Xin Ge Liu is a star on the international food scene. She disconnects Chinese food from the “ethnic food” label and elevates her creations to fine dining status. Her richly flavoured bao dumplings laced with the likes of Tuscan truffle and foie gras resemble Pandora’s boxes. She’s a chef with an exceptional natural ability to make connections: she’s just scored the sought-after ‘Tradizione Futura’ from top Italian food magazine Gambero Rosso; helmed a sublime Lunar New Year collab with Michelin-starred chef Paolo Lavezzini at Four Seasons Florence; and been a guest on Masterchef Italia 12. All this in addition to having just inaugurated her design-driven signature restaurant, Il Gusto di Xinge, in viale Belfiore just a few months after opening the uber-popular Rotisserie888 at Mercato Centrale.
Is Florence a good base camp to emerge internationally?
It’s a super special city in a special country where you find everything you need to work well. We want to add value to Florence, just like others have done in New York, where you can eat really high-level dim sum, and ensure that our international drive succeeds in enriching Florence’s food scene. For me, staying in Florence [after graduating from Polimoda, ed.] was the right choice; this caliber of Chinese food was missing.
How can a restaurant add value to a city?
My husband, Lapo, and I opened the restaurant in January, but we immediately had international diners. We welcomed a journalist from the New York Times and served dinner to some young folks who had purposely come from London. (I’m still wondering how they found out about us!) And that’s without mentioning people from other European countries who are used to enjoying high-level Chinese cooking. That’s why I think that our dim sum can act as a new attraction to Florence. Plus, we decided to include a cocktail bar in our restaurant where we make drinks designed to begin the food experience.
What inspired the unusual design of the new restaurant?
This restaurant was meant to be! For a while, I’d been thinking that I wanted to offer more to our customers and we were considering opening in Milan. Then these premises became available just around the corner from our little eatery, Il Gusto Dim Sum, and architects Sabrina Bignami and Alessandro Capellari convinced us with their plans for our new restaurant. The style made us brave enough to make the investment. Plus, the mood changes with the daylight. It’s pure magic!
What about your Asian customers?
The Chinese who live in Florence and nearby are very interested in our food. European Chinese know that they have to taste our cooking in Florence. Our prices aren’t too high, so we already have returning customers, even those who come more than once a week. That’s why we also serve business lunches.
As a Polimoda graduate, how does your fashion mind inspire your culinary creations?
Food has always come before fashion for me. I always wanted to work in a restaurant. I got my HACCP qualification back in 2015, when I started photographing my food at home. My idea was always to add fashion to food. I’ve already done private events with Fendi and Louis Vuitton, and there are other projects in the works! Even our serving outfits have been designed in line with the restaurant’s look. I went to Signora Maria in Prato and chose a specific fabric. Nothing is left to chance. Everything is designed as if it were part of a collection.
When do you have time to invent?
At night. Service ends and I put my daughter to bed. I try to clear my mind of everything that’s happened during the day, while focusing on what I’ve felt and noticed among my customers. Then I start designing.
Where do you find inspiration?
In real life. A fast-moving car, someone standing in the rain, a strong feeling, maybe even pain. [Xin Ge opens up her iPad and flicks through hundreds of her designs and photos, and focuses on one photo in particular.] Last year, I designed this dish inspired by a fish split in two—like a wound—with two sauces, one white and one black, one’s sweet and sour, the other’s bitter, to embody the suffering I’d felt on learning that a dear aunt of mine was ill. A dried flower garnish completed the dish as a mark of appreciation of what we have in life, which is an accomplishment in itself and deserves to be lived intensely.
Any new challenges in the world of food?
For me, it’s all about the experience. Food is sharing, which is why we are developing a new approach centred on the Metaverse. I can’t say anything else yet!
Tell us about your signature dish: shibari chicken with its red bondage.
This dish feeds into the feeling we all share: we all have things that we really want to do, but we don’t always succeed in doing everything. We are “bound” by emotions, by our health and by opportunities, and we can’t always break the mould. So, I serve you this chicken that you have to open up and free with your hands. You have to break up the pieces to find an egg inside: I give you 100 per cent of myself. Once you’ve finished eating, the red bondage has loosened: the problem has been solved from the inside. Pollo shibari isn’t always available on the menu. It’s not easy to prepare and requires a complicated technique.
Il Gusto di Xinge is located at viale Belfiore 2. Open for lunch and dinner every day, except Wednesday.