Meet the makers behind the most beloved restaurants as Arnold Byun welcomes Asian-American restaurateurs and chefs that are continuing to preserve their family's narrative and shaping their identity through restaurant entrepreneurship.
Ben Hon is the creator behind @StuffBenEats on Instagram. On the regular, you'll see him featured on various lists on food media as a must-follow account for foodies. We speak about the negative connotation around the term "food influencer" and how he uses his platform in hopes to feature and capture more than just a snapshot of a dish. Ben's ties and experience growing up firsthand in a restaurant family has enabled him to connect and cultivate meaningful and lasting relationships with restaurant owners and Chefs around the city.
Linus Kim is the Chef-Owner of Linus BBQ in Seoul, South Korea. He's an acclaimed pitmaster and runs easily the most accomplished and tastiest American-style barbecue joint in all of Korea. He also happens to call Itaewon, home. Itaewon is a foreign-friendly neighborhood in Korea with a progressive and LGBTQ-friendly nightlife. While Korea has certainly gotten ahead of managing the pandemic; there's another story we hope to tell and capture with Linus in the fold. He shares his respective struggles running a restaurant during the pandemic as well as his outlook on the future of dining in Korea.
Helen is the Chef-Owner of Saigon Social on the Lower East Side in NYC. A concept in the making for well over a year; Helen had initially set an official opening date that coincided with "New York on Pause" -- a city-wide mandate that required all restaurants to indefinitely close in response to COVID-19. We share Helen's journey from a career in real estate in Seattle to pursuing her passion for cooking via culinary school in the city. Her first professional kitchen experience at Restaurant Daniel and the boom of a new-wave of modern Vietnamese restaurants inspired the birth of Saigon Social.
Peter Tondreau is a 10-year restaurant vet who has successfully made his imprint in NYC operating concepts within food halls and markets. The Korean-adoptee grew up in California, actively engaged in sports. Eventually, his passion and interest lead to a pursuit in career in professional ice hockey. An unfortunate accident soon derailed his pursuit; however, his lifelong love for food and cooking opened a new chapter into the culinary arts. Peter found himself full circle back in California, cooking at then 2-Michelin starred Wolfgang Puck's legendary Spago in Beverly Hills. A best friend's invite to a New Years' Party in NYC was enough to attract Peter to relocating to the East Coast, where he opened up his very first concept Bar Suzette with the same friend that had convinced the move. A successful run at Bar Suzette has since then birthed numerous and various concepts for Peter who runs with a collaborative philosophy in running restaurants.
Sarah Lee is the Co-Owner of Kimbap Lab, located in Whole Foods Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Kimbap Lab features its namesake kimbap, a Korean dish made from cooked rice and other ingredients rolled in kim, or otherwise known as dried nori seaweed. Sarah takes this traditional dish and applies a modern approach featuring a gluten-free menu and locally sourced ingredients. Sarah’s experiences range from catering to managing restaurants to marketing a Korean celebrity chef. She ultimately brought her favorite Korean comfort food, kimbap, stateside with a spin offering sauces and pickles.
Erika Chou is a Managing Partner of Rivers and Hills Hospitality Group, which owns and operates multiple restaurant concepts such as Yunnan Kitchen, Northern Tiger, Kodawari, Wayla, and Little Wayla. Growing up in North Carolina, Erika found herself in various unfortunate scenarios where she was made insecure about her Asian-American identity and culture. So much so that even her school teacher had made a comment about her Chinese-cooked lunches she would bring from home. A mid-career change from fashion production to restaurant creation has brought Erika much success in the field having had experience in both full-service and fast-casual restaurants. We talk about her journey but also how she is adapting to the new landscape with Phase 2 in NYC underway.
Dennis Ngo is the Chef and Co-Owner of Di An Di, a modern Vietnamese restaurant that's quickly become a neighborhood staple in Greenpoint, Brooklyn since opening in May 2018. Dennis is a second generation Vietnamese-American and Texan-native who found himself in New York via a consulting career and fell in love with the restaurant scene. In the early 2000's, Vietnamese cuisine was still relatively unknown. Dennis saw an opportunity to join this movement and decided to take upon a role as a dishwasher to get his feet wet. Fast forward to now, after a successful opening with Di An Di; Dennis shares his creative initiatives and outlook on an industry that he's come to love and what it may look like during these times with COVID-19.
