Known as a culinary mastermind who has been making waves in the food industry for over a decade, Chef Guo Wenjun is known for his innovative and creative approach to fine Chinese cuisine.
By blending traditional Chinese flavors with modern Western techniques to create a unique and unforgettable dining experience, Vision Times sat down with Guo to learn more about his inspirations, influences, and how he got his start in the culinary world.
From a young age, Guo was exposed to a diverse range of culinary influences that he now employs at his restaurant in New York City. Having spent much of his childhood helping his mother in the kitchen, Guo learned how to cook traditional Chinese dishes using fresh, seasonal ingredients. As he grew older, Guo’s passion for cooking only intensified, ultimately deciding to pursue a career in the culinary arts.
During the interview, Guo revealed that he spent his childhood in a rural community where chefs were commonly hired to prepare meals for various events such as weddings and funerals. As a youngster, his father enlisted his assistance in preparing food after school.
“I grew up in the countryside, and in our village, chefs were invited to people’s houses to cook for wedding and funeral ceremonies,” Guo shared, highlighting how he spent his childhood learning how to cook and prep ingredients at the behest of his father.
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When Guo turned 14, his father arranged for him to apprentice under a master chef — believing that the youngster had the talent and tenacity to become a truly skilled chef.
“I entered this line of work because of my father,” said Guo.
The master-apprentice relationship holds great significance and respect in China, Guo shared, recalling how his cooking master was often regarded as a father figure.
“During my apprenticeship, my master was very strict with me; as a playful teenager who enjoyed sleeping in, I often struggled to wake up on time,” said Guo, adding, “I vividly recall one instance where my master stormed into my dormitory, kicked the door open, and smacked me [for being tardy.]”
From novice to master
The Chinese have a proverb that goes, “a filial son is beaten out of the stick,” meaning young people require discipline and sometimes physical punishment to instill obedience and respect, he shared. “Around 1988, when I was a little over 20 years old and feeling confident in my abilities, I left my master in pursuit of making a name for myself,” he said.
However, Guo soon realized that this decision had led him down a path filled with numerous setbacks and obstacles. “To be honest, I went through many detours afterwards,” he said as he recalled his time spent job-hunting in Guangzhou (a sprawling port city northwest of Hong Kong located on the Pearl River).
“The outside world wasn’t easy,” Guo said, adding, “In fact, what I learned from my master was quite different from what I saw in society; I traveled a lot during that time to observe and learn different cooking styles and techniques.”
Drawing upon his own unique perspective and vision, Guo sought to incorporate traditional techniques into his own personal style. Through a process of experimentation and reorganization, he ultimately created a style that was uniquely his own.
“I re-organized the traditional techniques I learned and then made them into my own style.”
Turning a page
After completing his formal training, Chef Guo began working in some of China’s top restaurants — honing his skills and refining his palate in the process. It wasn’t long before he started to gain recognition for his innovative approach to cooking that combined traditional Chinese flavors with modern techniques to create dishes that were both familiar and exciting.
In 2010, Guo became Executive Chef at the prestigious Beijing Palace International Hotel and Palace Museum, which quickly became one of the most popular dining destinations in the nation’s buzzing capital. His fusion cuisine, which combines the flavors of China with elements of French, Japanese, and other culinary traditions, has earned him numerous accolades and awards over the years.
“I read a lot of books and learned a lot of theories,” says Guo, explaining how he began incorporating those techniques to highlight the “pairing of meat and vegetables, acidic and alkaline ingredients, wet and dry ingredients of a dish, and a variety of cooking methods and combinations.”
In fact, based on the elements and considerations of each dish, Guo decides how to make each dish to highlight its ingredients. “Food is to be consumed in moderation and responsibly,” says Guo.
One of Chef Guo’s signature dishes is his “Shanghai-style braised pork belly,” a traditional Chinese dish that he has reinvented with his own unique twist. The dish features succulent pieces of pork belly that have been slow-cooked in a rich, flavorful broth, infused with ginger, garlic, and other aromatic spices.
Chef Guo then adds his own spin to the dish by serving it with a delicate French-style potato puree, which perfectly complements the fatty, rich flavors of the pork.
Another standout dish from Chef Guo’s menu is his “Kung Pao Chicken with Sichuan Pepper and Foie Gras,” which takes the classic Chinese dish to new heights. The dish features tender pieces of chicken that have been marinated in a spicy sauce, then stir-fried with Sichuan peppercorns and foie gras, creating a deliciously complex flavor profile that is both familiar and unexpected.
But when it comes to his own favorites, Guo said he has three standout dishes.
“The first one is millet with Liao Ginseng, which I created in Shanxii,” Guo explained, adding, “It became popular after 2000 and won me a gold medal in the national cooking competition in 2006. [This dish] is an example of pairing coarse and fine grains, and a major [world] leader even came to my restaurant to taste it.”
The second dish is a simple pork meatloaf that he created to please both foreigners and Chinese. “I used preserved mustard, water chestnut, orange peel, and tomato juice for the seasoning, and it’s a popular dish among my customers,” says Guo.
Lastly, Guo created the original “fried green rice” using leeks to give the rice a distinct light green hue. “Considered a healthy ingredient, I used the juice from a pound of leeks to soak the millet, and it tasted delicious,” Guo said, adding, “My principle is that taste comes first, and nourishment is the basis. I try to ensure that each dish has some medicinal effect on various human organs while remaining a gourmet dish.”
Don’t forget the tea
In addition to his culinary skills, Chef Guo is also known for his commitment to sustainability and responsible sourcing. He works closely with local farmers and suppliers to ensure that he is using only the freshest and highest-quality ingredients in his dishes, and he is constantly exploring new ways to reduce waste and promote environmental sustainability.
At Guo’s restaurant, three types of tea are served. The first one is called “white hair silver needle” — a pre-dinner tea that was once used by a Chinese emperor as a mouth rinse to help “wake up the taste buds,” says Guo.
“During the meal, I serve “Da Hong Pao” (a type of Oolong tea) to make the taste buds more sensitive, and Pu’er after the meal to cleanse the palate,” he added.
Originating in China’s scenic Yunnan Province, Pu’er tea is a type of fermented tea with a rich and earthy flavor profile. Pu’er is known for its potential health benefits, which have been known to improve digestion, reduce inflammation, and aid in weight loss. It also contains antioxidants and compounds that may help lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure — making it a popular choice for those seeking a healthier beverage option.
“My dishes are made to highlight the natural taste of the ingredients, unlike other dishes that are greasy and highly stimulating to the taste buds,” says Guo, adding, “Regularly consuming food with heavy salt and oil can dull the taste buds, which is why drinking this type of tea is necessary.”
A sensory Shangri-La
Chef Guo’s passion for cooking and his dedication to innovation and sustainability have made him a true culinary visionary. Whether you’re a fan of traditional Chinese cuisine or looking for something new and exciting to try, Chef Guo’s fusion dishes are sure to satisfy even the pickiest of palates.
“To fully experience my dishes, the environment is prepared accordingly with soothing music and designed decor to help customers forget the noise outside,” says Guo adding, “The dishes have a light flavor and require slow tasting with a quiet mind to fully recognize and appreciate them.”
For more information on Chef Guo’s restaurant, menu, and reservation requests, please visit the official website here.
Chef Guo NYC
135 East 50th Street
New York, NY 10022
Tel: (212) 866‐9888