While we love inundating your Instagram feeds with daily doses of foodporn, we are firm believers that you should know the people behind your food as well as where it is coming from. Our 12 Days of Chef-mas series seeks to introduce you to the faces behind some of your favorite restaurants. Follow along for the next 12 days as we help you get to know these talented humans a little better.
Lucas Sin | Chef at Junzi Kitchen | New Haven, CT
How you got started in the kitchen:
My father convinced me to open a restaurant in a wine cellar in an abandoned newspaper factory the year before I graduated from high school in Hong Kong. “Why not?” he said. So I spent a little while cooking in Shanghai and Taiwan, then I came home. I taught a couple of kids how to hold three plates at once, hired a shuttle service to bus guests to our location, and got around to serving a 13-course tasting menu, built on the wonderful mess that is Hong Kong cuisine. We did that three days a week.
Then, in college, I convinced a couple of friends to run pop-up restaurants in the basement under my dorm. We called ourselves Y Pop-up. And I haven’t quite stopped making food since.
Your favorite ingredient to work with:
Every East Asian cuisine has their own fermented soybean paste: miso in Japan, doenjang and gochujang in Korea, Tương in Vietnam. In Northern China, where Junzi’s food is rooted, it’s doubanjiang. We refer to it as DBJ.
The stone-ground paste is spicy and eclectic. It’s the soul of bold stir-fries, stews, and braises. But its expressive qualities carry to other contexts as well. Most recently, we’ve deep-fried and blended DBJ with young ginger and scallions into sour cream for fish tacos.
Favorite item on your menu:
No matter where in the world your kitchen is, no matter the common tongue: all kitchen staff speak fried chicken.
In Hong Kong, my first staff lunch was fried chicken cutlets over a sweet tomato sauce. In Kyoto, we had a cutlet oyakodon. In Hong Kong, fried chicken was served for staff lunch once a week, be it with a lemon and black pepper, next to a a kimchi salad, or with nuoc cham, chopped cucumbers and cucumber rice. In Tokyo, I made lunch on my last day with Omeje, the Nigerian sous chef: ”I make good sauce. You say you make good chicken, so you make chicken."
Chicken thighs, marinated in everything you can find in the pantry, dipped in a ice-cold non-Newtonian batter and fried twice. Seasoned, and tossed in sauce. At night lunch, the version we serve is called “General Chu’s Chicken.” It’s the staff favorite, named after our favorite store manager.
Favorite holiday dish to eat or cook:
In the 2 short years I lived in the U.S., my parents told us only about two American traditions. The first: on Halloween, you eat Hawaiian pizza. The second: for the holidays, you buy a whole soy sauce chicken from the Chinese grocer and dad makes fried rice with Chinese sausage, shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimps, and galangal, which is then stuffed into the chicken. The chicken juices bleed into the rice as its microwaved; it’s warm, it’s delicious, and it’s become a bit of a tradition.
Restaurant in CT that you're dying to try:
At Junzi, we’ve been hooked to “night lunch,” from the horse-drawn “night lunch wagons” that popped up in New England in the 1870s, after dark, to cater hungry nighthawks, late-night workers, and theatergoers. From then, the night lunch wagon evolved into the contemporary “food truck.”
And the first “food truck” in New Haven—perhaps in all of Connecticut—is Sweeney’s. Bob Sweeney started the truck in the '60s and is now, humbly, the mayor of the New Haven food truck scene. Of course, I’ve always wanted to go.
Funniest kitchen story:
I’ve only seen a chef shave a first-year cook’s hair off once, for spoiling the fish stew meant for staff lunch.