in Europe is still big enough but labor is high in Europe and prices - our taxes are rising, so I think also many, many suppliers are looking for cheaper suppliers for some products. So maybe China can supply some products on lower prices and even on good qualities.

Mr. STILLER: It depends how you mean. From a qualitative standpoint or financial standpoint? Qualitatively I would say they're safe. Financially? I mean, supply and demand and - you know, there are various different markets and so on and so forth.

So already, I mean we've seen restaurants closed for certain periods of time in Paris for using Chinese truffles and not labeling it as such on menus and so on and so forth.

So it's obviously starting to come into the system. But in terms of, you know, the best of the best and those types of things, I mean as far as I'm concerned there still isn't much of an issue.

LIM: So the experts have spoken. Thank you very much to Eric Johnson and Stefan Stiller. This is Louisa Lim, NPR News in Shanghai.

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