Brooklyn born and bred, Calvin Eng is the Chef de Cuisine at Win Son. Win Son is a Taiwanese-American restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Calvin's first encounter with food occurred in the family kitchen and soon working at a neighborhood deli. An abundance of Chinese cooking at home led to an initial disinterest drift from his Cantonese heritage, only to arrive at a newfound appreciation for his heritage and culture. We share Calvin's insights and experiences leading up to his current position via his time in culinary school at Johnson & Wales, being one of the first Sous Chef hires at fast-casual chain Dig Inn, and opening up a quick-service outpost of a legendary dim sum parlor, Nom Wah Nolita with Wilson Tang.
Everyone has a part to play in the current Black Lives Matter movement. We stand in solidarity and wanted to share what we're doing to make actionable steps forward in the right direction and commit to bettering our community.
Steve Wong is a Partner and the Director of Operations for Oxalis, an affordable, accessible, and approachable neighborhood bistro with a Michelin star just steps away from Brooklyn Museum and Prospect Park. Steve's childhood in the Bay Area involved early opening shifts at coffee shops, light Forbes article reading, and eventually a career in the world of worker cooperatives. However, hospitality always played a part for Steve, and not long after, he reunited with his high school friend, Chef Nico Russell (Daniel, Mirazur) and beverage director Piper Kristensen (Booker and Dax) to run Oxalis as a successful pop-up, selling out 50 events in a span of two years. It now faces a new challenge ahead in response to COVID-19 in the form of a pantry box, appropriately named 'Boxalis.'
Jae Lee isn't shy to let you know where he's from, where he's been, and who he represents. Jae Lee is Chef-Owner of Nowon, serving nontraditional Korean fare in the East Village. Formerly, he worked for heavyweight chefs such as Masaharu Morimoto and Dale Talde. From a ramen line cook in his college days to picking up the late Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential to opening Executive Chef at Momosan, Jae’s journey is cemented in hustle and hard work. Eventually, he struck out on his own via his pop-up concept Him, which featured a kimchi burger that spawned a media frenzy. In an unusual and unprecedented manner in a notoriously slow-to-open industry, Jae opened the doors to Nowon in a matter of simply two months from signing the lease.
Welcome back! In our first ever Off Menu supplement, we share exciting news in welcoming back our podcast. The restaurant world has changed a lot since the showcase of the first 18 episodes. We are now welcoming the change and bracing for the new realities of restaurants. We'll continue sharing the stories of the resilient chefs and restaurateurs that shape the neighborhoods and cities in which they operate.
Not many Chefs in the restaurant industry can claim to have been a competitive poker player, work retail at Louis Vuitton, and start an English school in China. Simone Tong is a force of nature and someone with a track record that just makes it happen. A few fateful encounters translating English for her mom's restaurant and an episode of After Hours with Daniel Boulud piqued a curiosity for the culinary arts. Now, she is the Chef and Co-Owner of Little Tong, a noodle shop inspired by the province of Yunnan. Now open in 3 locations across Manhattan, NY.
Ellia Park is the Co-Owner of Atoboy and Atomix. Both restaurants are in partnership with her husband and business partner, Chef Junghyun Park. Atoboy since opening has retained its Michelin Bib Gourmand nod while their newest venture Atomix has been elevated to 2 Michelin Stars in the 2020 Michelin Guide. Ellia shares her early beginnings in Korea, being raised by a loving grandma who would pack her lunch everyday to eventually fulfilling the couple's dream to open a restaurant that brought Korean cuisine into the international stage.
Esther Choi is the Chef-Owner of Mokbar & Ms. Yoo. Growing up in rural New Jersey, Esther spent her childhood following her Korean grandmother around, who was a fixture in her community and known for her cooking. That is not to say, she was fearlessly independent and entrepreneurial early on, selling candy as a young teen to her friends and working in the hospitality business throughout her early adulthood. Soon enough, a pharmacy degree in Rutgers turned into a degree in psychology to a stint at Food Network to having her very own food hall in the coveted Chelsea Market.
Jenny Kwak is the Chef-Owner of Haenyeo, a neighborhood Korean restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Prior to Haenyeo, which is an homage to the tenacious female divers off of Korea's Jeju Island; Jenny and her mom, Myung Ja, had operated Dok Suni in the East Village in the 90's and Do Hwa in the West Village in the early 2000's. Having been in the business of educating guests of Korean cuisine and culture in NYC for over two decades, Jenny documents her journey to opening her first solo venture with her husband and partner, Terrence.
