Chef News

Johnny Chu Dishes on What Americans Don't Get About Chinese Food and Why He Doesn't Have a Favorite American Dish

See also: Johnny Chu, Tastemaker 2012

This is part two of my interview with Johnny Chu, chef-owner of SoChu House Neo Asian + Martini Bar. If you missed part one of the interview with Johnny Chu, read it here.

Is your cooking more influenced by one Asian cuisine another, or is it a true melting pot?: It's a melting pot. I don't like to limit myself, so I am always trying new cuisines, not just Asian. To grow as a chef, you have to keep on learning and experience new concepts, flavors, and cuisines on a consistent basis. I love traveling, so that's a bonus in my profession!

Describe one great thing about each of these cuisines:

Chinese: Robust and complex flavors, beautiful color and presentation Japanese: Simple and refined; art Vietnamese: Cuisine that makes you think of home; Asian comfort food Thai: Sugar and spice -- always a good combo; distinct, unique flavors Korean: Intense yet simple; great use of common base ingredients such as meat, dairy, egg, and starch for an everyday meal.

Which chef or chefs have influenced you the most and how?: Nobody.

What do Americans fail to understand about Chinese cooking?: Chinese cuisine can be healthy and light. We're not all about sweet and sour pork. There so many different regions of Chinese cuisine, like Szechuan, Hong Kong and Trieu Chau. This is also true of other Asian cuisines, which have regions specializing in distinctively different dishes. Asian cuisines are 7,000 years old. There's much more variety and complexity than you'll ever see here.

Where do you get your inspiration?: Visiting restaurants, reading cookbooks, visiting other countries. The more you experience the better. I love to visit other countries and eat at street food vendors, and mom-and-pop shops where they only specialize in a specific item.

Favorite American dish and why: No one particular dish, but I like Binkley's. He's a great chef. I like food that wows me. Don't get me wrong. I eat burgers, but some people don't cook things with passion. I eat everything. I just like good food -- doesn't matter if it's a hole in the wall. I'd rather have good food from a street vendor than bad food at a fancy place.

Favorite Asian dish and why: Roast duck or goose. It's very difficult to get right. It has to be flavorful and juicy with a crisp skin. If done right, the layer of fat between the meat and skin will literally melt away without making the duck dry. Simple, yet it requires technique and experience.

Why did you choose the name SoChu House: It's both a play on my last name and the Japanese shochu [a distilled beverage, often compared to vodka].

Explain your thought process in creating the menu for SoChu: Due to Sens closing downtown, I wanted to still bring the tapas concept to part of the menu. However, we have many new tapas, plus entrees that reflect both Eastern and Western influences.

Will you have to dial it back for a conservative Peoria audience when you open Lantern there this month?: No, I believe in my food and my concepts. I want to bring something that residents out there have not experienced before.

Enjoy this Chef Salad? Check out Nikki's previous interviews with: Stephen Jones of Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails Chris Gross of Christopher's Restaurant and Crush Lounge Chris Curtiss of NoRTH Arcadia Payton Curry of Brat Haus Mark Tarbell of Tarbell's Josh Hebert of Posh Kevin Binkley of Binkley's Restaurant Lori Hashimoto of Hana Japanese Eatery Larry White, Jr. Lo-Lo's Fried Chicken & Waffles

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Nikki Buchanan