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Reality bites on isle of Sicily

By Li Yingxue | China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-25 15:10
Chef Lin Shuwei devises a cold tomato dish and a braised eggplant dish that incorporate Sicilian flavors.[Photo provided to China Daily]

The culinary landscape of a sleepy Italian town is changed forever when a TV crew arrives to open a pop-up Chinese restaurant in a little-known beauty spot, Li Yingxue reports.

There's not a single Asian restaurant in Taormina, a small hilltop town on the east coast of the Italian island of Sicily. But for a few short weeks in June, the locals were able to enjoy the sumptuous flavors of Chinese food at a pop-up restaurant opened by a state banquet chef and four Chinese actors.

Even though the restaurant was only open for a short period, its legacy was passed on through a recipe book given to the chefs of the local Michelin-starred restaurants in the hope that the essence of Chinese cuisine would remain on the island.

From June 5 to 26, they were shooting the third season of the Chinese celebrity reality show, Chinese Restaurant, which is currently airing on Hunan TV.

The 12-episode third season stars actors Huang Xiaoming, Qin Hailu, Yang Zi and Wang Junkai, and chef Lin Shuwei-the first professional chef on the show.

The show was conceived in March 2017 to promote Chinese food and culture. It made its broadcast debut just four months later, becoming an overnight social-media sensation.

"We want the world to learn more about Chinese culture, and food is a carrier of that," says Xia Qing, the show's producer. "Opening a Chinese restaurant enables people to experience Chinese food, enjoy its hospitality and, through this, learn more about modern China."

After the success of the show's first season, which was filmed in Koh Chang, Thailand, the second season ventured further afield, opening the restaurant in Colmar, France. The first two seasons were also broadcast in the United States, Singapore and Malaysia. According to Xia, after the first season, a number of foreign countries and regions contacted the crew, inviting them to establish the Chinese restaurant in their respective locales.

"We tried to pick locations in countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, and the places we chose have to be beautiful tourist destinations but not ones that are already popular with Chinese travelers," she says.

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