Ochi Latjuba is the Co-Owner of Wayan, a restaurant done in partnership with her husband Cedric Vongerichten. Wayan offers Indonesian cuisine with a modern French flair. Wayan is named after its meaning in Indonesian, a name given for the first-born. After all, it is the couple's first solo project in NYC after opening eateries in Jakarta. Ochi grew up in Indonesia; where her mother ran a catering business. Later on, she went onto studying at CIA and attaining experiences at Daniel Boulud's Feast and Fetes and Thomas Keller's Per Se.
Maiko Kyogoku is the Owner of Bessou — a restaurant showcasing a modern take on Japanese comfort food. As fate would have it, Bessou is housed in a space on Bleecker Street in the NoHo neighborhood that formerly was Maiko's favorite cash-only Italian restaurant in NYC. Maiko has not had a linear or direct path to restaurant entrepreneurship; in fact the very opposite. Growing up, her father opened the first sushi restaurant on the Upper West Side. She would go on to work in children's publishing, work on Sesame Street to becoming famed artist Takashi Murakami's right hand before fulfilling her aspirations of operating her own restaurant.
Yen Ngo is the owner & restaurateur of Van Da, a modern Vietnamese restaurant in the East Village. "Van Da" is female warrior in the ancient Vietnamese language, an homage to the female figures in Vietnamese cuisine and culture. Van Da, as a restaurant, showcases various regions and vibrant flavors of the country Yen grew up in. From the earliest and fondest food memories to an engineering career moonlighting as a deli waitress to starting a catering company, Yen's story is singular and makes Van Da that much more special.
Moonlynn Tsai is the Co-Owner and Operator of Kopitiam. We interviewed the other half of Kopitiam, Kyo Pang, Co-Owner and Chef of Kopitiam in Season 2. For this season, we wanted to feature Moonlynn’s side of the story of the partnership but also her take on her unique staffing of high school students at Kopitiam and how she tackles the idea of gentrification being a new restaurant that lies on the converging borderline of rapidly developing neighborhoods in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
Amelie Kang is the restaurateur and Co-Owner of MaLa Project in New York City. A former Eater Young Gun and a recently minted Forbes 30 Under 30 for Food & Drink, Class of 2020, Amelie grew up in Beijing, standing on a stool watching her grandma pick persimmons, peach, and pear from her garden. Her early exposure to food had her pursue Culinary Arts at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). From her first externship at Chef Daniel Boulud's Bar Boulud to managing China Blue in its infancy, Amelie shares her early stories and her journey to opening and operating MaLa Project.
Sakura Yagi is the COO of T.I.C Restaurant Group, a collection of Japanese restaurant concepts predominantly located in the East Village in NYC. Their concepts include: Hasaki, Sake Bar Decibel, Sakagura, Curry-ya, Sobaya, Shabu Tatsu, Hi-Collar, Rai Rai Ken, Otafuku x Medetei, and Cha An Teahouse. While New York does not have an official Japantown like Koreatown or Chinatown has, T.I.C Restaurant Group has created their own little impressive community of Japanese restaurants that specialize in certain dishes. In this episode, we follow Sakura Yagi's origin story of growing up as a Japanese-American in NYC to working various odd jobs after college to her fateful homecoming in 2012 as the COO of T.I.C Restaurant Group.
Roni Mazumdar is the restaurateur behind The MasalaWala, Rahi, Adda Indian Canteen, and the soon to open, Dhamaka in the Essex Street Market. An engineer turned actor turned restaurateur; Roni has found tremendous success recently with Adda. Adda has gained critical acclaim, named on various best new restaurants lists such as the New York Times, Bon Appetit, Eater, and was a semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation.From helping run his father's fruit cart in downtown Manhattan, Roni gained early experience in hospitality and guest interactions. Roni went onto a successful engineering career, which blossomed into opening his first restaurant as a retirement gift to his father, The MasalaWala.Roni soon realized in operating an Indian restaurant, how under appreciated and under represented Indian cuisine was in New York City. This episode delves into his first restaurant entrepreneurial lessons from running The MasalaWala, the "biggest failure in his life" in having to close down Tapestry, and his eventual calling to demystify Indian cuisine.
Nicole Ponseca is the restaurateur and co-owner of the Filipino restaurants Maharlika and Jeepney in the East Village in NYC as well as the author of the 2019 James Beard Award Finalist cookbook, I Am A Filipino. A former advertising executive turned restaurateur, Nicole's coming-of-age story is familiar perhaps to other Filipino-Americans having been born to a military dad and nurse mom. Moving to New York with $75 to her name and to advance her career in advertising, she soon realized her calling to represent her Filipino heritage and culture. While working in advertising, she moonlighted as a dishwasher, busser, runner, and server. A childhood memory of shame in watching her father eat with his bare hands would only later become the saving grace for her restaurant Jeepney which opened during Hurricane Sandy. This episode delves into the origin stories of both restaurants as well as tackling self-identity in relation to restaurant entrepreneurship.
