THE RECIPE BOX - Celebrate the Chinese New Year with authentic cuisine

THE RECIPE BOX - Celebrate the Chinese New Year with authentic cuisine

NORTH PROVIDENCE - Charlie Zhao and his business partner QJ reopened Lucky Garden for business in September of 2013. The name remains the same as the former owner's name, part of a promise to him to show respect for the more than 20 years he invested of his life in business there at 1852 Smith St.

But with youthful new ideas and an education from Johnson & Wales, it's the dream of this pair to redefine "authentic Chinese food."

Said Charlie, "It's not about big servings really cheap." As a hospitality major with a concentration in restaurant management, his four years at J & W and living in Rhode Island had him feeling there were no great places to eat the kind of Chinese food he grew up on in the northern part of China, in Shanxi.

Likewise, QJ, who comes originally from the southern part of China where he says "a lot of spicy food" is common, graduated with both a bachelor's and master's degree in hotel management. His interest is in stadium event planning and restaurants.

People have told them, "You can't find real Chinese food locally, you have to go to Boston." Student friends from college - with similar ethnic backgrounds - often complained about this. Now some of their regulars are their peer students from Johnson & Wales and Bryant University.

QJ said, "I love food and there's no excuse for bad food. "Dining is part of our culture, and we have a long history - 5,000 years of history and art," he shared. His motto is, "Culinary is an art, dining is a culture and healthy is an attitude."

The owners value customer feedback so much so that they plan to offer live video of the work they do in their kitchen - for viewing by restaurant patrons - some time in February. QJ enjoys the hands-on cooking aspect while Charlie tends more to the business end of Lucky Garden.

QJ said, "I grew up in the kitchen, I'm more art and creation than mechanical," referring to his menu planning, chopping, slicing and dicing skills. As a licensed intermediate level chef in China (the top tier of the category), he'd match his skill to any professional chef with great confidence. "My joy is food," he said. But his definition of success is simply to be a nice guy who is useful to society.

Charlie said, "We feel at home in Rhode Island, maybe our dream is too big SLps but if we can redefine the Chinese cuisine, let the American people know (about us), I will be happy." Rhode Island is a diverse community, we want to share good quality cuisine, he said. "People can trust us and let us prove ourselves."

"Authentic does not mean small portions and big price either," Charlie shared. Some of the dishes marinate for 12 or more hours to obtain the right flavor. They make a "luxury dish," a soup that has eight different seafoods, QJ said. They have not abandoned the stand-by favorites as they try to maintain a balance between what people have come to expect on a Chinese menu and their own desire to introduce some fabulous new dishes to patrons.

A signature dish at Lucky Garden is their honey roasted barbecue boneless spareribs. They start with fresh, raw, high quality ingredients, marinate in a secret recipe for 12 hours, or a day, then slow steam. "We stay away from sugar and use honey, it takes time," QJ said.

A Chinese restaurant must be able to make a good dumpling too, the pair agreed. Theirs are handmade fresh daily. "The holidays are for dumplings," QJ said, such as the Chinese New Year celebration - the year of the horse - coming up on Jan. 31.

It is a custom on our New Year celebration for all members of a family to gather and make these dumplings filled with Chinese mushrooms, water chestnuts, scallions and pork, Charlie said. They'll make about 300 and at least three of them will have a lucky coin placed inside. "All of the family will gather from the younger generation to the grandparents," he said. Just the thought of it makes him smile as he remembers celebrations of the past.

The children will play with fireworks in the yard and a red packet filled with a gift of money is given to all of the students and younger family members who do not have jobs because of their age and their studies. "The grandfather gives the red packets and it is for good luck." Charlie shared.

With the one-child limit on families in China he noted that everything is invested into that child. It is why he was able to become an international student and not have to worry about supporting himself.

Beautiful paper lanterns, fireworks, dumplings and lucky coins await, so stop by to see Charlie and QJ and the staff at Lucky Garden and "open your mind to know a culture," Charlie said. They will be open to the public to celebrate the Chinese New Year and can be reached at 401-231-5626, or luckygardenri.com .


Lucky Garden Pickled Turnip Appetizer

Ingredients:

1 lb. white turnip

4-oz carrots

4-oz. cucumber

1-oz. ginger

3/4 pint white vinegar (about 12-oz.)

10-oz. sugar

3/4 pint water (about 12-oz.)

1 pinch salt

Directions:

1. Peel the white turnip, carrots and ginger. Wash the cucumber.

2. Dice white turnip, carrots and cucumber to small cubes. Cut the ginger into small pieces.

3. Place diced turnip, carrots and cucumber into boiling water for 2-3 minutes.

4. Use a colander to drain and let the ingredients sit under running cold water for 5 minutes.

5. In a clean bowl add remaining ingredients all together, fully cover the container and place in the refrigerator for 12 hours to marinate. Serve cold and enjoy!

This healthy recipe is a staple item found in many homes in China and offered always as a free appetizer at Lucky Garden. It has no oil and is very good for you. "The food we eat is part of our medicine," said Charlie Zhao. "It is good in all four seasons."

QJ and CHARLIE ZHAO, owners of Lucky Garden, in North Providence, invite you to celebrate the Chinese New Year - the year of the horse - and try some exciting culinary delights like this cold pickled turnip and carrot appetizer.