We talk to the ever passionate Han Ji about his new concept and why great cooking alone is no longer enough.
Restaurant Zheng houses in the Prinsenkwartier in The Hague. It’s the former address of the respected HanTing Cuisine. Masterchef and entrepreneur Han Ji welcomes us for a conversation about his new high-end concept Zheng. The first thing that Kollekt.fm curator Rogier Oostlander notices is how the use of color influences the atmosphere.
Han Ji: “It’s a special tone of blue isn’t it? A lot of time went into finding the perfect deepness of this color.”
Han Ji en curator Rogier Oostlander
Why did you decide to end HanTing and follow it up with Zheng?
At HanTing, we always had a unique focus on taste. We combined the French and Asian cuisine in a way that people had not experienced before. But things move fast nowadays. Original ideas of flavor combinations and presentation are copied before you know it. Take Yuzu and Ponzu for example, you can find that everywhere now.
Because it is more difficult to distinguish yourself with food alone, the concept takes on a more important role. Back in the days, your concept would have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years. I would say that shrunk to about 5 years. Plus, changing and upgrading does not work in baby steps anymore. You have to present a whole new idea to the world in one go. That is, in my opinion, the only way to make an impact and stay unique.
So what makes the concept of Zheng unique?
We create an evening with several chapters, each one with its own theme. The guests are taken on a journey to the old Chinese Empire, where they get a taste of four local cultures. There are four pillars: cuisine, arts, health and ‘table view’. In each chapter, we serve on local tableware, add authentic local art and show one traditional and one fusion dish from the region.Great dishes alone just don’t cut it anymore. It’s too passive. To stay unique, you need top of the bill food, drinks and atmosphere. Plus a solid story to bring it all together.
‘Back in the days, your concept would have a lifespan of 15-20 years. I would say that shrunk to about 5 years’
Could you tell us more about how you once stated: “Cooking is like making music”?
The art is in the balance in both cooking and music. There’s highs, lows and dynamic movement in between. We look for the right energy and balance within a chapter. But we also play with the balance between different chapters. See how that is the same with music? You build up, add an instrument, take away another. You build a coherent story and that makes both practices similar. In the kitchen, we’re creating a rhythmic build-up leading up to the last chapter; the climax. It’s like an explosion where guests reach the summit of the evening.
What role does the music curated by Rogier Oostlander (Housecult, Rush Hour) play at Zheng?
We give guests an impression of traditional culture with a modern twist. Our musical answer is a traditional Asian sound combined with modern instruments. It fits like a glove but people don’t notice it right away. It’s subtle. But it does add a layer of emotion to the evening and that is very important.
‘Our music is subtle. But it does add a layer of emotion to the evening and that is very important.’