A couple of weeks ago I went down to Guangzhou on a scouting
mission with Joe Zhong of the NZTE office there. At 14 million and
counting, Guangzhou is China's third largest city after Shanghai
I had visited Guangzhou 20 odd years ago on a two-day tourist
spin from Hong Kong. If I had been dropped back into Guangzhou and
not told where I was, I would never have recognised it as the same
Explosive expansion has occurred and the city is now a huge,
polluted, dimensional and a wildly modern megalopolis. Traffic is a
nightmare, the city feels endless, and business is booming.
Guangzhou is an industrial city and is surrounded by a large scale
manufacturing industry, with almost anything you can think of being
made here. If it is "Made in China", it was very likely made in
There are at least six major brand international hotels due to
open in Guangzhou in 2011, to add to the 200+ already there. An
Intercontinental, a Westin, a Ritz Carlton, a Sofitel, a W, a
Sheraton and more are all sprouting as massive high-rise ventures
in the city's elegant modern business district.
Point is: this huge market is getting bigger, bigger, bigger!
This city as a whole is business, business, business, so the
traveler demographic is largely business here, with few
I noticed that there was a really cosmopolitan mix on the street
- a lot of Africans, Middle Easterners and good ole white folks! So
the tropical south of China is very different from Beijing and
Shanghai, and for the chefs, a different guest is borne in mind
when menu planning.
Our first meeting was with Chris Chen, the founder and President
of Chateau Kiwi, a New Zealand branded wine concept with quite an
amazing story. Chris lived in New Zealand and fell in love with
Our naturalness and the lifestyle (not a stretch when you come
from the frenzy of Guangzhou!) appealed to him, and Chris adopted
the kiwifruit as his personal symbol - a Chinese import that
flourishes in New Zealand. He came back to China to set up a
company that now has flagship shops in Beijing and Guangzhou, and
has teamed up with local agencies in other cities (Shanghai being
one) to import and distribute New Zealand wines in exclusive shops
and franchise shops.
Chateau Kiwi has worked with many New Zealand wine estates,
Babich and Matakana to name two, for ten years now. Chateau Kiwi's
offices and wine store is oddly set in a small pocket of bush,
right in the city, to further evoke the New Zealand- ness! A haven!
There is a series of winding underground tunnels (I think leftovers
from WW2) that Chris is converting into very cool climate
Chateau Kiwi also has wine bars in Guangzhou and Beijing and
there is talk of more. So, if you are in Guangzhou or Beijing,
please drop in and say hi and know that we have a 'local hero' in
Chris Chen! It's amazing, really. Think of the work Chris is doing
for us. No amount of marketing money can match the value of a
dedicated Chinese champion on the ground in China.
By the way, I will be working with his chefs helping them add a
New Zealand food presence on their tapas menu. The perfect match!
Learn more about the
Chateau Kiwi on their website.
THE place in Guangzhou is the Canton Club. The original canton
Club was an institution in Guangzhou and for many centuries served
as a point of contact between China and the outside world. There
were many "clubs" in China back in the day, the Shanghai Club, the
British Club, and although their sexist and racist membership
policies would cause an outrage now, they still somehow evoke a
romantic era and notion.
The NEW Canton Club is also a private membership club, and is a
total sanctuary in a massive city. With a spa, a gym, cultural
events and two beautiful restaurants, the Canton Club is a complete
environment. Katie Healms is a British import and the chef at the
gorgeous western restaurant in the Club.
She cooked us a beautiful lunch and we chatted about food. Katie
brings new world savvy to her job and is very attuned to food
trends in the United Kingdom. Katie has used New Zealand lamb in
her menu - but knew little more from Aotearoa, and was interested
to hear about some of the new shellfish product coming in.
"Our clients eat at the best restaurants all over the world, so
are sophisticated and discerning" she said. Katie's focus is
on using high quality products that have good environmental
protocols, are healthy, and she was interested in "message".
"I want to know about the food, the farmer, the growing
protocols, the carbon footprint, the environment- the whole
message. That is what my customers want to know and it is what I
want to say on my menus."
She also asked about "indigenous" information, what is
particular to us that is different from product from other
countries. My thinking is that there is a real space for here iwi
production method message here, and that may be real cache to that
part of our national story.
So imparting "message"… easy for us, right? It is actually,
although I do think that we'd better go past stating "clean and
green" and thrusting endless images of rivers and mountains to
worldly chefs like Katie, and back that up with hard data. Both for
her to embody and pass on to her consumers.
If we say that our oceans are clean, lets add the study findings
that prove that. If grass fed beef or lamb is more nutritious than
grain fed, lets explain that with university findings or the like.
In other words, go beyond "marketing".
And why not - as I have said before, if we want to absolutely
own the "green" space, we'd better fill it up! And this data should
right on our packaging, in all of our media. In the consumers'
minds, it should BE us.
I really heard what Katie was saying. In a Shanghai magazine
recently, I read about a sustainability effort in the city that
seems to defy any chance of just that. I watched this very line of
questioning run like wildfire through the chefs in the US 15 years
ago, and every chef who can in New York now sources clean and green
You know that means that this awareness is here and growing. We
are well placed in this conversation, so as these questions come
our way en masse, we'd best be armed and ready!
So the message was loud and clear from Guangzhou, in fact I felt
I had been hit on the head with it! They want more information on
our growing protocols, the nutritional assets of our product and
more and more about our environment.
I would suggest that this information should be offered in many
formats - packaging, an informational DVD, in both languages, and
include anything that is uniquely ours, such as cultural
information. A lot of the information that we likely take for
granted is very valuable on this end.
A tough task? No way - we have the goods; let's just state
it! If we do this right, we may be adding some Guangzhou and
Shenzhen chefs to Chris Chen in our list of local heroes.
Robert's book Me'a Kai is one of four finalists to win
Gourmand Awards "Best Book of the Year"; the winner will be
announced on 3 March 2011 in Paris.