berasategui2_01.jpgThe west is keeping its fingers crossed and hoping that China's $600bn stimulus package will kick in sooner rather than later. But how should China spend the money ? On food, that's what.

Not just any food, however . Rather, on the type of once-in-a-lifetime dining experience that only a rarefied group of Michelin-starred chefs can offer. At least, that is what Martín Berasategui, from Spain's Basque Country, is hoping. But, at first sight, he could not have chosen a worse time to expand internationally — and in China of all places.

EngagingChina happens to live near Martín Berastegui's flagship restaurant in Lasarte, which is one of only a handful in the world to have received three Michelin stars. The food, I am assured is unforgettable. We have yet to have the chance to eat there but can testify to the quality of the cooking in the modest Kursaal restaurant in nearby San Sebastián, which Berasategui also runs and which was recently awarded one Michelin star.

He also runs the restaurant in the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, just down the coast. To date, Berasategui's projects have been modest and expansion limited to his native Basque Country. So, opening a restaurant in China represents a real adventure, particularly as his cooking is not known for its Asian influences.

In an interview in local newspaper El Diario Vasco, Berasategui confesses to being worried about the impact the “planetary crisis” will have on his business. He is particularly worried about the prospects for the new restaurant that he plans to open in Shanghai in two months. “The project seems solid but the recession in China is advancing in runaway fashion,” he says.

Berasategui has no plans to postpone his Shanghai opening, even though elitist eateries seem to be having a particularly hard time at the moment. The economic crisis has made many expense-account diners trade down to humbler establishments while the mystery illness that has hit diners at the UK's three-star Fat Duck, run by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, shows that stomach problems are not confined to backstreet food stalls in Beijing.

Food for the overwhelming majority of Chinese is a staple rather than discretionary expenditure. So Berasategui is taking a big risk in expanding so far away from home and in a country where his name and his style of cooking virtually unknown.

Mainland China does not yet have any three-star Michelin restaurants – which gives him first-mover advantage, of course — although Macau and HK each got their first three-star establishment., the first serving French food, the second Chinese, in the 2009 Michelin guide.

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