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Faro Earns a Michelin Star Thanks to Chef Kevin Adey’s Commitment to Integrity and Sustainability

Chef Kevin Adey’s work with pasta at Faro is much beloved. His slogan of “Earth-Wheat-Fire” pays homage to how seriously he works with the ingredients and techniques that make up the bucatini, gnocchetti, tonnarelli, and other pastas on his menu. It’s a menu so well-received that it recently earned a Michelin star — an honor bestowed upon only two restaurants in Bushwick this year.

But pasta isn’t the only place where he operates with integrity. To Adey, being the chef and owner of his own space means that integrity has to work its way into every seam in order for him to succeed.

It all started with placing Faro where he lives — in Bushwick — since he knew that chefs’ grueling hours and the potential disasters that await an owner day and night could cripple the spirit of even the strongest chef-partner combo. Then it was about making the kind of food he really wanted. “I wanted to own a restaurant serving ten different pastas, with this great vibe that was all about the food,” Adey tells the Voice. “When you’re forced into something, it’s never going to feel as good as if you wanted to do it.”

The next piece of the puzzle was finding a way to use ingredients that would show respect for the people who provide them — and for the earth. For the pastas, organic grains are sourced from upstate New York. Vegetables are organic and sourced locally, too. But the biggest triumph comes in how Adey uses whole animals. It’s not an uncommon practice nowadays for chefs in New York, and Adey was among many others who would buy shares of large animals so as to cut down on the quantity killed yearly. He then challenged himself to take his commitment to sustainably raised meat one step further.

“Four or five years ago, I decided to raise a pig myself and kill it myself, to see if I could do it and still eat meat,” he says. “I did it, and it was extremely difficult and life changing. I realized that it’s hard, hard work to be a farmer. At that point I made a decision to be a whole animal guy. How can I pick and choose these parts of my beliefs?”

Chef Kevin Adey
Chef Kevin Adey

In this regard, putting rose veal on the menu is a triumph. Adey explains that commodity veal comes from baby male cows ripped early from their mothers, who are needed for milk production. “They immediately get shipped off to some terrible place. It’s animal abuse, it’s terrible, and they become veal you see in terrible stores and restaurants,” he says. Rose veal, however, comes from baby male cows who are kept with their mothers, drinking milk and grazing on hay and grass for 13–18 months before being humanely slaughtered. Because male cows aren’t milkers (and therefore have no other monetary value than their meat), it’s important for chefs like Adey to absorb the higher cost for the better product.

“For me, this is the pinnacle of sustainability: to support farms like this, and to keep an animal from the worst fucking possible conditions,” he says. “I’m a huge animal advocate. The farm I buy from is Animal Welfare Certified. And I’ve been there. I’ve seen the way he treats the animals, and they couldn’t ask for a better life. That’s what I’m so super proud to be serving now.”

Adey recognizes breaking down whole animals is a lot of hard work, and that it takes time, and trial and error, to know how to do well. (His grandmother was a butcher, but she died young: “I think she’d be [pretty proud] of me,” he notes.) His education came in the form of practice and repetition, working with sides of beef, pork, grinding poorly-cut parts into hamburger meat. “You’re given 300 pounds of meat, and you have to put it to work,” he says. “You’re getting bones and fat, and they all cost the same as the meat, so you have to know what to do with that.”

Altogether, that intricate sourcing means that any given ingredient can take center stage on the plate at Faro.

Bucatini with Chicken at Faro
Bucatini with Chicken at Faro

“My cooking is ingredient driven,” he explains. “It always starts from a thing. I’ll walk through the farmer’s market and see a turnip: We then focus on that ingredient. We do turnips with duck, black garlic, and cherries. The turnips are presented raw, roasted, the greens, and a puree. We put the most attention on the turnip. The duck is the foil to the turnip, and the cherry and black garlic accent it. We are very ingredient-driven, seasonal American food.”

The final part of Adey’s incidental integrity program is how he runs his kitchen. His father is a teacher and a football coach. While Adey mostly majored in “lacrosse and alcohol and girls” in college, he was technically in line to follow as a teacher, too. Today, “making people better at what they do through experience is the highlight of my day,” he says. “I’m really proud of the kids who work for me who then have gone on to become chefs…. They’re getting the shit kicked out of them. When you see a cook become a sous chef, it makes me happy. It really does.”

Being a teacher means sometimes coaxing cooks out of the restaurant world, too: He’s encouraged amazing cooks who don’t want to be chefs to leave his kitchen to follow their dreams of being full-time filmmakers or musicians instead.

“I listen to this motivation tape every morning,” he says. “The first thing it says is that no one’s gonna help you with your dream. That’s not how it works. You have to fucking struggle and work every day to make your dreams come true. I like to be the voice to say, ‘Why are you still here? Go do what you want to do.’ It’s a terrible life if you don’t want to be a chef. You eat shit for ten years. You lose every friend you’ve ever had. You don’t go to weddings or birthday parties. You have to sacrifice to be a chef. So if you don’t want to be a chef, don’t do it! Close your eyes, picture what you want, and go do it! It’s a big part of how I run this place.”

Integrity. With attitude.

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FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Chef Melissa Chmelar Steps Up Her Comfort Food Game at Spoon Table & Bar

When you spend your time elbows-deep in the New York restaurant scene, it’s easy to romanticize the life of a chef. We want to imagine that their greatest joy comes from the perfectly executed dance of the kitchen, or that growing from a small restaurant into a larger one fulfills the yearning of a long-held dream. But sometimes, real estate — and what can you do with it — wins out. For chef Melissa Chmelar, expanding from Spoon and Tbsp. to her recently opened Spoon Table & Bar was “like moving into a fancy apartment from a tenement. It’s a whole different ballgame!”

Sitting pretty on 33rd Street near Park Avenue, she’s celebrating simple victories. The 65-seat restaurant goes full force from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. She has a full cocktail program with wine on tap, including a Grüner from near where her father is from in the Czech Republic. She has a fresh oyster program to serve the happy hour crowd in the office building above her.

“The super exciting thing right now is having a salamander [a type of broiler],” she tells the Voice. “That’s been on the top of my list for ten years, and it’s changed my life.”

Those kinds of things might be a given for another chef, one who moved their way up in corporate restaurant groups or working for big-name chefs. But Chmelar has a kind of history and progression that’s rather unique within the New York scene.

