For 21 years, Jonathan Kott has been living in Chengdu, the capital city of southwest China’s Sichuan Province. He is now the owner of Because of Fate Hot Pot, one of the 7,000 hotpot restaurants in the hot food savvy city.
When Kott and his partners opened the restaurant back in 2016, it was the first foreigner-opened hotpot place in Chengdu. Even for today, it is still the only hotpot restaurant opened by a foreign national.
Originally from Seattle, Kott came to China as an exchange student at Sichuan University in the late 1990s.
He majored in anthropology with a huge interest in Chinese culture and Sichuan spicy food.
“At the time, I did not know about China, but I know a little bit about Chinese food. I know I preferred Sichuan cuisine because of the spice,” said Kott.
He also told CGTN that he was born in Hawaii, where he spent his younger years. And the Chinese community in Hawaii initially helped kindle his desire to learn more about China.
In early 2000, Kott participated in a hot chili pepper eating contest in Chengdu and became one of the finalists out of 2,000 participants. And he was the only foreign national among the top.
Finishing a finalist at the contest helped Kott to start a career as a gourmet show host with the local TV station, during which he has been doing reviews on hundreds of different hotpot restaurants.
“Cuisine has no borders. You don’t have to learn the language. You don’t have to know how to make it. You just have to know how to enjoy it. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t,” said Kott.
Kott’s hotpot restaurant opened at a time when the popularity of hotpot peaked. Data showed that Chengdu had over 10,000 hotpot restaurants back then. In the past few years, however, the pace of opening new hotpot restaurants slowed and eventually phased out some one third.
Kott’s place survived, and his partners told CGTN that one of the main reasons for that is how meticulous they are about the quality of the food being served. Yet, it presents a different challenge – it is harder for them to expand and they have not opened a second restaurant.
Kott said he has witnessed more and more hotpot restaurants opened overseas including his hometown — Seattle.
“With exchange of cuisine, it brings understanding that basically we are all the same. We all need to eat good food. And other things like protectionism are not as important as the people,” said Kott.