It’s no secret that as we progress further into the new millennium, China’s doors have been opening more and more for the west, allowing a gradual blending of western and eastern cultures together. In the west, Chinese food makes for a huge part of the food industry where, in at least New Jersey, USA where I grew up, there seems to be a Chinese restaurant on every street corner. After living in China for about two years, I’ve noticed that there still seems to be many things about the west that the local citizens either don’t understand or know about, especially when it comes to western food.
That’s when James Xin comes into play, the author of a famous Chinese cookbook called The Tip of the Tongue (as translated in English), who has worked as a gourmet chef for over nineteen years of his life. His first encounter with western food occurred when he was just fourteen years old. At the time, he couldn’t speak a word of English; yet somehow, through the sheer of pure willpower, earned a living pursuing his passion for food working for various hotels around the world, and now speaks beautiful English. After training in a small city called Sorrento, Italy for several years, mastering the cookery of a wide array of foods, James decided to return to Xi’an in order to open his own restaurant on the third floor of a supermarket in Xi’an, China.
After interviewing Mr. Xin in person, I must say that as a globetrotting westerner who’s been to Italy myself, what he cooks is indeed the real thing. My Latvian photographer named Karina Dineva (who has also spent time in Italy) and I decided to give his restaurant a try. After eating our dinner in extravagantly clean quarters upon a glass table, sitting before a movie projector screen for our additional entertainment, we mutually agreed that everything down to the way the menu was constructed was exactly the way that it would be in the west. His pizza is true Roman pizza; his pasta is true Italian pasta. His sauces are all hand-made, and when Mr. Xin spoke about his life as a chef, I could personally feel the energy and enthusiasm within his words. He spoke of the importance of building a competent team of chefs with the proper backgrounds and psychological motivations. To Mr. Xin, being a chef is not just a job; it’s a way of life. He acknowledged that a small number of Chinese have complained about the price of his food, and how the menus were designed to be western style, but Mr. Xin retorts by simply saying, “If you want western food, this is a western restaurant. I’m not going to make Chinese menus for a western restaurant…because it’s not Chinese. Nor will I sacrifice quality for money.” He emphasizes that if food is of true quality, the highest quality, made with care and heart, that any other kind of superficiality doesn’t matter and that worldly guests will realize this.
Mr. Xin goes out of his way to make sure that even though the restaurant is in China, that guests get the most authentic experience that they possibly can. His runs his restaurant with his wife, having chosen this location because of Jiaotong University, Jiao Da elementary and William’s English School being right down the street. In my personal opinion, Mr. Xin’s restaurant is simply the cleanest, most professional, and authentic Italian restaurant you could probably find on this entire continent. Any foreigners who come to Xi’an, China who are looking for a little taste of home will find that his restaurant will suit their needs perfectly. He uses no MSG. Anything that you cannot find on his menu, Mr. Xin says that he’d create personally off-menu without any hesitation.
He plans to open fifty more locations within the next year.