Chef/Owner Melissa Chmelar
Chef/Owner Melissa Chmelar

A born-and-bred New Yorker, she spent a lot of time with her family upstate — picking berries, canning pickles and jam, and tapping maple trees for syrup — where she still spends time. She got married in the field next to their house there, where it’s “a different field every day and season. It’s always felt special, and I feel super close to it. That’s the country bit. I can’t live without that; it’s integral to who I am.” Her father is from the Czech Republic and her mother from Norfolk, England. She went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in London. And when she returned, she started a catering company out of her apartment.

This was in the early Nineties, “when there was a lot of money, and so people would have a chef come in and cook,” she explains. As the economy shifted, so did the kind of food she was able to cater, and on-site cooking turned into a drop-off program of prepared foods. Her menu at Spoon and Tbsp. in the Flatiron district was a step up from that kind of cooking: She had prepared foods on weekdays (along with a killer pastry and coffee program), and full brunch service on weekends. While hers was a beloved neighborhood spot, she was still limited by what she could do.

“It doesn’t have the same satisfaction of literally standing over every dish walking out of the kitchen I have touched, and it’s getting to the table 30 seconds later,” Chmelar explains. “That’s where [my work has] grown the most, with what I want to serve rather than what I have to serve. That’s what’s changed us, in where and how we’re serving food now.”

Fried artichokes, bourbon-pickled green tomatoes, deviled eggs, and mussels in white wine, butter, garlic, and thyme (accompanied by fries and garlic bread) fill the appetizer menu. There are skillets of mac ‘n’ cheese, chicken pot pie, beef and lamb meatballs, a burger, and fish and chips, too. According to their website, it’s “Good Food. Pure & Simple.”

But to Chmelar, it’s not just comfort food.

Thanks to her experiences working with agriculture, Chmelar sources her beef from a rancher in Connecticut and her greens from an upstate farm run by “a husband and wife I could hang out with all day.” She’s trying to convince her brother to get his commercial fishing license so that she can use the fish he catches in the restaurant: “How awesome would that be to get fish from my brother? When I call him, I can hear that he’s out on the water with his cutting board and knife, making his sashimi.”

When things are running smoothly, she wants to have purveyors come in to teach diners about their products in curated evenings, like a head-to-tail night, a menu focused on a farm’s vegetables, or a Stumptown coffee tasting. “It’s always been hugely important to me, with that field right by our house, to teach people that, ‘Yeah, that grows on a bush!’ ”

For now, she’s giving her attention to the dishes she already has. That salamander gets a workout. “We use the salamander in a million different ways to get crisp things on top, because I’m all about a crispy top,” she exclaims.

The pork chop, with whole grain mustard, smashed red bliss potatoes, and flash-cooked greens, is what Chmelar calls a “sleeper hit.”

She’s particularly excited about how the salamander works its magic on her Bodega Sammie, “a highbrow take on the deli sandwich.” It’s a bacon, egg, and cheese on focaccia, but they do it a little differently. “We do it in the salamander, so the cheese melts into the egg and bacon,” she explains. “It’s totally insane. And an add-on is homemade pimento cheese — if you put that on the salamander, it’s like both a heart attack and the best thing in the universe.”

The pork chops and Bodega Sammie best exemplify how Chmelar wants to see herself in the New York dining scene: “The neighborhood’s regular joint — there’s nothing like having regulars. I love them.” Open for breakfast daily, she wants to be the spot where people stop in before heading to work. For those who work nearby, she’s open for lunch and has a bar program for happy hour. There’s also a full dinner and dessert menu, as well as the weekend brunches that made her such a hit in her smaller space.

Her dining room is “calm and pretty,” and its design has elements of her country life and European roots. And while her newly opened space is experiencing the natural growing pains of New York City hospitality — demanding clientele, an air conditioner that goes down mid-service, as well as a new menu, staff, and space working on coming together cohesively — Chmelar wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“I would first and foremost describe myself as a New Yorker,” she says. “That’s why I have a place here — this is my spot. It’s where I feel at home and comfortable. And New Yorkers are the people who I want to feed. Being a New Yorker and being able to bring them a little of this is special.”

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Chalk Point Kitchen Chef Rebecca Weitzman Dishes on Her Obsession With Vegetables

Chef Rebecca Weitzman didn’t start cooking until she was twenty-five. In fact, when she told her mother — the cook of the family — that she had sweet-talked her way into a job at a hotel restaurant, “the first words out of her mouth were: ‘Rebecca, you don’t know how to cook!’ Which had never occurred to me!” Weitzman tells the Voice.

Two weeks in that kitchen and the chef called her bluff. But, recognizing that she was a hard worker and obviously loved the work she was doing, he started to teach her how to cook from step one. “I saved up for culinary school by working in kitchens, and that was that,” she says. “I went to six colleges, not knowing what I wanted to do — education, psychology — and nothing stuck. Then I found cooking, and I didn’t know what else I would ever want to do again.”

Weitzman graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and ended up in Denver, working her way up the ranks until she was the Executive Chef at Café Star, where she stayed for three years. But back then, she claims, Denver didn’t yet have the strong food scene it does today, ripe with growth.

“It was the kind of big-fish-in-a-small-pond feeling,” she explains. “I wanted to really challenge myself again and, of course, the best place to do that is New York.” She returned to New York and — over the course of a few years — worked at Bar American, ‘Inoteca, Thistle Hill, and with the Forgeois Group. Finally, she landed at Chalk Point Kitchen last November, taking over from chef Joe Isidori.

Her menu focuses on seasonal and local ingredients in the way most contemporary New York restaurants are wont to do. She slowly transitioned from Isidore’s Asian-influenced dishes to her own appetite, which loosely centers around a Southern European farm-to-table mentality. As she gears up to celebrate her busy fall season and her first year at the helm, she’s focusing the menu on the same fascination with cooking food that she fell in love with in that first kitchen.

“Ingredients make sense to me,” she says. “I love textures, and different seasonings, and spices and the whole organic process of it, and seeing how things change over time, and how you cook them with different cooking processes…. I would say that I’m really obsessed with textures and vegetables. I love vegetables. I love them. Most of my food is surrounded by or based on them. It’s not like where you have a big steak, and then the vegetable is secondary. I find vegetables in season and figure what goes well with them.”

