Shanghai is known for its many exclusive hot spots, including the private “KEE Shanghai” members club set in a 1920’s villa, and the 10-seat, sensory-enhanced restaurant “Ultraviolet” which is typically booked out 90 days in advance.
However, the city’s hardest restaurant to get into may actually be the Masters Club at the Rolex Shanghai Masters, only serving an elite clientele made up of the planet’s top tennis players and a few lucky guests. Open for just eight days a year, the ultimate “pop-up” is spread across a chic contemporary indoor and leafy outdoor space in the heart of the Qizhong Stadium, just steps away from Center Court.
In addition to serving up nutritious, athlete-friendly salads, pastas and rotisserie items, the restaurant’s cooked-to-order menu includes mouth-watering Maine lobster and Arkansas City Tomahawk steaks.
A perennial favorite is also the dozen or so artisanal pizzas inspired by larger-than-life tournament personalities, like Roger Federer’s Figelicious (figs, Parma ham, arugula) and the Nole (gluten-free Quattro Formaggi).
However, what really makes the Masters Club a standout on the tennis circuit is the Michelin-starred guest chef who is brought in by the tournament every year to put his own unique spin on the menu.
This year, it’s Chef Johann Lafer, one of Germany’s best-known celebrity chefs, having published over 50 cookbooks and taped more than 3,000 cooking programs. His team has been in place all week, sending ahead a list of mise-en-place ingredients required to put together dishes like a wild aalmon infused with beet root juice with a touch of wasabi cream.
While his restaurant set in a medieval castle in Stromburg, Germany serves up Michelin-starred haute cuisine, Chef Lafer is no newcomer to healthy eating. Growing up on a small farm, some of Chef Lafer’s early memories revolve around preparing and cooking home-grown products in the kitchen. Even now, he oversees “food@ucation”, a project which teaches children the basics of a healthy diet and gets them excited about the flavors of food by serving students and teachers at a nearby school canteen meals made from fresh, local, organic products.
Chef Lafer brings some of those healthy, flavoursome principles with him to the Masters Club which he describes as an “amazing place; all the effort that goes into this restaurant for just a week. You cannot find anything like this in Europe.”
Regarding the challenges of cooking for tennis players this week, the Austrian-born chef said: “Athletes want food that’s very tasty, yet very fresh and healthy. The dishes have to have lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and be lighter than normal.”
Chef Lafer arrived on Friday to oversee his menu highlighted by dishes such as scallops with pumpkin and mango, cod with lemongrass, and a decadent Vienna sacher torte. “There’s a little less sugar”, he says with a conspiratorial smile.
Chef Lafer says his cooking philosophy boils down to two things: “Lecker. Leben”, a “delicious life”, indeed.