Rediscovering the Colors of Life



I met Ellen Zhao as early as a year ago, but we only really got to know each other in recent months. Life is strangely serendipitous sometimes – it feels as if you meet people that you need to meet at certain points in your life. The two of us turned out to be quite similar minded. Zhao once told me that “the stomach carries the heart,” and I thought it was a cute saying but meaningless jibberish. Nowadays, I’ve begun to understand the tightly knit relationship between humans and food. It’s both a physical and psychological experience. The relationship between us and the world is interconnected as well, an internal and external exchange. Recently, I met up with her again to better understand her thoughts on the connection between us humans and food, and some of the concepts behind her private kitchen, Yue Shi.

见过Ellen Zhao其实早在一年多前,认识Zhao是几个月前,而打开关系大概就那几周。人跟人之间就是很妙,该到什么时候你遇到什么人,所谓气味相投,也就是在那个当下你知道你们有共通的部分。她以前也说过,让爱经过你的胃,那时候我听着温暖,心里头想扯着吧。到这会儿,方知食物与人更密的关系,它从口入,化为身体的虚实,从物理上、心理上无不息息相应。人与天地之间,不过是内外往来,且在这俗世里头,我们来聊聊人间烟火那些事儿

Neocha: You say that everyone has memories that are some way or another tied with food. Can you tell us about a certain taste that is locked in your own memory?

Ellen: It’s definitely Chinese-style cabbage and tofu stew. It reminds me of when I was a child and still living with my grandparents. My grandfather was a diligent and pragmatic craftsman who rose with the sun and rested when it set. My grandmother would pick a cabbage from the garden and boil it together with grandfather’s homemade tofu. Occasionally my grandmother would cook this dish with meat (because it was my grandfather’s favorite), and occasionally, my grandfather would add shrimp (because that’s what my grandmother enjoyed). It was the perfect meal, gathering over a bubbling stove, the air heavy with sorghum wine and the smell of fresh homemade cabbage and tofu stew wafting in the air.

Neocha: 你常说起每个人记忆里的食物,那你记忆中的味道又是什么?

Ellen: 记忆深处的那道是白菜炖豆腐。在幼时与外公外婆一起生活,外公是个勤恳务实的匠人,每天日出而作日落而息。外婆在田间拔一颗白菜,用外公做的卤水豆腐熬一大锅白菜豆腐,偶尔会放些肉进去(因为外公喜欢吃),而外公做这道菜时就会丢一些虾进去(因为外婆喜欢吃)。灶火咕嘟嘟,微黄的白炽灯,浓香醇厚的高粱酒再配上白菜鲜和豆腐香,你浓我浓,至冷方休。

Neocha: What does the process of preparing a meal mean to you?

Ellen: Cooking for me is like having a conversation with the world around me. There are so many possibilities and I’m inspired from the very moment that I start to buy my ingredients. The preparation process allows me to get in touch with my ingredients. With every stroke of my knife, we fall into a deeper understanding. When bringing a dish together, there are endless possibilities: sautéing, frying, steaming, and stewing. The whole process is a test of skill and endurance. A minute too long on the flame could be the difference between a dish being over overcooked. The moment when everything comes together in the pan isn’t actually the most exciting moment. Instead, it’s the waiting that excites me. For me, the defining moment is when each flavor comes together to create a complete dish; it’s an honest and sincere moment. When the meal is over, even the clean up is like meditation; it’s a time to reflect on the meal and consider whether it was cooked to its fullest potential. This allows me to add layers and emotions into my flavors.

Neocha: 做食物的过程,对你来说意味着什么?

Ellen: 做菜的过程于我来说像是和这个世界对话,然后用自己的方式来进行创作,买菜的时候发现当下不一样的食材便会诱发出灵感;清洗的过程像是还原食物在创作前的最佳状态;切配改刀则是对食物的剖析且更深层的了解,此时也是创作前的高潮,每个食材怎么搭配、怎样排列、如何调味,似乎有上万种可能;而煎、炸、蒸、焖的过程则是考验功力和耐力,差一分火候便可能成糟糠之味,而出锅前静候一分钟开盖也会成就上乘佳肴的美味。但出锅的那刻始终不是最兴奋的,倒是等待的过程,烹煮的是食物,调味的却是不同的人生,这才是食物给予我最真实动人、最赤裸的坦诚。在最后的清洗和收拾时,像是禅修,静心感受食物转换成另一种存在,回顾这过程是否尽美。这需要时常拿来反省和思考,出来的味道才会呈现更多层次和情感,像人在自我整理后,也是为了远行。

Neocha: Once you started cooking from your private kitchen, how has your understanding of food changed?