Keeping in mind her health-conscious regulars (and routine celebrity clientele), Weitzman uses those seasonal vegetables to their best advantage. She uses the textures of fried food sparingly. Her heirloom tomato and watermelon gazpacho, for example, includes almonds and a cold-smoked sea scallop on top, with a flash-fried avocado garnish for crunch.

Chef Rebecca Weitzman

Other vegetables get even more of a spotlight treatment. Romano beans — one of the ten offerings on the “Vegetables to Share” menu — are grilled until they reach a deep char, then served with crispy capers, finely grated Pecorino, and a vinaigrette made from summer savory herb that tastes “like thyme and rosemary together, almost. The saltiness [of the capers] goes well with the vinegar and the herbs, and you’re eating these giant grilled beans with a knife and fork like meat, but it’s healthy.”

Her Baked Zucchini Parmesan is another dish that thrills: par-roasted zucchini is layered with a light helping of ricotta, Grana Padano, herbs, basil, and fresh tomato, and then it’s all baked. “It’s super light, and it gives you that kid feeling of eating a guilty pleasure — but it’s healthy, too.”

Weitzman’s been back in New York for years now. Along with the relationships with her farmers and purveyors, she credits the city’s energy with keeping her focused and moving ahead. Then there’s the competition of up-and-coming talent, too.

“There are fifty strong cooks a day working in a place like Eleven Madison Park. They’re gonna work there for five years and come out being brilliant chefs after that environment. There are young, hungry cooks waiting to become chefs.”

So instead of focusing on new trends, resting on the laurels of what she’s accomplished since moving back to the “big pond,” or turning out the same dishes season after season — Weitzman stresses the importance of always “reinventing yourself.”

She clarifies: “Even if you have the same style, you have to push your techniques.” Once she’s hit her year mark at Chalk Point Kitchen, she’ll take stock of what’s worked really well — and what could go by the wayside. Supported by the “Just do it!” creative mentality she says her employers encourage, she’ll dream up some special tasting menus and events. Along with textures and vegetables, creativity is what — at heart — keeps her going.

“Now that I have my bearings here, how do I keep it interesting for myself and my customers? I’m looking forward to the cool things we can do to keep ourselves excited and focused.”

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FOOD ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Black Ash and Madagascar Vanilla Collide at Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream

On the Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream menu, there are five kinds of vanilla, five chocolates, three strawberries, and special flavors including durian (that stinky “King of Fruits”), MothaKnucker (spicy peanut butter–caramel), and labne sorbet. There are forty limited-time-only flavors developed each year with chefs including Daniel Boulud, Mario Batali, Marco Canora, and April Bloomfield. There are sundaes designed especially with kids in mind, and there are very grown-up concoctions like the New God Flow (with Melting Raw Milk ice cream, Japanese white bread, and caramelized honey). Twenty-three toppings range from classic fudge and whipped cream to pickled pineapple and sesame honeycomb. The totality of this menu may scream creativity and innovation, but for owner and ice cream mastermind Nicholas Morgenstern, it’s all a part of running a healthy business on the sales of a dessert mainstay.

Morgenstern’s business title is hard to define. He’s a pastry chef, formerly of Daniel, Gramercy Tavern, and the General Greene (where he also independently owned an ice cream cart), among others. He’s the restaurateur behind GG’s (formerly Goat Town) in the East Village and El Rey Coffee Bar & Luncheonette on the Lower East Side. And he’s the sole owner of Morgenstern’s, having put the entirety of his savings into the spot in 2013. He’s organized, values leadership skills in himself and those who work with him, and spent years sacrificing his own lifestyle to save enough scratch that he’d be free to create without restriction.

“Maybe three weeks out, I transferred the last of my savings and was like, ‘I have forty-five hundred bucks in the bank — I hope this works,’ ” he tells the Voice. “The store was named after me, and this was it.”

The resulting success requires what Morgenstern calls a “populist approach” to ice cream. This means that there should be at least three things every person who walks in the door needs to try. Then, the fantasy the flavor descriptions inspire has to be satisfied by how the ice cream itself tastes.

Morgenstern's Triple Scoop
Morgenstern’s Triple Scoop

The varying techniques used in the coffee offerings best exemplify this ideal. For the Vietnamese Coffee — the most concentrated of the coffee flavors — high quantities of freshly ground beans are steeped for a short time in the dairy base. The high volume of beans ensures the strong flavor, and the minimal steeping time guarantees low astringency. “It’s a pain in the ass to make and takes two people, but when you do it that way you’re like, ‘Holy shit, this really tastes like coffee,’ ” Morgenstern promises.

By contrast, the Lemon Espresso combines thirty or forty shots of freshly pulled espresso to the base and — in a nod to the new Japanese trend of serving espresso with shiso and the age-old Italian tradition of serving it with a lemon peel — is brightened with shiso leaves. “It’s a really interesting combination, and nothing you’d normally think of,” Morgenstern says. “So to me, right now, that’s a compelling flavor.”

All flavors employ specific techniques and individual recipes; there is no singular base recipe that gets modified by the addition of ingredients. Morgenstern doesn’t use stabilizers, and — to further his mission of making sure that the flavors taste like the ingredients they promise — he uses relatively low amounts of sugar. Various freezers keep them at precise temperatures.

At the height of the summer season, around fifteen employees work stock, production, and sales. “We take all that stuff seriously,” he says. “We run about fifty flavors at a time, and that’s as much as I can do here. You have to understand that it’s a small store, but it has a big heart and it runs really hard.”

Hard work bleeds into his partnerships with guest chefs, too.

“When we write the menu, I have to stand behind every single thing we do, including hot dog ice cream with Daniel Boulud,” he explains. “That’s some weird shit. That’s at the very edge where I’m like, ‘This is too far on the gimmick zone.’ But it’s Daniel, and he has a really strong understanding of what it takes to do that. So we did it.”

