Picture the scene. You developed a new recipe, spent hours tinkering with it until you finally feel you've got it right. You go into the kitchen, plate it up, and start the long walk over to the judges' table. This is the moment, it's do or die. Surprisingly, Greg Wallace is nowhere to be seen, you're not on Masterchef – you're working for Ping Pong, and this is how they decide which new dishes get on the menu.
We've heightened the drama a little, so we'll leave it to Ruby – New Product Development Manager at Ping Pong – to give you the true-to-life version. "I did a couple of different versions of a dumpling I made, and then we did a taste panel in the restaurant. People give their opinions and we all decide what makes it. It's very much a group effort."
"Sometimes I think I should have tweaked it a little bit more and people just love it."
It's nerve-wracking to create something, knowing that the next step is for a bunch of people to criticise it in front of you. The truth is, you just never know what people will say. "Sometimes, I've made something I really like and I think they're going to love it – then they really hate it. Then sometimes I think I should have tweaked it a little bit more and people just love it."
But – and there's always a but – nerves be damned, judgement by committee is really the only way to do it, because you're cooking for your customers, not just for you. "It really depends on everyone's tastes, but when we try things we're not thinking about our personal taste, but about what the customer would like, what people will like."
The only way to find out what's good out there, is to eat and eat.
To find that out, you have to hit the streets and sample the great and good of the London restaurant scene. "I eat out a lot. Then you talk to people in the industry to see what's new out there – maybe there are some new ingredients we can get hold of. I'm from Hong Kong, so when I go home I always keep my eye open for anything new – my mum is very helpful as well! Sometimes I think she should be on the payroll. She gives me ideas, because the trends all come from that part of the world."
Did Ruby inherit her culinary talents from her mum? "She's actually not a good cook. My granny is a great cook though." I remember when I was around ten, I would help her with the cooking. It was very good training"
It was an inauspicious beginning to Ruby's food education, but it was rooted in local culture and traditions. "We just made normal, homemade Chinese food. Rice, vegetables, and your standard stir fries. I really liked fresh vegetables, I still love anything fresh. That's why I like stir fries so much, because they taste great, they're easy and you retain the freshness of the ingredients too."
Ping Pong: where tradition meets tinkering.
Informal, slightly hazardous phase of her cooking career complete, it was time for Ruby to head for the major leagues. Ping Pong provided a unique chance: here, Ruby could make good use of the traditional techniques and recipes she had spent years learning at home, while still getting experience at a top restaurant chain. There's no better example of that than Ping Pong's dim sum selection, where tradition meets tinkering, with a Londoner's twist.
What is it about dumplings that gets everyone, and particularly Ruby so excited? "Because I grew up with it, it reminds me of my family. It's a sharing food too– you get the family together to eat it. Also, if you have small plates you can try different flavours one at a time, and you can keep your palate fresh."
"It's just what you need to get yourself going for the rest of the day."
We're curious about the ins and outs of dim sum culture. "Back home dim sum is mainly eaten for lunch – you don't really find it for dinner.. Everyone shares and everyone talks about current affairs. It's steamed so it's all healthy, it's just what you need to get yourself going for the rest of the day."
One of our favourite questions now, can Ruby remember her first dumpling? "I think it must have been ha gow, which is a very traditional dim sum with a special wrapping and prawns." How about her favourite on the menu today? "Definitely the char siu bun, it's very traditional, it's fluffy – not like other dumplings. Some people find it unusual because it's quite sweet, but I just love it."
For the uninitiated, what is the best way to enjoy these little bundles of tasty joy? "One portion is three dumplings, so it's best for people who want to have some nibbles and everyone can try different ones. They're easy to carry and you can bring them anywhere. It seems like a small portion, but it does fill you up – after you have a couple it's very satisfying."