Episode 58: A New Take on Chinese Takeout ft. Junzi Kitchen and TOMORROW

Episode 58: A New Take on Chinese Takeout ft. Junzi Kitchen and TOMORROW

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Chinese food is always going to be more colorful and more complicated than you think it is.
— Lucas Sin expressing his excitement for his favorite cuisine

Lucas Sin, Chef of Junzi Kitchen, and Amelie Kang, Founder of TOMORROW joined us in the studio to talk about changing the perception of Chinese takeout in the City with their fast-casual concepts. Delicious, colorful, convenient. We discussed how a simple and humble thing like takeout can drive the education of Chinese culture.

Where did the inspiration for the fast-casual concept come from? For Lucas and the Junzi team, they were interested in building a contemporary Chinese restaurant that is almost as Chinese as it is American. They wanted to accurately represent their Chinese-American experiences knowing how delicious Chinese food tasted back home, and marry that with a format accessible to the mass Western audience.

How would we build a restaurant that would reflect the narrative and identity that we’ve come to see in ourselves.
— Lucas Sin on the Junzi Kitchen fast-casual concept and team connection

They purposely chose to represent Northern Chinese cuisine on their menu because it was less familiar than the Southern Chinese and Sichuan cuisines that have been prevalent in the States thus far. Junzi Kitchen doesn’t serve rice, instead they focus on bings and noodles. Lucas notes that when you look at the first Chinese dictionary (which goes back more than 2000 years ago), the definition of food was simply ‘bing’. Bing is a flattened round shape made of flour plus water that can be manipulated into any form: crepes, dumpling wrappers, noodles, etc.

For Amelie, TOMORROW is a homestyle restaurant concept dedicated to mom <3. Amelie is also the owner of MaLa Project, with 2 successful locations, as well as a 2018 Eater Young Gun. Amelie wanted TOMORROW to be a low maintenance takeout concept that would cater to the lunch crowd in Fi-Di, and harken back to the cafeterias/canteens found at schools and large companies in China, where the dishes change everyday and you can always depend on a nice variety. TOMORROW’s customers that have been to China often comment that this is not food they see at a typical Chinese takeout, but what they actually experienced in China. TOMORROW also serves a traditional Chinese breakfast, which is carb-heavy but delicious.

When lunch in American metro cities means Sweetgreen and Dig Inn, there is a gap that for Asian representation. Lucas notes that the Chinese food titans worldwide right now are Panda Express and P.F. Chang’s. “We want to be the second wave and follow in their footsteps. This is what a Chinese fast-casual restaurant would be at scale if we built it in 2015 and not in the 80s.” New Yorkers also have an appetite for more Chinese food now.

The generation before us have built a wonderful foundation for us and introduced the first representation of Chinese food, and made whatever tweaks they needed to build that bridge for locals to access it easily. And now with people traveling, and learning what real Chinese food is on their own, there is that demand that’s been created.
— Amelie Kang on why the timing is right for the young generation to open more specialized Chinese restaurants

Junzi Kitchen and TOMORROW are on track for expansion with more locations opening in New York in the near future. What makes Lucas and Amelie great food and business leaders is their constant appetite to deliver more to their customers and employees. Lucas is excited to expand his education on Northern Chinese dishes, and Amelie seeks to get her MBA to cater to her growing number of employees. The future looks bright.

As the operations of the restaurant continues to expand, hopefully so will our capacities for storytelling.
— Lucas Sin looking forward to the expansion and influence of Junzi Kitchen
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