Nicholas Morgenstern and Daniel Boulud
Nicholas Morgenstern and Daniel Boulud

The hot-dog-flavored ice cream, slathered in cabbage slaw, raspberry catsup, and Dijon honey mustard, was, indeed, unexpected for most eaters. But it tasted like hot dogs, and it worked. So did Morgenstern’s Batali-partnered Molto Mario’s Modena Creamsicle with sour-cherry sorbet and mascarpone ice cream, as well as his April Bloomfield–inspired Banoffee with banana, shortbread, and dulce de leche. Morgenstern wouldn’t turn out the fish sauce flavor proposed by the team from Vietnamese restaurant Bunk-Ker…but their shiso, lemongrass, Thai purple basil, Vietnamese mint, and chocolate chunk wasn’t your run-of-the-mill mint chocolate chip, either.

“It’s a dichotomy of being open — staying open to new ideas and new things — but also sticking to what you know how to do well,” he says of his partnerships. “The product has to be incredible. If I didn’t stick to my identity and know that, then we would just make stuff and it wouldn’t be good. It has to be really good.”

The Black Coconut Ash is a self-created flavor Morgenstern was really excited about when he put it on the menu a year ago. It initially sold without much fanfare, but “then all of a sudden it went bananas and I was like, ‘Sweet,’ ” he says. “You can critique and decide whether that attention is warranted or not. But let’s rewind ten years to when I was at a restaurant. If I was like, ‘Check this out, this is coconut ash…’ and the chef was like ‘Meh,’ this would never have come about. I love that this is my store, and this thing I thought was cool is attached to my store, and this thing is now getting attention. I’m lucky.”

Black Ash (center)
Black Ash (center)

Most of the flavors, though, speak to the childhood memories that eating ice cream brings to the surface. “Ice cream is, for most people, the first sweet thing they’ve ever had. Your parents probably melted some on their finger and put it in your mouth,” Morgenstern says. “And so it creates a really strong connection for 99 percent of the population. I see them at the register — it’s like seeing a psychiatric evaluation when someone chooses their flavor.”

To Morgenstern, figuring out how to please all those people is the most fun part of his job: “It’s like writing an album: How does it all go together, what is it going to be, and how is it going to look?”

When he eats ice cream for pleasure, it’s Madagascar Vanilla in a kid cone. “For all the pressure and stress that I deal with to do the job — to make sure that everything is held together, dealing with lawyers, making sure that the air-conditioning is functioning, doing an event outside — when I get to sit down and eat an ice cream, when I get to let go and feel goofy and not worry about it and let it be fun, that’s the flavor that does it for me.”

Yep, Black Ash and Madagascar Vanilla. That’s the populist approach.

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At Kingsley, Whole Animals, Late-Night Eats, and Friendly Service Reign Supreme

As a young cook working her way up the ranks, chef Roxanne Spruance collected photos of bathroom tiles, color schemes, and lighting fixtures. She imagined a dining room that was clean, neutral, and inviting. “Some girls plan their wedding. I planned this restaurant,” Spruance tells the Voice. That restaurant? Kingsley.

Tucked away on Avenue B in the East Village, Kingsley is indeed an inviting restaurant. There are two small dining rooms seating around 25, a bar with a separate menu and serious signature cocktails, a private dining room, and a patio. The dining and bar menus are both whole animal- and market-driven, with seasonal changes. And the service is warm, but professionally on point.

“Everything has kind of formed itself from this initial vision of allowing guests to get amazing food and great service without having to get dressed up and go uptown,” Spruance explains. “There are so many mid-range to cheap eats in this city, but you go in and the servers kind of make you feel like you’re doing them a favor by being there. I hate that feeling.”

In a time when “market-driven” and “whole animal” can be viewed as more “on trend” than substantial, you only need to look at Spruance’s formal education to trust that she can put her plates where her ideals are. She received Bachelor of Science degrees in both Environmental Biology/Zoology and in Fisheries and Wildlife, and she worked at Paul Kahan’s Blackbird in Chicago, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns and WD-50 in New York.

At Kingsley, her education and experience come together in ingredient-driven dishes that equate to more than throwing “a poached egg in a bowl with some vegetables and calling it a day.”

“Where’s the crunch, where’s the acid? We look at all elements together,” she assures.

Roasted Octopus
Roasted Octopus

Her Celeriac Agnolotti, for example, is a pasta-less dish where roasted celery root is put through a deli slicer, then stuffed with sunflower puree and served over a dehydrated mesquite cake with seared foie gras, black pepper gastrique, and sunflower shoots. “It’s sweet, bright, fresh, and crunchy,” she explains.

While favorites like the charred octopus will probably never fully leave the menu, its composition changes with what’s available that season, and is currently served with eucalyptus, yogurt, plums, cucumber, sumac, rice wine, and shiso.

Cocktails flow with the seasons, too. In late summer, the Herbs de Provence Manhattan transformed into a Manhattan with pecan-washed bourbon and peach simple syrup. Such potent libations require snacks that can seriously absorb alcohol.

“The East Village is a great cocktail neighborhood where people are out late, but most places don’t really do good late food,” she says. “So to offer some snacks to people later in the evening that are still curated — and not just pizza — is important to us.” This is where the benefit of using whole animals comes in: Fresh lamb meat goes into tartare, pig skins into chicharones, and soon a few varieties of French paté will be available.

Breaking down whole animals is a technique that many chefs aspire to master, but it’s a process that is often difficult to make a reality — especially in a city where kitchens can be the size of closets and walk-in refrigerators aren’t big enough for people to walk into. But for Spruance, “the animals were non-negotiable, just like the farmer’s market is non-negotiable. We were going to make it work.”

Part of the necessity is purely pragmatic: When a whole animal comes in at three dollars a pound versus a rack or chop at thirty dollars, the difference between the two is gigantic.

“It’s a ton more labor…but it’s free, because it’s me!” she admits. “It’s about what you can get out of it, and where you can get the most value,” she summarizes. “For me, that’s doing whole animals. Say I had a super-tiny fridge: I’d bring something in and butcher it that day so that it fits in that fridge. There are no limitations — you just have to be a bit more creative about it.”

The dining room at Kingsley
The dining room at Kingsley

Creativity plays a part in her plating style, too, though she doesn’t plate with Instagram-obsessed diners in mind. “It’s a combination of what the dish is, how it speaks to me, and what plate it’s going on,” she explains. She’s a fan of negative space and round plates, often utilizing their curves. “It’s an organic process. It shouldn’t make your eye work. I think that’s part of how people identify with your dishes — they’re not having to figure out what the thing is.”

