Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Deceptively simple names

February 15

I asked someone who worked at Xing how to pronounce the chef's name and he looked at me like I was an idiot.
"Lu?" he said.
Okay, but he spells it Lulzim Rexhepi. It's not my fault he's shortened it to Lu. It would have been perfectly legitimate to ask how to pronounce the restaurant's name, too. (Basically it's "sing." If you're one of the few people who wants a lesson in Mandarin Chinese pronunciation, please scroll to the end of this posting so we don't waste everyone else's time.)
Xing used to be an upscale Chinese restaurant, but then they hired Lu, whose culinary background is more varied than that. A native of Albania, Lu grew up working in his family's Italian restaurants in New York City and Westchester County. He has French training too, but his most recent influence has been pretty hard-core Thai. He opened Kittichai downtown, working for executive chef Ian Chalermkittichai (take it one syllable at a time and that name's no trouble either.) Then he went to Bangkok to cook at a tsunami-relief dinner and ended up cooking at the Thai restaurant at The Four Seasons hotel there for several months.
I first met Ian in 1997 when he was working at that hotel. I wrote a profile of him that would have been published in Asia Times, the newspaper I was working for at the time, but it went belly-up and then the economy of the entire region collapsed, darn it!
Anyway, now Xing is the beneficiary of Lu's experience, and this is what I ate there:

Miyagi oyster with Swatow mignonette, paired with Piper Heidseck Champagne
Sliced hamachi with mandarin and sweet chile sauce, and wok fried foie gras with compote of blueberry and lemon grass, paired with a Spanish Codorniu rose Pinot Noir
Szechwan pepper crusted scallops with miso butter bath, roasted wild mushroom and pea shoots; and Chinese spare ribs paired with Terlaner Classico from Alto Adige in Italy
Seared tuna, grape tomato and kaffir lime leaf relish with "Shanghai shoots" and guava-poached short ribs with sweet potato puree and guava reduction, paired with Le Cave Barbera D'Asti, from Piedmont in Italy
Five-spice donuts with strawberry dipping sauce paired with Prosecco
Macaroons and cookies to take home

Okay, now, for the language geeks, to pronounce the x in Chinese words as they're transliterated in mainland China (they do it differently in Taiwan), move the middle of the tongue to the roof of your mouth and then make a 'ssss' sound. It should sound like something between an s and a sh. "Xing" in this case means "star." You can tell because that's the Chinese character that decorates the restaurant. Chinese is a tonal language, so whether your pitch rises, falls, or stays the same affects the meaning. Xing as in "star" is pronounced in a monotone at the top of your normal voice register. So it sounds like you're singing it. La.
At first, I thought the restaurant's name was Xing with a rising tone. So you'd pronounce it like you were asking a question: Xing? Really? That word means "fine" or "okay" or "everything's all right," which I thought was a pretty cool name for a restaurant. Star is fine too, though.

As for Ian's name, I simplified it a little bit. Really, the first "ch" in Chalermkittichai is pronounced more like a j (the second one is pronounced just like a "ch" is in English), the r's basically silent, the k is closer to a g, and the t's really somewhere between a t and a d.

Oh, and Lu’s full name, Lulzim Rexhepi, really is pronounced pretty much like it sounds:Lu-zim Rex-hepi. Only the second l is silent. [December 14 2009 update: Apparently chef Lu simplified matters for me, see comment #1 below].

3 comments:

Lulzim said...

Dear Sir,

My name is Lulzim Rexhepi but I'm not the one being spoken about.
Just wanted to comment on the pronunciation of the name where it says that the second "L" is silent, but it is not. All the letters are pronounced as they are spelled. There are no silent letters in Albanian langauge like in English, French etc.

The letter L is not to be pronounced like L in English (sounds like double L) but should be like single L. I can't expalin now in writing. Letter XH is pronounced like "G" in English alphabet i.e " general" the spelling of G is equal to XH.

Thanks.

Bret Thorn said...

No, thank you, Lulzim. So you're saying your surname is really pronounced like Regepi, right?

Lulzim said...

Yes, my surname is pronounced like Regepi.
Sorry for taking this long to reply but thought that I will receive any notification on my private email and have not checked this website since then.

Cheers Bret