Johnny Lee didn’t set out to be a chef, but graduating during the financial crisis put him to work in food. Knowing that hard work would get him noticed, Lee rose through the restaurant ranks, mastering a range of classic and modern French techniques, from sous vide and spherification to foams. He applied those skills outside the world of fine dining and soon won Zagat’s 30 Under 30 award in 2014.
But for Lee, cooking is about more than food. “I realized restaurants’ impact on culture, real estate development, and the culture of industry,” he recalls. “I began to think that in this field, we could make meaningful impacts.”
It’s not just hard work that defines Lee, but also his devotion to quality Cantonese cuisine—and his dedication to a single dish: Hainanese Chicken. Lee has perfected every step of the process. His Buddhist faith informs his commitment to sustainability: he insists on locally sourced, free-range, expertly butchered chickens, and simmers the entire bird in his broth so nothing goes to waste. His results speak for themselves, which is why the late, great Jonathan Gold crowed about Lee’s chicken in theLos Angeles Times, while GQ named Side Chick one of the 10 Best New Restaurants in America.
Having opened Chicago’s Rakki Cafe and soon Pearl River Delta in Los Angeles, Lee says he intends to both preserve and modernize Cantonese cuisine for the next generation.
Why do you think your tasting paves the next wave of food trends?
Today we have never had a greater interest in regional Asian cooking than at any other time in America. This will be an opportunity for chefs of specific backgrounds to specialize in that specificity rather than traditionally having to represent a pan-Asian image.
What does the future of Asian food look like?
The future of Asian food may be one of specialization where the shops are smaller and the menus are much more pared down to the specialties of the chef as already seen in parts of Asia.
What does celebrating 10 lucky years of LUCKYRICE mean to you?
It means a continued effort to promote Asian cuisine not just as an occasional delight but a world class cuisine to be considered equally among all others.
Join Johnny Lee exclusively in the Rémy Martin Lounge at our 10th year celebration LUCKYRICE Night Market of the Future on May 30h, 2019.