08 May / A Chef Dishes on Mom and a Taiwanese Fried Chicken Recipe
Many chefs pay homage to their moms and the recipes that nourished them as children in their restaurants. In a Mother’s Day tribute for edibleDC’s Spring issue (out now!), I had the privilege of talking to three Washington D.C. chefs about their awesome moms and their favorite childhood dishes.
One of these chefs was Erik Bruner-Yang, owner of Washington D.C.’s only Taiwanese-inspired ramen shop, Toki Underground and the just-opened Maketto, and a “Rising Star Chef of the Year” nominee at this year’s James Beard Awards.
Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Erik also lived in California and Japan before moving to Northern Virginia in fifth grade. If you go to Toki Underground, you’ll see how heavily his culture, and his family, influences the venue and menu.
Erik didn’t learn to cook as a kid. “I was just the eater. No one asked and I preferred to eat,” he says. It was only when his grandfather fell ill and he started visiting Taiwan every year in his mid-twenties that he learned to appreciate his culinary roots.
“A lot of the dishes (at Toki) are cooked in a Taiwanese-style and I learned to make all those dishes from my mom or my grandfather or going to Taiwan, or a combination of all three,” explains Erik.
Roasted pork belly, a childhood favorite his mom used to make, is a regular feature in his noodle bowls, and the dumplings are a family recipe.
Every child has a vegetable nemesis, and Erik’s was Chinese mustard greens. “My mom would always make stir-fried mustard greens and I would hate it!” But life is always full of surprises … “Now we put mustard greens on everything (at Toki)!” he says.
Owning a restaurant wasn’t exactly Erik’s dream job. “Nobody in my family ever worked in or owned a restaurant before … and the restaurant business is really scary.” However, he was inspired in part by Eddie Huang, a fellow self-taught chef and owner of Baohaus in New York.
Asian parents don’t typically encourage their offspring to enter the tough restuarnt industry either. “I think immigrant families always want to see their children succeed and moving up the socio-economic ladder,” says Erik. “My mom knew I was going to end up doing whatever it was I wanted to do, so she has always been supportive of that.”
And she has been, from the first day Erik opened Toki Underground in 2011. “My mom was huge in getting Toki open.”
Since then, his mom has visited the Toki kitchen several times, and like any mom who’s put countless meals on the table she has opinions. “She doesn’t like how we fold the dumplings … and she says sometimes my soup is too salty,” laughs Erik.
Out of all of mom’s dishes that Erik has tried to recreate, there’s one dish he can’t replicate. “My mom still makes the best chicken soup with goji, ginger and garlic when I’m sick,” he says.
Happy Mother’s Day to moms everywhere!