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The Lyrical Simplicity Of The Three Incarnations Of Food Culture

Article: Ye Yufei Photos: Chen Mingcong

From Dashan to Yangmin Mountain ,today we have settled in the forests of Xizhi, todrift no longer...
For a long time, Food Culture has been a must-visit location for foodies from around the world. Oriental culture is on fine display here, but as more guests come, attracted by increased renown, owner Lin Binghui has decided on further simplifying Food Culture because he believes that the ultimate pursuit of tea drinker is tranquillity and detachment.

Tea accompaniments carefully made by friends In the beginning, setting up a mountain lodge in Dashan was purely accidental: a group of tea friends occasionally gathered to chat about tea, when we met, those of us who were gifted in the kitchen naturally put their hands to creating a few fine accompaniments for tea. We slowly grew into a tea society, serving dishes and desserts in our mountain lodge. The concept started organically and unintentionally, as Lin Binghui created dishes for his friends, creating things that he liked, selecting the freshest seasonable produce every day. Bringing many years of culinary and aesthetic experience together, his dishes invariably caused a stir and inspired the highest admiration.

Amazingly, every dish is decorated with fresh flowers, seemingly the product of meticulous design, as attractive as a landscape watercolour painting, displaying delicate, pure flavours, all tempered by Lin Binghui's aesthetic accomplishment and intuition. Notably detached from mechanised production methods, his dishes are a treat for all of our senses, with each sense having an appropriate role to play in the appreciation. This appropriateness has been the consistent style of Food Culture; those who come to dine here are moved by Lin Binghui's sincerity; it is as if he is entertaining friends; the simplicity, freshness and creativity of his dishes combine in genuinely unique creations. Thus, the renown of Food Culture has steadily grown, attracting more and more people.

Delve deep into the forest. Hidden among the bamboo, listen to the babbling brook

Lin Binghui's constant belief is that we have a definite number of pauses in our lives.

The original location on Da Shan could not accommodate enough guests, so Food Culture was moved to Yangmin Mountain. With his architectural background, Lin Binghui used nature as his guide, embracing the surrounding mountain scenery and realising the new building in a simple, modern style. Decorated with paintings, calligraphy and antique furniture, the interior resounded with oriental elegance; while drinking tea and enjoying food, guests gazed into endless mountain scenes, as cherry, camellia, azalea and other flowers bloomed at different times of the year. This was a true utopia upon Yangmin Mountain and Mr Lin often wandered outside during his free time, enjoying the play of rain and the clouds, picking up fallen flowers and branches which he arranged inside the ten room. Occasionally he returned with curiously shaped rocks, adding to the rustic charm of the tea tables.

Finding a spot beside a stream, deep in the forests of Xizhi was another chance encounter. Lin Binghui says, "At that time, when searches for a suitable location were fruitless, I wouldn't have thought that one day, while taking a stroll, casually hiking in this forest that I would come across this plot of derelict farmland with a stream running through it, a perfect natural environment. The third home of Food Culture is located in the col of a secluded forest: the sounds of a murmuring stream linger in our ears and increase the humidity of the area. After entering the main door, we must first cross an iron bridge in order to enter the dining room. "The feeling of crossing a bridge adds to the sense of secrecy," says Mr Lin, illustrating his painstaking efforts to still the hearts of visitors crossing from one wing of the building to another and from tea room to tea room, as they follow the undulating forest path, crossing the small brook. The layout of the path to the tea room imbues guests with anticipation for a glimpse of the mystique inside.

Setting up a tea gathering under a cherry tree, waiting for the maple's red glow The ideal of becoming one with nature through the intermediary of tea is at the heart of Food Culture's philosophy.

In the past, every early spring, Lin Binghui held tea gatherings under the cherry trees on Yangmin Mountain, "The gathering has long since been ready, awaiting the blossoming of the cherry trees..." This phrase encompasses Mr Lin's relaxed attitude to the nature and beautiful scenery surrounding the tea house. It is as if the world is leisurely waiting for the opening of the cherry flowers. Nowadays, it is hard to see the cherry blossoms in March from inside the mountain lodge, however, as we await the red maple leaves of late autumn, how can we not yearn to walk upon paths scattered with fallen leaves?