Ellen: Everything that I make is seasonal – there is no fixed menu. My dishes are also dependent on the tastes, preferences and dietary needs of guests. I believe that my customers also have to respect food. I used to think that food was a very personal thing but then I realized that without the right company to share it with, it becomes much less meaningful. Whenever I see diners enjoy the entire experience with their friends, it moves me. No matter how hard I work in the kitchen, whenever I witness this moment, I feel that it is worth it.

Neocha: 在做了更多的私厨之后,你对食物的理解会有什么微妙的变化?

Ellen: 做餐食我基本遵从四季的变化,也没有固定菜单,会根据客人的需求来制定,来的人也要尊重食物本身。原以为吃是件很私人的事情,但慢慢发现,再无与伦比的美食如果没有合适的人一同分享,那份愉悦感和幸福感会成倍的减少。所以每当眼见食客和他们的朋友们相聚尽欢、同吃共乐的场面,都会莫名的感动,无论再辛苦也会觉得值得这一餐。

Neocha: How would you describe the relationship between people and food?

Ellen: I believe the relationship between people and food is like a mirror; you truly are what you eat.

Neocha: 怎么理解人和食物间的关系?

Ellen: 人和食物的关系也像一面镜子,你怎么选择它,它则会成就怎样的你。

Neocha: How does your restaurant name, Yue Shi, tie in with your food philosophy?

Ellen: Many people think that Yue Shi has something to do with Vietnamese cuisine because the Chinese word yue is similar to the Chinese word meaning Vietnamese. But it is more to do with the fact that my Chinese name has the character yue in it. My father had decided on this name even before I was born in hopes that I would be able to overcome any setbacks and difficulties in life. When you dismantle the Chinese characters for Yue Shi, the individual strokes carry the meaning of being people-orientated and coming from the heart. Making food should not be a hastily rushed process; it should be done with diligence and care in order to create your own unique flavor.

Neocha: 越食这个名字的来由是不是也与你想做的食物有关?

Ellen: 很多人会以为“越食”与越南菜有关,然则当初决定用这两个字也是忠于自己的初心,忠于自己对食物的爱,就像我的名字中带“越”字,这个名字在我未出生前,父亲就已帮我取好了,他希冀我可以在之后的生命里不断跨越人生的挫折和困难,最终超越自己。而“越食”两个字拆解后又都带有人字,以人为本,以心为出发点;“走”意味着做食物不能操之过急,用心慢慢做,走的慢看的多,收获也多,最终成全的是自己的独一味。

Neocha: In life, people are sure to encounter moments that make them rethink their perspective on life. What have you come across?

Ellen: You encounters high and lows in life, and it’ll come at you with unexpected surprises. Some people say that theater imitates life, but I find that it’s more accurate to say life imitates theater. The pressure and inevitabilities of life come like torrential rain at times. I recall one week when I barely got any sleep. One night during this week, around four or five in the morning, I still couldn’t fall sleep; I went running by the river instead. As the sun rose, I noticed, to my surprise, that everything looked monochromatic – I lost my ability to see color. The world was replaced by an unsettling black and white. All the colors turned to gray. Becoming colorblind, I learned to see things from a completely different perspective, and I realized how beautiful the world could be. But as time passed, I realized that the world is just the way it is and the only true change is just a matter of personal perspective.

Neocha: 每个人在生命里多少会遇到对人生有重新认识的时候,你有吗?


Neocha: What do you see happening in the future for you?

Ellen: Regardless of where and when, I want to always stay true to my passion for food and food culture.  Even though I am just one person, I just hope to always stay true to this.

Neocha: 对于往后有什么样的设想?

Ellen: 无论何时何地,以何种形式,我都会坚持把对食物和饮食文化的理解一直传播出去,其实是多么渺小的我,但既然都那么渺小了那更要做啦。

Neocha: In this moment, what do you feel like eating?

Ellen: A red bean ice pop.

Neocha: 就这会儿,你想吃什么?


Weibo: ~/JK-Ellen
WeChat: Yuefood
Tel: +86 187-2122-9342


Contributor: Chan Qu
Photographer: Chan Qu, Echo Yang
Videographer: Ye Zi

微信: Yuefood
联系电话: +86 187-2122-9342


供稿人: Chan Qu
图片摄影师: Chan Qu, Echo Yang
视频摄影师: Ye Zi