Article By Tim King
When “Xi’an food” comes to mind, you would certainly be forgiven for only thinking of the myriad bowls of noodles and bread/lamb combos native to the area. The fact of the matter is, Xi’an’s culinary game has been stepped up considerably in the past several years, and there may be no clearer sign of this than the arrival of La Chaine des Rotisseurs. I use this as the new watermark for culinary excellence in Xi’an because they are responsible for the best meal I’ve had within the city limits, and possibly in my entire life.
La Chaine began in France in 1248 as a guild for goose roasters, but came to encompass the preparing and selling of other meats as well. After several centuries of success, including being awarded a royal charter and coat of arms in 1610, the group suddenly disappeared during the French Revolution when the guild system was dissolved.
It wasn’t until 1950 that La Chaine was resurrected into its modern form, as a society for people who enjoy “good food, good wine and good company”. It has since grown into a truly international organization, with over 24,000 members in 75 countries. Each member country is referred to as a “Bailliage” and organized into smaller Bailliages based on region. The Bailliage National of China has been in existence for more than two decades, and the Xi’an Bailliage was opened this past January.
When I was told I would be covering the Xi’an Bailliage Inaugural Dinner at the Shangri-La Hotel, I was given a lot of this information, as well as a copy of the evening’s menu to prepare, and told to dress for a black tie affair. Faced with the long history, the flurry of French words, and the fact that I would have to wear a navy blue suit in a room full of people who would know the difference navy blue and black, this initially made for one of my most intimidating assignments.
Imagine my relief when my fears proved to be unfounded. La Chaine may be an exclusive club, but its members welcomed me with open arms, and they weren’t kidding about the good food, good wine and good company.
The good food on this very special occasion was a six-course meal. It began with a sweet onion soup and strolled through a rich menagerie of foie gras truffle, Ossetra caviar, and lobster soup, before finally ending with a Wagyu beef sirloin. For good wine, we started with a champagne reception after the induction, enjoyed three French wines with dinner and had port and twenty-five-year-old cognac with dessert.
The good company was an assortment of culinary professionals and foodies, both Chinese and foreign, all forbidden from discussing politics and religion (and as an American this meant I didn’t have to play America’s Greatest Ambassador to anyone’s curiosity about Donald Trump, which was huge). They were eager to share their incredible knowledge of food and drink, debate the merits of each dish, and recount fond memories of past events, in which I was assured that the pomp and circumstance of that evening’s black tie gala was a rarity, but the high quality was not.
Adherence to those three tenets is all that’s required of those who wish to join La Chaine. Membership allows you an open invitation to every Chaine event, not just in Xi’an but all around China and the world. Anyone interested in joining is encouraged to contact the local Bailliage at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.