The Yangmin Mountain tea room was often decorated with branches of cherry blossom and camellias collected from the mountain. Elegantly furnished with antiques and collected pieces of wood. Upon entering the tea house, sharp eyed visitors noticed the simplicity of design, and the swathes of open, uninterrupted space. The interior smoothly met the mountain brook flowing outside, and every visitor became a transient part of the composition.

Freely drinking tea, the surroundings speak for themselves

The Xizhi Food Culture has number five and number seven tea rooms, the number seven tea room is close to the brook and Mr Lin often holds tea gatherings for foreign guests there. Doing away with the traditional table and chair seating arrangements surrounding the tea brewing host, wooden chairs have been replaced by tatami mats, offering varying viewpoints, allowing visitors to choose where they sit or move around to chat. Sometimes a pair of white geese, A Hi and A Lo (apparently the Japanese for goose is hi lo,) play in the brook nearby, making the tea drinking atmosphere even more relaxed and lively. All of this is thanks to the considerate heart of the owner, for creating an unrestrained place to drink tea using modern style tea set.

As he started to arrange the Xizhi tea room, Lin Binghui originally thought that using the simple layout of the Yangmin Mountain site would suffice, but unexpectedly after arranging the furniture, it was clear that something was awry, the individual pieces of furniture did not fit in the new space, no matter how he re-arranged them. They did not sit harmoniously as a part of the whole in the new environment. Many foreigners liked Food Culture and were moved by its Oriental aesthetic, "I observed that when foreigners are required to sit in ways that they are not accustomed to, they will find it awkward, making it hard for them to enjoy drinking their tea by automatic tea set, so I pondered new methods to make the tea room more comfortable. I used my own methods to transform the space, taking several pieces of furniture that I had liked, and brought them up to speed with today; in order to make the space more artistic, I decided to remove many things from the room." So, after thinking for a long time, Lin Binghui decided on using tatami mats, not only eliminating the need for superfluous chairs, but also democratising the tea room, as a place where one could sit or stand, creating an atmosphere of joyous freedom in this new space.

The outside may seem plain, but the inside overflows

Li Binghui says that when a tea drinker sets up his or her tea room, the interior decoration becomes a reflection of their intrinsic being, and they may start to rid their space of superfluous objects. After several years studying Buddhist scriptures, he has learned from experience that "Our environment is here, there is no need to explain it further," and that "Household utensils will find you." Essentially, his philosophy is that things happen in accordance with the factors that condition situations. The interior design of the Food Culture space in Xizhi clearly follows the concept of letting nature take its course, it is a space where minimal changes have been wrought upon nature: every dining room doubles as a tea room, simple furniture arrangements suffice, all is laid out as to best preserve the original surroundings. This philosophy goes as far as the two white geese, a pair is enough, too many would over burden the natural environment.

Non-interference, wuwei is Lin Binghui's philosophy, although he laughs at himself as he grows older and feels that he cannot do as many things as before, he studies nature, constantly appreciating the vicissitudes of the natural world and its lyrical vitality. This pursuit is clearly realised in the atmosphere of tea room number seven: behind one of the walls, the original bamboo forest remains: opening the window, the rustic scene further unfolds and we can enjoy the swaying bamboo. It is as if a natural painting is developing in front of our eyes, In the evening, carefully placed lamps illuminate our view of the bamboo, and from March to May, fireflies flicker in the forest night. Who says that if we keep the plain, we lose the lustre? In Food Culture, richness is realised in simplicity.

Every cup of tea served here brims with geniality because Lin Binghui only serves the things that he likes, things that appear ordinary are full of passion and consideration. Pinglin Baozhong tea, Yangmin Mountain Wulong tea, as well as rock teas and Puerh are served here: "Xizhi has mountain spring water that is particularly sweet and soft, the surroundings must suit the tea," So, teas that work well with the immediate environment and the water it provides are offered, again showing Lin Binghui's intimate connection to his surroundings.

Food Culture sells a kind of emotion, one that the owner sincerely nourishes every day. At one with nature, the tea rooms await their guests.