Thanaruek "Eh" Laoraowirodge, is the Founder & Owner of Somtum Der, an Isan regional Thai restaurant that is now in over 7 locations worldwide. Born in the countryside in the Isan region in Thailand, Eh would later go on to major in economics in Bangkok and at NYU. With his friends, he returned home to Thailand to open Minibar Royale -- a French bistro inspired by his time in New York.What started initially as an excuse to spend more time in the city in Bangkok away from the countryside turned into a prolific career where Eh has established a name for himself in Thailand with his Supanniga Group, home to the Somtum Der brand as well as Supanniga Eating Room and EAT (Eat All Thai).Eh comes full circle when deciding to expand Somtum Der overseas into NYC; bringing a part of his culture and cuisine to the Alphabet City neighborhood in the East Village. It opens to wide acclaim, even garnering the coveted Michelin Star in 2016.
Kyo Pang is the Chef-Owner of Kopitiam, a Malaysian restaurant located on the Lower East Side in NYC. Kyo has been named Eater's Best Chef of the Year in 2018 and was a semi-finalist for Best Chef: New York City in 2019 from the James Beard Foundation.Kopitiam, despite its accolades and critical success, is not an overnight sensation. In fact, before reopening in 2018 in its current location; it existed as a hole-in-the-wall stall in Chinatown that eventually had to close due to a drastic rent hike.In this episode, we discover Kyo's upbringing in Penang, Malaysia, growing up in a family restaurant business, early discriminations she faced while working in NYC as a bartender and club promoter, to the eventful meeting with her current business partner, Moonlyn Tsai, to open Kopitiam 2.0.
Eric Sze is the Chef & Owner of 886, a Taiwanese restaurant on St. Marks Place in NYC. The name is an homage to Taiwan's country code, +886. It's a restaurant that celebrates Taiwanese culture and showcases a roster of dishes that Eric grew up with in Taiwan.From turning down a full-time job offer in operations from David Chang's Momofuku restaurant group to starting his own food delivery start-up, Scallion Foods ― Eric has come a long way in his culinary career.In this episode, we share insights into growing up in Taiwan and how a class at NYU inspired Eric to dive further into his Taiwanese roots that has now manifested into a successful restaurant in Manhattan.
Jimmy Ly is the Chef-Owner of Madame Vo and Madame Vo BBQ in the East Village. Jimmy and his wife, Yen Vo (for which the restaurants are named after), have certainly changed the conversation of Vietnamese restaurants in NYC. Once nonexistent, there are now a new wave of places to grab your pho or even BBQ fix. Growing up in Chinatown to immigrant parents who owned a dim sum restaurant and a nail salon, Jimmy learned early on about entrepreneurship and hard work. His fateful meeting with his wife and their disdain for the lack of Vietnamese restaurant options spurred the opening of Madame Vo. In this episode, we dive into the origin story of Madame Vo, the SJP (Sarah Jessica Parker) effect, and the loses along the way for Jimmy that have now turned into anything but wins.
Lucas Sin, Culinary Director of Junzi Kitchen, a chain of Chinese fast-casual restaurants, joins us to share his upbringing in Hong Kong, his takes on regional Chinese cooking, as well as his opinions on the ever controversial word in the modern culinary world ― "authentic."A graduate of Yale University, Lucas met the Co-Founders of Junzi in New Haven, Connecticut. With a mission and purpose to change the perception and narrative of Chinese food, he set out to do exactly that.Lucas started his culinary experience running a pop-up as a 16 year-old in an abandoned newspaper factory on the outskirts of Hong Kong and hasn't looked back since.
Simon Kim is a Korean-American restaurateur ― the owner of Cote Korean Steakhouse in NYC. Cote, also Korean for "flower," is the first ever Michelin-starred Korean barbecue restaurant.From his parents serendipitously running a Korean restaurant in Tribeca in the 90's to studying hospitality at University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and running restaurants for other famed restaurateurs and chefs such as Steve Hanson (Blue Fin), Jean-Georges (The Mark), and Thomas Keller (Bouchon Bakery); Simon's story is that of a vibrant flower, one that has to go through struggles to become actualized.This episode features behind the scenes stories of his NYC upbringing to opening his first restaurant, Piora, in the West Village and of course, Cote Korean Steakhouse.