Spruance has always taken ownership in the restaurants that employed her and tries to instill the same in her staff. However, when she gives herself a moment to bathe in those bathroom tiles, the poured concrete bar, the color palette, and the ethos of her staff — she feels pride in a way she never has before. “Honestly, I try not to think about it all the time, but there is something to be said about sitting down at the end of the night in a space that is my name. It’s awesome.”

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After 40 Years of Innovation, Steve’s Ice Cream Reinvents Itself With Extraordinary Flavors

Let’s clear up one thing: There is no Steve behind Steve’s Ice Cream…at least, not anymore. But there is a David Stein. Stein’s history with the quality and innovation that comes packed in flavors like Whoopie Pies & Sweet Cream and Speculoos Cookie Butter goes way back. Like, back to the late 1970s, when Stein was studying at Harvard and fell in love with a smart little ice cream shop twenty minutes from Harvard Square in Boston that was the place to get ice cream: Steve’s.

“I started standing in line in ’78,” Stein tells the Voice. “Steve’s had opened in ’73, and the founder had kind of started the whole artisanal ice cream thing: making it in very old-fashioned machines where there was an oak barrel packed with rock salt and ice. In [the machine], you spun a can filled with cream and ingredients, and the result extremely dependent on how well you did it. And you’d order mix-ins — Reese’s, Oreo cookies, Heath bars, things like that…that started a whole movement.”

After graduation, Stein took what was supposed to be a temporary job at Steve’s, but after he helped them open a parlor on the Upper West Side, the company “kind of took off.” It went public in 1985, and Steve’s old-fashioned mix-in shops started popping up all over the country. When Ben & Jerry’s started selling the same idea to retail stores in pints, Steve’s tried “to catch up with them, but they were way ahead of us.” So, the company put that idea aside and found their niche making specialty ice cream products for companies like Weight Watchers, Atkins, Godiva, and Tropicana.

“That’s what I spent most of my working life doing,” Stein says. “I ended up being the CEO of that company, and left it in 2007.”

David Stein
David Stein

By the end of his tenure in “big ice cream,” Stein noticed that small ice cream parlors were en vogue again. Not only was the market ripe for high-quality products with even more innovative flavors, but the fun side of ice cream was back, too. “When I joined Steve’s, it was an extremely joyful place to be,” Stein reminisces. “We were all kids, and we were having a lot of fun. I thought, not only is the market right for doing something like Steve’s again, but it would be a lot of fun if I could re-create that joy.”

In late 2010, Stein bought the Steve’s Ice Cream brand from his old company and moved shop to Brooklyn, starting from scratch with developing new flavors that weren’t out on the market. First came Mexican Chili Chocolate, then Strawberry Ricotta. “We basically took things that were more like real food, whereas 35 years ago it was new and interesting to grind candy bars into ice cream.”

The first pints were hand-packed in Brooklyn and sold to stores like Murray’s Cheese, the Park Slope Food Coop, and the Milk Pail out in Water Mill. They also started selling scoops out of stands in a few Whole Foods markets and, eventually, scaled up to sell pints there, too.

While specialty-store shelves were already flooded with artisanal ice cream products, Stein noticed a big gap: dairy-free flavors that went beyond vanilla, chocolate, and chocolate chip.

“Our thinking was that if we’re doing crazy flavors, let’s do some in dairy and others dairy free, all in one line,” he says. “Because not everyone is either a dairy person or a dairy-free person. Some people dip their toe into vegan, raw, Paleo, or things like that. I think more and more people will buy dairy-free if it tastes good. And who knows, maybe ten years from now, people won’t view it as such a big difference whether it’s made with cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or coconut milk — as long as it tastes really good.”

Part of the Steve's dairy-free lineup
Part of the Steve’s dairy-free lineup

The Brooklyn team (about ten employees) starts with an interesting perspective when they create a new flavor: Will it go into a base of cream and milk, or a base of coconut? The team won’t make the same flavor in both bases.

Some flavors clearly fall into one category over the other: Banana Pudding, for example, wouldn’t have the same rich flavor in a coconut base as it does in a cream base. Most of the dairy-free items are also gluten free, broadening the base of consumers who can safely eat them. However, the Speculoos Cookie Butter held up so well in a coconut base that it fell into the company’s dairy-free line — and won a highly coveted SOFI Award at the 2015 Specialty Food Show in New York.

There are also a few flavors that are so versatile that the team comes up with flavor variations for both bases. Salty Caramel was a hit in the dairy line, but caramel went so well with coconut cream that they created a dairy-free Chocolate Salty Caramel. And since vanilla is still the top-requested flavor nationwide, there’s a Small Batch Bourbon Vanilla ice cream and a dairy-free Burnt Sugar Vanilla.

Nowadays, Steve’s is somewhere between a small business and a national retailer: They make under ten million dollars in sales each year, but they supply to so many stores around the country that they need to use several packing facilities to ensure the product is as “small-batch” as possible. And because their flavors are so unique — think Vanilla Crème Fraiche or Root Rum Raisin (made with a parsnip base!) — some will never make it onto the shelves of major retailers.

“Parsnip Rum Raisin only made it into twenty stores, but it was a great flavor,” Stein says. “We have to come up with a hundred flavors first before we can make something like that happen.”

That’s why good ol’ New York City is the ideal place for Steve’s to continue to spread their own roots nice and deep. Eaters here are more ambitious and explore wilder flavors. Plus, those flavors are dreamed up by “people who love food” rather than executives in a boardroom.

“Once you hire people who love food, it would be counterproductive to not listen to them,” Stein says. “That’s part of the reason being in Brooklyn is important — we’re in a culture where you’re going to run into a lot of good ideas just from living here.”

Dairy-free Speculoos Cookie Butter
Dairy-free Speculoos Cookie Butter

While they’re nowhere near the $400 million revenue Stein’s big ice cream company was making at its peak, he’s aware that his current company walks a fine line with expansion: “Success comes at a price. It may mean that you can only get so big. Unfortunately, business has its own momentum. I don’t have a better answer other than being clear about the connection between what the company is and what the product is, and how consumers relate to it. I’m not sure there’s a better word for it than ‘authenticity.’ It’s a contentious word, but I think it has something to do with interpersonal relations. Another buzzword is ‘culture.’ It’s taking culture seriously.”

