Profile: Italian entrepreneur explores China's world of spices

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CHONGQING, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- When Gianluca Luisi tried spicy Chinese hot pot for the first time, it numbed his mouth so completely that he thought his friends had been pulling a prank on him. But now, the Italian is not only comfortable with the challenging taste but has also dived deep into the spice business.

Luisi's office in southwest China's Chongqing Municipality is filled with all kinds of spices. Spicy sauces are marked in degrees ranging from zero to 75. There are even bracelets and cufflinks inspired by red chilies.

"This is our newly launched product called 'soft ear' pepper powder. 'Soft ear' in the Chongqing dialect means an obedient husband. I am totally soft ear," said Luisi in fluent Chinese. He is known by his Chinese name Zhang Luka.

Luisi, 33, began learning Chinese when he was studying for his bachelor's degree in London. Drawn to Chinese culture and history, he decided to apply for an exchange program at Peking University.

After completing his studies, he joined the newly opened Italian consulate in Chongqing in 2014. During his three years there, he worked to facilitate business in China for Italian companies, turning opportunities into real benefits for both sides.

After settling down in the southwestern Chinese city, Luisi fell in love with the typically spicy local food, though at first, it surprised him how one pot could be stuffed with so many chilies. "I learned that it was the local way to eat and I myself couldn't do away with hot pot now," he said.

Luisi sees market potential in the vast Chinese culinary culture and believes he is well-positioned to increase foreigners' knowledge and appreciation of Chinese cuisine.

At the end of 2017, he quit his job and established a joint venture with DeZhuang, a Chinese company specializing in hotpot, to produce Chinese food for overseas markets.

"When I was young, my dream was to become an astronaut. Then I set foot in diplomacy. Now I am spreading Chinese cuisine to the world. Different careers, but the same in essence. I always want to see the outside world and promote international communication," he said.

Chilies are widely used in many countries and regions such as China, Italy, Mexico and the Republic of Korea, and are a perfect commodity for intercultural business and trade, he said.

Luisi created a brand called ChinEAT. "It's the combination of 'China' and 'eat.' Our aim is to use chili as a medium, and produce and sell creative Chinese food like spicy sauce and spicy noodles," he said.

The ChinEAT team has created more than 100 chili products sold to over 40 countries and regions.

They have categorized spiciness in degrees from zero to 75 for different countries. The spicy 75-degree hotpot base is often shipped to the Republic of Korea, he said.

In addition to bringing Chinese food to the world, Luisi is also bringing foreign food to China. He imports a new type of red wine to pair with spicy cuisine, naming it "MALA," which in Chinese means a numbing and spicy sensation. As the Chinese Lunar New Year approaches, he is preparing to bring the wine to share with his wife's family in Yibin, Sichuan, for their New Year Eve dinner.

As for the future, he is rather confident. "In the past 10 years, China has seen rapid development. When I traveled from Xi'an to Chengdu by train 10 years ago, it took me more than 20 hours. Now it's just four," he said.

"With the fast development, China also gives foreigners lots of opportunities to realize their dreams," he said.

In 2018, Luisi established the World Chili Alliance, a non-profit organization fostering exchanges in the global chili industry. He plans to host the World Chili Festival, establish an international chili museum and expand online and offline sales channels, helping more people appreciate the flavor. Enditem

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