I’m just going to put this out there: You are lazier than chef Michael Hung.
In the past decade the chef (who was recently nominated as one of Food and Wine’s People’s Choice Best New Chef) has worked at such high-profile restaurants as Daniel and Aquavit, been a part of the James Beard Award-winning team at Jardiniere in San Francisco as well as chef de cuisine at the iconic La Folie, worked as a menu chef and consultant on the movie Ratatouille, and moved to L.A. to become the executive chef of Los Angeles magazine’s ‘Best New Restaurant’ award-winner Faith & Flower. Oh, and he got a Masters of Fine Art while he was at it. Feel tired yet?
The chef recently took our lightning round of questions, all while probably spinning 10 plates and curing a childhood disease. Thanks for making us all look, lame, Hung. THANKS.
1. What’s an underrated food city and why?
Los Angeles is underrated! Often the food media focuses on shiny new restaurants, hot up-and-coming chefs, or established chef brands doing new things. Typically, you find these in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and more recently in the Pacific Northwest. These type of restaurants and chefs are starting to appear in Los Angeles now, however the real foundation of the food culture in L.A. is ethnic food. There are great Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Persian, Ethiopian, et al…restaurants in L.A. that will never be lauded by the food media because they are small, family-owned businesses with no marketing vehicle behind them.
2. What food/food trend are you tired of?
Hyper-stylized landscape designed plates. I love Michel Bras and he is the father of much of the modern chef’s plating style, however I think his vision has been bastardized in the past few years. It seems to me that Instagram-worthiness trumps good flavor for many cooks.
3. How do you feel about Yelp?
Yelp is a great tool for the chef and restaurateur. While certain individual reviews can be inaccurate and even offensive, Yelp reviews give the restaurant operator an enormous amount of metadata. This information can be used to determine sales and service trends, as well as a general scope of quality assurance. I try and look at Yelp with the mind of a statistician rather than a chef, though I am not always able to remove myself from my ego.
4. If your kitchen is burning down, what’s the one gadget you save?
I wouldn’t run! I’d be trying to put the fire out!
5. Your guilty pleasure food?
Fried chicken in almost any form. White Castles sliders.
6. If you could cook for one person—who would it be?
My mother. She lives in New Jersey and is not able to travel long distances because she has scoliosis and health issues that stem from that. I’d love to teleport her to Faith & Flower so she can see what I have been doing.
7. What are five ingredients that are always in your pantry?
Fennel, Garlic, Scallions, Ginger, Lemon.
8. What’s the one mistake most amateur chefs make?
Many young chefs put precedence on creativity and innovation over craft. Cooking is craft, based on technique, knowledge, and experience. I see a lot of young cooks attempt innovative dishes with obscure ingredients and the result is bad food. Cooking must be practiced and considered from an emotional, intellectual, social, and historical aspect before real creativity can shine. Chefs like Wylie Dufresne (of the now closed wd~50 and Alder in New York City) or Grant Achatz (of Alinea in Chicago) can take the creative license that they do because they have a deep understanding of craft.
9. What’s the best advice you ever received?
As an undergraduate I majored in English Literature and took many creative writing classes. I asked my professor if he thought I was a good writer, and after pause, he answered, “There is a difference between being good and being talented.” It took me some time to understand the subtext to his response, but that statement has reverberated for me so much in my culinary career. Being good is a function of hard work, discipline, perseverance, and study. Talent is simply the universe telling you that a path exists.