So Stein and his Brooklyn team will keep their focus on exploring flavors like Manhattan Cherry Chip and Almond Coconut Macaroon, along with innovating with local honey to make Black Berry Honey and Wildflower Honey Pistachio. Some flavors will make it nationwide, others will stay local.

“It was hard work — adding ingredients by hand, packing the rock salt continually, customers watching while you’re doing it,” Stein reminisces of his early ice cream days. “That was fun and physical. There were 100 people in line, the speakers were blasting, it was eight p.m., and you would compete [with fellow employees] to do a flashier mix-in, shoulder to shoulder. It all resulted in customers who were happier, employees who were the happiest, and ice cream that was better.”

All these decades later, that same joy from the original Steve’s is back. “Steve made ice cream cool for adults,” Stein says. “For me, that’s still what it’s all about.”

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Born in Brooklyn, Pure Genius Makes Seriously Sweet Bean Brownies

When thinking of a satisfying sweet treat, “bean brownies” aren’t the first thing that come to mind. They’re often chalky or overly gooey replications of their full-fat and -gluten counterparts, totally lacking in decadence. But when you bite into a Pure Genius Deep Chocolate Brownie or Chocolate Chunk Blondie, all that hits your tongue is a soothing flood of chocolate, a crisp crumb, and a meltingly soft texture. Which is exactly what owner Nancy Kalish is going for.

Kalish was a writer for health-focused food publications like Prevention, O, and Real Simple, where she found herself asking each health expert she interviewed, “What do you eat?” Sadly, their answers often conflicted directly with her “god-awful sweet tooth.”

“I’m talking the kind where I want to eat dessert for breakfast — that kind of sweet tooth,” Kalish tells the Voice. “My health aspirations kept on coming up against my desire for Oreos.”

She started reading about black-bean brownies and then playing with the recipes she found, but ran into problems from the get-go. For a start, most of the recipes tasted like black beans.

The recipes that used chickpea flour smelled horrendous — so much so that she thought the bags of flour she was buying had gone bad, that’s how potently they hit her nose. Then she realized that’s just the way the flour smells naturally. But the chickpeas in particular gave the brownies a texture that was “really luscious.”

“It was very reminiscent of the slightly underbaked, fudgy brownies that I like,” Kalish explains. “I thought that maybe if I could get the beany taste and, more importantly, the beany smell, out of there, I would have something I could enjoy.”

Chocolate Chunk Blondies
Chocolate Chunk Blondies

Several times a week, for months on end, Kalish played with her recipe, working on brownies and blondies until they got better and better. She found using whole beans — not pre-processed flour — was a crucial first step. Then she came up with a specific order of adding ingredients that achieved a rich, indulgent flavor and smooth texture. One year later, Kalish had a base recipe she could be proud of.

After encouragement from friends and loved ones who’d tried countless bean brownies, Kalish decided to go to market. In early spring of 2015, she jumped in the deep end and signed up for a booth at a massive natural-product trade show. From there, Whole Foods started her on the process of applying to their stores — each of the chain’s twelve regional hubs require separate application and approval. Eventually, Kalish found found herself scaling up and supplying 34 stores in the Northeast, which meant she had to overcome one major hurdle: shelf life.

Founder Nancy Kalish
Founder Nancy Kalish

“The way I eat is very clean,” she says. “I don’t like anything that I don’t recognize on the label. But our shelf life was a week! No stores were going to take that! So we started researching natural preservatives, and I worked with a food scientist. It turns out that a tiny bit of oregano oil has antioxidants that are antimicrobial and took our shelf life from one week to five weeks! That was amazing! Without that discovery, there was no way we’d be a viable product!”

The result of all that work is a sweet treat that’s packed with protein and fiber (thanks to the the beans), along with oats, flax, gluten-free chocolate, maple syrup, sunflower oil, and sea salt. Plus, they’re in a super-zippy package that screams anything but “health food!”

Designer Yael Miller (of Miller Creative) steered Kalish away from the artisanal, paper-wrapped kind of craft design that already floods health food store shelves. Instead, they embraced a design that speaks to the “fun and lively” part of Kalish’s friendly, exuberant personality. The bright pink and blue packages streamline the important info: They’re gluten-free and vegan, they contain “only the good stuff,” they’re full of protein, and each package is only 194 calories. “Beans” is printed small inside a cute, tiny bean shape. “I wanted kids to enjoy it, and for parents to be able to give it to their kids without it screaming ‘BEANS’ and them going ‘YUCK!’ ” Kalish says.

Kalish made sure to bring Pure Genius goods into focus groups with children, too. “Kids are the most brutal critics,” Kalish explains. “If they don’t like something, they make a horrible face and they spit it out at you. I’m happy to report that we had no horrible faces, and no one spit them out!”

Now, Kalish is working on expanding her line, and product placement. While the Whole Foods application process took time, she landed local markets like Westerly and West Side, as well as small health food stores in the West Village and throughout Brooklyn (where both she and Pure Genius are based). Coffee bars have also put displays on their counters and online ordering (with free shipping) is available, too.

“I couldn’t ask for a better place to launch than New York,” Kalish avers. “I was born in New York, and I’m a tried-and-true New Yorker — for ever and ever. Consumers here are adventurous, they’re informed, and they’re educated eaters. They’re interested in trying new stuff, but they will not sacrifice taste. They’re not willing to sacrifice anything.”

With Pure Genius, we don’t have to.

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With Jawea Frozen Desserts, Healthy Treats Taste Oh-So-Good

Mike Rosenthal waxes romantic when talking about what he’s eaten on his many travels, and food memories from childhood. So when pondering a new food product that would bring comfort, culture, and satisfaction to a wide variety of eaters, he looked to to his past.

“I grew up in Philadelphia,” Rosenthal tells the Voice, “where we have ‘water ice,’ which everyone else calls Italian ice. My favorite memory as a kid was going to get water ice on the first day of summer. It was a nostalgic feeling, and whenever I thought about it, I’d smile.”

Meanwhile, he was working in the restaurant industry but found his happiest moments in adulthood were cooking for friends. Being lactose intolerant, he’d whip up dairy-free ice cream and sorbet for dessert, pulling in the flavors of his travels in combinations like avocado-lime and mango-chili. When his friends requested these desserts more than anything else, Rosenthal knew he’d found his product. Thus, Jawea Frozen Desserts was born.

