Stephen Yen, executive chef of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill is a pretty busy guy, so I’m pretty glad he found the time to answer Seven Questions. Not only was Chef Yen born in Queens, he was born in the Year of the Pig. Chef Yen will be preparing a very special roast pork bao at Charcuterie Masters on February 23.
1. Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in Queens?
I was born on Main street in Flushing. The hospital was called Booth Memorial back then. My mother’s OBGYN, Dr. Uma Mysorekar, is now president of the Hindu Temple Society in Flushing. I have a special place in my heart for Flushing. I was raised out on Long Island in a small town about an hour from NYC, been back in queens now for about 7 years.
2. I’m excited to have you roasting a pig at Charcuterie Masters! Tell me a little bit about the process?
We are going to brine the little piggie using fish sauce in the brine, this is something I learned from Robbie Richter at Fatty ‘Cue. Nowadays its common practice in most kitchens. The sodium content is where you need it to be, plus you gain all the umami! We are going to then roast the pig in a La Caja China. It’s a roasting oven that simulates the old way of burying a pig and keeping the charcoal on top. The box makes it easier for us, we don’t have to dig! I’ve used a La Caja China before and they are awesome! I usually end up throwing some seafood on top of the charcoals to snack on while we wait for the pork.
3. What do you like most about living in Astoria?
It’s halfway between NYC and Flushing, that’s what I love the most about Astoria. It’s a safe neighborhood, with tons of great eating options. You can do a byob seafood spot, Korean fried chicken, and Peruvian rotisserie all with in a couple blocks of each other.
4. How has living in Queens influenced you as a chef?
Queens is the definition of a melting pot, if you travel the 7 train—the International Express—you will see almost every culture and cuisine. Global influence is in our blood here, and it shows through our food. The other night we were doing hot pot and chayote was right next to bok choy. The flavors work, and New Yorkers will be first to tell you if they don’t! That makes being a chef in New York City the best. When they eat your food the people tell you how it is, no b.s. You grow a thick skin being a chef; you grow an even thicker one being a New Yorker!
5. What are some of your favorite restaurants and markets in Queens and why?
My favorite restaurants in Queens currently are: Satay on Kissena for Malaysian, hands down most consistent in the tri-state area; East Lake Seafood Restaurant on Prince street for Cantonese seafood, Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao for soup dumplings; Asian Jewels for dim sum (consistency is key here), and Sripraphai and Ayada for Thai food in Elmhurst/Woodside. For Chifa style [Peruvian-Chinese] chicken, I like Peking BBQ in Woodside. I also like Dera [in Jackson Heights] for Muslim-style biryani and their paya [cow foot stew] is very good too.
6. What’s in your fridge right now?
Kimchi made in Korea using a homemade beltfish fish sauce, smuggled into the U.S. via my friends mother’s suitcase. I have some left overs from Chinese New Year including Peking style pork chops and e-fu mein. Every Asian condiment known to man kind and of course a bottle of Kewpie. I also always keep frozen parathas and “Lo mai gai” (glutinous rice in lotus leaf).
7. I grew up on lo mai gai!! Junk food time: sweet or salty? And your Top 3?
Crunchy! I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I love crunchy! Here are my top three snacks: “Deli Chips” (the purple bag), chicharrones, and Murukku, a fried Indian snack made from rice and lentils.