You may not have heard of him yet, but we have a feeling you’ll be hearing a lot more soon about chef Rui Liu of Masterpiece, a Szechuan restaurant in Duluth.
The James Beard Award semifinalists were announced a few weeks ago, and Liu is in the running to be a finalist for the Best Chef: Southeast award (The James Beard Foundation will announce finalists on March 14).
Here’s your hit list of the top 10 things you need to know about this local culinary star, and why Masterpiece might be worth a drive OTP.
- This is actually his second nomination. Liu was also a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southeast in 2017. (Steven Satterfield of Miller Union in Atlanta ended up with the honor last year.)
- He’s the author of three books on food carving: “Food Carving Flowers” (2003), “Food Engraving Bird Worm Fish” (2003) and “Agar Engraving” (2004). It’s a skill he found came naturally to him in culinary college and that helped give his the confidence to become a chef.
- His background: He started his first chef job in his native China in 1993, working for a hotel until 2008, including doing banquet-style fine dining and serving as catering director. Tasty China in Marietta is where he first worked when he came to the U.S., serving as the Szechuan head chef for two years (2008-2010). From 2010 to 2014, he was the Szechuan head chef at Fung Mei in Duluth. He has been the head chef and owner of Masterpiece in Duluth since 2014.
- How he feels about foreign cuisine getting attention: “It shows that exotic cuisine has been recognized by the American mainstream society,” Liu said. “In the future, we will bring a new taste bud experience for those who love to eat spicy, and [positively] impact society.”
- Why he chose Duluth: Because so many Asians are moving into the area, along with customers wanting more options than the Asian food markets located there.
- His philosophy on cooking: “To create unique cuisine with a variety of tastes through fermentation, and through the creation of special ingredients,” he said. “For example, we used fermentation skills to produce sour string beans. Also, we created our own seasoning ingredients, such as chopped red pepper.” Liu added that he likes to combine traditional cooking skills with healthy, fresh ingredients (no canned or semi-finished products) to create colorful fragrant, tasty and good-looking dishes. He also believes that stir-frying at a hard fire is the best way to get optimum flavor and aroma.
- What the menu looks like: The majority of the Masterpiece menu is from a ranked list of the 100 most popular Szechuan dishes and some Hunan cuisine classics. It’s categorized into appetizers, soup, fish, chicken, beef and pork and vegetarian — with spiciness classified into six different levels.
- His favorite thing about Szechuan cooking: “The combination of spicy and numb [is] very unique around the world. Only the combination between the two can produce a wonderful taste. However, it is very challenging to be a specialist of it. I love to challenge myself,” Liu said.
- What to order: If it’s your first time at Masterpiece, the chef said you definitely should order: Mapo tofu, boiled fish fillet in chili stew, stir-fried pork with celery, double-cooked pork, dry pot shrimp and dry pot cauliflower. Less adventurous eaters should try: Dan Dan noodles, Zhong-style wonton, Zhong-style dumplings, salt and pepper shrimp, chicken with dry red pepper and stir fried string beans.
- His three favorite dishes on the menu: Dry pot shrimp, eggplant with chili powder and ash powder and chicken with dry red pepper.
Masterpiece. 3940 Buford Highway, Duluth. 770-622-1191, facebook.com/Masterpiece%E5%90%8D%E5%8E%A8%E5%A0%82-658304740912215/