“No matter how pretty the peony blossom, it needs the leaves to enhance its beauty,” says Annie Chiu, quoting a Chinese proverb to explain herstyle. The best dishes, she says, must include all the flavor groups in order to spotlight one. “It’s like a play. To be the star, a main character depends on a cast of supporting actors. I use ingredients not so much for themselves but for how they bring out certain qualities in other things.”
Szechuan pepper and ginger appear in her mango sorbet to set off spicy sensors on the tongue and make the iced fruit puree even sweeter. The meat in her lychee duck — savory, rich and almost gamey — is better because of the sugared juiciness and floral aroma that the succulent, grapelike berries provide.
In the kitchen, she seamlessly blends flavors from the East and West. She started cooking in college, when she came to the United States and missed the food from her homeland. But when she began cheffing professionally, she worked with local chefs including Sergio Abramof and Parker Bosley. Her influences are nothing if not diverse. Recounting the creation of a new dish, she says: “I went to a Cuban place and had pulled pork. I loved it.” She thought it would go well with Chinese squash but wanted to make it more Asian. So she added cumin and a little black bean sauce. “You don’t realize they’re there,” she says. “But the dish turned out very, very good.”