Q&A with Erik Bruner-Yang
A finalist for this year's Rising Star of the Year award from the prestigious James Beard Foundation, Erik Bruner-Yang has created a name for himself in the culinary world with his unique take on Taiwanese cuisine at Toki Underground. Upon its opening in early 2011, Toki Underground quickly became Washington D.C.'s most discussed eating establishment on H Street. Serving up Taiwanese-style ramen, dumplings, and Asian-inspired cocktails, Erik puts his own twist on classics he grew up eating. With the recent opening of his new marketplace Maketto, Erik Bruner-Yang has once again taken the D.C. dining game by storm. In this episode of LUCKYINSIDER, we delve into the mind of one of D.C.'s emerging culinary stars:
LUCKYRICE: How did you transition from being a guitarist and successful touring band member to starting Toki Underground? Erik Bruner-Yang: I was always working in restaurants while I was playing music so it was a natural progression. I loved the restaurant work environment and it was natural for me to stay in it.
LUCKYRICE: Why ramen? What differentiates Taiwanese ramen from its Japanese and Korean counterparts? Erik: I think every neighborhood should have a noodle shop that it calls their own. The difference between ours and others is that we use Chinese noodles and I am Taiwanese so I've put my own Taiwanese style on it. The way we cook the pork is also Chinese style.
LUCKYRICE: You've spent a lot of time in Taiwan - are there specific foods that inspired the menu for your restaurants, specifically Maketto? Erik: I was born in Taipei so I go back and visit family all the time. The foods at Maketto are my interpretations of some of my favorite dishes like oyster omelets, scallion pancakes, etc.
LUCKYRICE: We hear you're very much an expert on fermented foods. Korea has kimchi, Japan, has "miso-zuke", and Laos, has sour sausage - are there any fermented foods native to Taiwanese cuisine? Erik: We focus on fermented foods because of its importance to cooking seasonally. We make our own soy bean paste, hoisin sauce, and we've made a big batch of soy sauce we're waiting for. Also, almost every country has some type of fermented vegetables.
LUCKYRICE: The Asian food scene is still very much growing in D.C. - what roles do you hope Toki Underground and Maketto will play in this future growth? Erik: We're just really happy to be a part of the conversation. We cook Asian food the way we want to cook it and we're just happy that people appreciate that. We're never too traditional or not too non-traditional. We like being somewhere in the middle.