Rosenthal moved to Chicago to work on his recipes out of the kitchen of Revolución Steakhouse, where a friend was the manager. “Every day I would wake up early and make my ice cream; twenty or thirty recipes on three tabletop machines, the kind that would take an hour to make a gallon of sorbet,” he explains. “I sold my car so that I could afford to live for a year, and so I could only sell to restaurants I could walk to! But it was cool: I was making these half-gallon containers and hand-delivering the products. I learned a lot about myself, entrepreneurship, and the business.”

Part of what Rosenthal learned in this year of experimenting and selling to Chicago restaurants was that the restaurant industry — especially in a particularly cold-winter city — did not foster equity in an ice cream company. And he missed New York: “I missed the energy. I missed people not waiting for the light to change to cross the street. And New York is the center of food trends in the country. It was a huge thing for me to quit my job and start this crazy company, but I learned that the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. I didn’t want to be a big fish in a small pond — I wanted to be a big fish in a big pond. And there’s no bigger pond than New York City.”

For the name, Rosenthal shortened Sacajawea — the Lemhi Shoshone woman who helped the Lewis and Clark Expedition cross from North Dakota to the Pacific — to Jawea, writing the word on a poster and polling people as to what it made them think of. “The top responses were that it was exotic, natural, and smooth,” he says, “which is exactly what I wanted.”

From the start, his Horchata flavor — with cinnamon, rice flour, and vanilla in a coconut base — was the biggest hit, so much so that Chicago eaters still ordered it in the dead of winter. The creamy coconut-based desserts did the best overall when compared to the fruit-based sorbets, and so he worked on developing that base recipe.

When he first started out, the tubs needed to be removed from the freezer ten minutes before plating to reach optimum texture; not ideal for busy restaurant dessert stations, nor home eaters. That led to the challenge of how to create an easily scoopable, dairy-free product without too many added or artificial stabilizers. So he started experimenting with invert sugars — sucrose split into its parts, glucose and fructose, which add body and creaminess along with sweetness — and settled upon tapioca syrup. Now, Jawea desserts are scoopable just minutes out of the freezer.

As far as the parameters Rosenthal set for the rest of Jawea’s ingredients, he focused on how his product would make eaters feel more than anything. “People talk a lot about guilt when it comes to ice cream,” he says. “They’re happy and comforted with full-fat ice cream, but then they’re super guilty. On the other side are low-calorie diet products that have a lot of sweeteners, oils, and powders, but they don’t taste great and so customers are unsatisfied. I wanted to launch a dessert that’s balanced and draws health-conscious people who want something comforting that’s also not bad for you.”

Jawea flavors are a touch less sweet than other ice creams and are certified vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free. The ice cream also doesn’t contain any corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, or GMOs. The line now includes a Chocolate Horchata, a Salty Dulce, Spiced Coffee, and Mango Chili (inspired by the flavor combination he loved while traveling in Thailand and Mexico).

“The big thing was learning how to trust my gut,” Rosenthal says of the learning curves he has overcome in the past few years. “So many people have done this before and everyone has advice, which is great, but you get pulled in so many directions. I learned the hard way, [by] making mistakes, but now I ask what’s the why behind every decision: ‘Is that who I am and what this brand is going for?’ I’ve learned to trust myself, which is not easy, because I’m learning how as I go.”

 

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In Upstate New York, Treeline Vegan Cheeses Are Making International Waves

Michael Schwarz is quick to point out that his creamy, French-style cheeses are not a vegan take on Brie or cheddar. He’s not coloring or flavoring vegan ingredients to look like plastic-wrapped slices of bright orange “American” cheese, either. Instead, he introduces his Treeline Treenut Cheese by saying, “This is cheese made of cashew nuts. It’s different than anything you’ve had before, but it’s really good.” And it is.

Schwarz grew up in South Africa, the son of Annette and Harry Schwarz — an anti-apartheid activist, lawyer, and statesmen. The Schwarzs taught their children that it was completely inadmissible to accept apartheid as the norm. This upbringing left an indelible mark on Schwarz, who later looked back on his childhood with the realization that had he made a different choice, he would have grown into an adult filled with shame. “I think it’s really important to know that you’re doing the right thing,” he tells the Voice. “Especially when you look back on your lot: Did I do the right thing or not?”

Fast-forward to the 1980s, when Schwarz was a lawyer living in Texas, observing firsthand the large-scale abuse on animals raised as food. He became a vegetarian and then, 25 years later when he learned about the similar abuses on animals raised for their milk and eggs, he embraced a vegan lifestyle. He’s not judgmental or condescending to those who still consume animal products, but Treeline is a result of his upbringing of making “sacrifices to move things forward.”

“I really believe that future generations will look back on the way we treated animals and abused the environment, and go, ‘What were you people thinking?’ in the same way we look back on our history in South Africa and America and go, ‘What was that about?’ ” Schwarz explains.

Treeline's creamy spreadable cheese

Of course, making vegan cheese makes business sense, too, since most on the market are not as appetizing to the palate as their dairy-full counterparts, which was a huge gap in a market that needed filling.

Schwarz started fiddling with recipes in his New Paltz, New York, kitchen with all the discipline his engineering and patent law experience had ingrained in him. He ground various nuts into a thick cream, and then tested which ones might develop most naturally with a traditional, French-style technique. His first great success was found in the high-fat content of cashew nuts, to which he simply added culture and salt. After moving his production to a local vegan chocolate factory, Schwarz started selling the soft, spreadable cheese to patrons there, then at a monthly vegan market in Brooklyn, “and it just took off,” he says.

Now, his line includes soft cheeses with the addition of fresh herbs and spices, like scallion, chipotle serrano pepper, green peppercorn, and herb-garlic (the bestseller). The harder, aged-nut cheese comes in a cracked pepper variation and a tangy-yet-firm, plain flavor that can easily be grated over pasta or risotto.

“We don’t use cashew milk — this is an important distinction between us and other manufacturers,” Schwarz points out. “Some vegan cheese companies extract the milk and then coagulate that into cheese. We turn the cashews into a cream by grinding them and adding the flavorings and probiotic culture to that cream, which then causes a fermentation process that turns it into the cheese that you see in the actual end product.”

This means Treeline’s cheeses are richer and creamier, as well as higher in fat, protein, and fiber — but they’re also lower in overall sodium, sugar, and additives than other vegan cheeses.

