"Cuisine With No Borders"
A finalist on Season 11 of Top Chef, Chef Shirley Chung has made a name both for herself and for her interesting take on 'cuisine with no borders'. Born and raised in Beijing, Shirley was exposed to international cuisine at an early age by her grandmother, a former Director of The Red Cross in China, and was making her own pasta and fried rice at home from a young age. Fast forward to her 20s, when Chef Shirley decided to leave the high tech Silicon Valley scene to follow her passion for food with stints working for Thomas Kelley, Guy Savoy, Mario Batali and José Andrés. Her first restaurant, Twenty Eight, was named for the age in which she began to cook and features a fresh, modern approach to traditional Chinese flavors with local Californian seasonal ingredients. In this episode of LUCKYINSIDER, we delve into the mind of a Silicon Valley techie turned Top Chef finalist:
LUCKYRICE: Why did you choose Southern California – Irvine, to be exact – instead of heading back to Las Vegas, where you started your culinary career? Shirley Chung: I grew up in California and I always knew I would open my restaurant on the West Coast. When I first came to Orange County, I fell in love with the beautiful ocean. I met my fishermen (their fleet is ten minutes away from my restaurant) and my farmer (she plants her produces next to the ocean and I love how I can taste the sea salt in her vegetables). Everything just felt right here.
LUCKYRICE: Twenty Eight is a modern approach to traditional Chinese cuisine – what influences from other cultures are you mixing with traditional Chinese flavors and ingredients?
Shirley Chung: I like to call the cuisine at Twenty Eight "Modern American with Chinese Soul." I have a strong background in French, Italian, and Mexican cuisines and have also traveled around the world. My inspirations come from my past experiences, the regional cuisines of the place I have traveled to, and my childhood memories from China.
LUCKYRICE: How did being on Season 11 of Top Chef prepare you for your first restaurant? Did it have an affect on the type of cuisine you are serving now?
Shirley Chung: Before Top Chef, my creations were based on the restaurants I ran. I would cook classic French, Northern and Southern Italian, Southern Mexican, and traditional Chinese cuisines. After Top Chef, there is no limit to what I want to cook in my own restaurant.
LUCKYRICE: Do you have a favorite Chinese dish from your childhood?
Shirley Chung: Growing up in Beijing, my favorite dish was ZhaJiang Mian. It's hand cut noodles with fermented soy bean paste and pork belly sauce.
LUCKYRICE: Fried, steamed, or boiled dumplings?
Shirley Chung: Boiled dumplings!