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Corentin Delcroix: Bridging China and France with food

Du Yubin


It's a simple but special greeting, with the second-tone pronunciation unique to Chinese: "大家好,我是广坦 [Hello everyone, I am Guang Tan]." And hundreds of millions of Chinese people have received it.

What makes it special and unusual is that it's from a Frenchman – albeit one who has been living in China for 17 years, and who now has more than six million followers on Chinese social media platforms.

His name is Corentin Delcroix – or Guang Tan, as he calls himself in Chinese. His followers have given him a lovely lyrical nickname because of this: Brother Second Tone (二声哥哥).

Describing himself as "a French chef with a Chinese stomach," he says his career is closely linked to China, and that his life has been changed by Chinese cuisine.

Delcroix was born in Lille, in the northern flatlands of France. In fact, it's so far north in France that strictly speaking, it's actually north of several English towns – and so close to the Belgian border that it's part of the EU's first official cross-border conurbation, created in 2008.

With such a background, he says he expected to have a similar European way of life to many others around him. But his life path changed in 2002, when he first set foot in China.

He first visited as a business school student – but rather than entrepreneurial advice and corporate finance, he found what most fascinated him was the food. Although sometimes categorized elsewhere simply as "Chinese," the country's cuisine is a world of its own – from Sichuan's tingling spiciness to Guangdong's sweet freshness, with all manner of experiences in between.

As his stomach and heart fell in love with the cuisines, Delcroix developed an interest in knowing the country. During his four years of study in Beijing, he became a "Chinese backpacker" and visited Yunnan, Sichuan, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Jilin and more.

"I think I understood a lot from traveling," he says. "More about Chinese culture and Chinese geography and all the different points. I loved Chinese food from that time."

He also wanted to know how to make the food himself, and asked somebody very close by: "I started to learn Chinese cooking from our dormitory cleaning lady."

They went to the market together, bought ingredients and started with some very basic Chinese dishes. His journey from homemade dishes like scrambled eggs with tomatoes ignited what became the major passion of his life: cooking.

Delcroix's life changed when he visited France
Delcroix's life changed when he visited France

Delcroix's life changed when he visited France

From business school to the kitchen

Once his experiences in China made Delcroix realize that cooking was what he wanted to do most, he decided to change his life track from business to cooking.

His choice seemed crazy to many people, who warned him he was changing his future from a "fancy office building" to a "smoke-filled kitchen." But he remained resolute: as he says, "I'd found a career I was passionate about."

He chose to go back to France to learn the art of cooking systematically at the Institut Paul Bocuse, internationally famous for hospitality management, food service and culinary arts. But in 2010, with the opening of the Shanghai World Expo, his life path once again crossed with China.

He worked as a chef at the restaurant in France's Rhone-Alpes pavilion, and later became a teacher at the Shanghai branch of the renowned culinary school Institut Paul Bocuse. During this time, he trained more than 500 young Chinese chefs, sharing his passion for cooking, and experimented with the fusion of Chinese and Western cuisine.

Delcroix combines his knowledge of business and his love of food on social media
Delcroix combines his knowledge of business and his love of food on social media

Delcroix combines his knowledge of business and his love of food on social media

A Chinese social media star

Three years ago, Delcroix made another decision: to share his favorite Chinese and French dishes on social media. He might not have expected it to be as big a change as his move to China, but in some ways it has been.

Chinese social media users have been amazed by his authentic Chinese homemade dishes – and indeed many of them are learning how to cook from his videos. As of January 2024, his follower numbers had climbed to six million – as a comparison, nearly a tenth of the whole French population.

"When I started sharing some Chinese dishes, I was a little worried," he admits. "I was afraid that viewers would think that I did not cook authentic Chinese food."

But his expectations were, to his delight, unfounded. Scrolling through the responses to his posts, he was met with either congratulations – or education.

"Everyone was very encouraging and the comments were very positive," he smiles. "When the audience thought I was doing it in an authentic way, they would send me encouraging messages. When I maybe did something less authentic, the audience would give me some advice. I learnt a lot from the audience's comments."

Corentin Delcroix: Bridging China and France with food

Chinese food going global

Although there are a number of Chinese restaurants overseas, Delcroix says authentic Chinese food is still a new experience for many of his compatriots.

"Many French people are eager to learn Chinese food, from wrapping dumplings to stir-frying shredded potatoes," he said. "My biggest personal goal is clear: when I have mastered Chinese food, I will share Chinese food-making to Westerners from their point of view."

After more than a decade in catering research and development consultancy, he believes that Chinese food still has great potential in the international market.

"There are lots of new ingredients that we don't have in the West," he says. "Western chefs, especially in the fine dining area, are always eager to discover new ingredients – to be able to work with some new techniques, new flavors. I think a lot of Chinese ingredients are making their way in the fine dining world."

He uses Sichuan peppercorns as an example.

"It's becoming trendy because of that refreshing, numbing taste – something very new for the Western palate," he says, and points out that chefs are already experimenting with unusual combinations.

"Using it with chocolate, which is not a traditional pairing – I think it's interesting to see how a different country will use the same product in a very different way. I think it's very exciting."

Food as a bridge

Since mankind began to travel, the exchange of food has never stopped. Star anise and eggplant, commonly used in French cuisine, were influenced by Chinese food; while in China, the chili peppers that everyone eats originally came from South America.

Delcroix believes that through trade and knowledge-sharing, we all become stronger.

"The only way to improve the communication between the East and the West is just to share," he says. "Sharing creates exchanges, and exchanges promote understanding." 

And as the chef says, once we begin to learn each other's culture, we're on the way to becoming friends.

"When people show interest in another country's food, they tend to gradually learn more about the geography, the people, the culture, and the language."

Corentin Delcroix: Bridging China and France with food
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