The traditional French-style packaging married with modernity

Schwarz’s products also speak to the overall ethos of his company: compassion. Using the entire nut means his product doesn’t involve waste, a differentiation especially unique in contrast to traditional dairy farming and cheese making. He sources his cashews from Brazil, which has long employed humane ways of extracting nuts and contrasts with other markets where child labor is often assumed (which Treeline “absolutely did not want to support”). He recognizes that using high-quality products that are sourced sustainably means something for his business’s bottom line, but he says, “I’m willing to forego that difference in order to be comfortable doing the right thing.”

Doing the right thing is working.

In 2013, with the company’s current packaging, Treeline started selling to larger national markets (like Whole Foods) and is now selling in 1,000 stores in all 50 states. Soon, he’ll start selling at Kroger — the largest grocery chain in the country — which will double the company’s distribution. It also might mean that Treeline breaks into selling seven figures of individual units each year — all sourced from the upstate New York production facility. There are also talks about producing and distributing in Europe, too, where his pitch (“This is cheese made from cashew nuts”) has invoked more interest and appreciation than incredulity.

But when it comes down to it, Schwarz’s singular focus with Treeline is “all about affecting change in how people eat. Whatever I’m excited about is going to relate back to that.”

Luckily for us, with Treeline’s vegan cheeses, change tastes really good.

Find out where to pick up a package (or several) of vegan cheese near you with Treeline’s store locator.

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At the Chinese Club, Salil Mehta Serves Up a Whole New World of Indian-Chinese Cuisine

“We want to promote different Chinese cuisine, one that’s being lost here and in India,” chef Salil Mehta says of his Hakka-Chinese and Indian-Chinese menu at the Chinese Club (208 Grand Street, Brooklyn; 718-487-4576) in Williamsburg. “We have a beer-battered General Tso’s and Taiwanese noodles printed on our menu to get people through the door. But once they’re in, they see Ganesh in the window, there’s Bollywood music playing, our waiters are in Indian dress, and they get a bit confused.” Which is exactly what Mehta wants to happen.

Mehta, who also owns the Union Square Malaysian restaurant, Laut, with his wife and business partner, Stacey Lo, is from Delhi. Lo was born in India but her family is Hakka Chinese from the southern coastal Guangdong province, which plays home to the largest native Hakka Chinese population and from which the majority of expats hail. In India, most Chinese are Hakka, too.

“The only Chinatown in Kolkata was in Tangra,” Mehta explains. “There, the Chinese were discriminated against.” To give his fellow Hakka somewhere to discuss politics and social issues, Lo’s great-grandfather, Foo Fung Lo, established the Darjeeling Chinese Club in 1914 as a safe space where they could continue the traditions that would then follow their immigration around the world. They also combined their native cuisine with the Indian dishes around them, forming a unique hybrid that most New Yorkers have never experienced.

In Williamsburg, Mehta and Lo look to change that, re-creating the flavors that speak to both of their childhoods and those often found in Indian-Chinese dishes.

“Indian Sichuan chutney is very different than Chinese Sichuan,” Mehta begins as an example. “Indians don’t like mouth-numbing heat like the Chinese, and we want fresher flavors in our food.” So his chutney is made with fresh chilies and spices. The marinade for his Tandoori Kung Bao Chicken is a creamless variation, where tomato (specifically Heinz ketchup, which he insists is in 90 percent of Indian-Chinese food) takes center stage. The Manchurian Veg is like a “Chinese falafel,” with the fritters floating in a sauce of fresh chilies and onion, and can otherwise “only be found in India.”

Beef shank braised in soy
Beef shank braised in soy

Then there are his more adventurous plays on tradition.

In Mumbai,  bhel is a traditional street snack made with puffed rice, red onion, tamarind chutney, and chaat masala; Mehta’s is a crispy rice-noodle salad served on a bed of avocado with the Sichuan chutney. To attract Indian vegetarians, his Organic Butter Salt & Pepper Mushrooms are tempura-fried to the texture of calamari and finished with scallions. Bored with mango lassis, he created one that incorporates turmeric — “it has so many health benefits, so we wanted to incorporate that” — and a Chinese element of goji berries on top.

They all get touched with Mehta’s high-end ingredients and the refined technique that earned Laut its Michelin star.

“There’s a popular dessert dish at home where they give you a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, and then on the side, serve fried wonton skins with honey and sesame seeds sprinkled on them,” he recalls. “For our twists and turns on that dish, we tempura batter our ice cream and wrap it with pan-fried noodles to make it look like a sphere, and then top it with candied fennel, like sprinkles, which is a great digestif. It adds texture and color, and the dish looks beautiful.”

The duo approached every dish and design element at the Chinese Club with a sense of adventure, taking twists and turns with traditions and hoping the idea would catch on with diners. Right now, it’s still a work in progress.

Of the few Indian-Chinese restaurants in the area, Mehta points out that most are in corners of New Jersey where ex-pat populations are concentrated. He also understands that the absence of basic knowledge of Indian-Chinese cuisine might throw patrons off a little, rather than lure them in. And as he’s currently doing only about forty dinner covers a night, he doesn’t yet have enough volume to see exactly what’s taking off and what’s not hitting right.

So far, he’s enthused. “I wasn’t sure how well Indian-Chinese food would be received in Brooklyn, or in New York in general. But I’m not seeing much hesitation when people open the menu. And I’m surprised and impressed at the level of heat customers can take here. We’re not shying away from flavors and we pack some dishes with chilies, but people are wiping their plates clean. I have so much respect for my clients.”

To introduce them comfortably, he makes sure his staff knows how to explain dishes, and that they don’t push certain dishes or pressure patrons to order more than they want to. Only if people ask for suggestions do they guide diners towards the more Indian-Chinese dishes, explaining what Hakka Chili Chicken or Manchurian Vegetables are. General Tso’s is always there for them, but he’s pleased most reach toward the Indian-Chinese dishes.

“There’s a certain history, a certain heritage, that’s getting lost,” he explains of the dwindling Hakka-Chinese and Indian-Chinese cuisines. “I feel a bit of responsibility to have people come and try this food once, and then judge. I want people to come here in flip-flops, like the casual vibe, eat, have a good time, and keep coming back. Or don’t leave!”