It’s 10:30pm on a frosty December Tuesday, and Windsor Terrace—drowsy even during peak times—is all but battened down for the night, save for a row of Farrell’s faithful, watching the last few minutes of a basketball game. And then there’s East Wind Snack Shop, which remains fully lighted with pans still sizzling, even though owner Chris Cheung dished out his last dry-aged beef potsticker almost two hours ago. The reason for the after-hours action is that Cheung has assembled the first post-service meeting of the “Asian Food Mafia,” a name Cheung will later suggest the group use on social media. Gathered this night is a coalition comprising a handful of Brooklyn’s youngest, most innovative chefs, all there in order to talk shop, share resources, and work toward shifting the borough’s stagnant narrative of Asian cuisine.
“Everyone in this room tonight owns their own restaurant. And so each knows, once the flush of opening press is over, how hard it is to stay afloat,” Cheung says when I first arrive, just before the rest of the chefs. “There’s so much competition in the city, and standing alone is a really tough thing. So I thought—not to sound politically incorrect, or anything—that we’re all Asian, we all have similar backgrounds, we’re all passionate about food, so why should we remain separate? Four, five, or six united voices are infinitely more powerful than one.”
“If you’re trying to make dumplings, and having trouble with the dough, why shouldn’t you call me for advice?” he continues. “But chefs aren’t like that by nature; they don’t want to ask for help of any kind, especially from people they’re not intimately acquainted with. So I wanted to take that first step, get us all together, and explore different ways we can help each other out, from vetting new dishes to forging purveyor connections to sharing exposure and so on. The first thing is getting to know each other, and we’ll hopefully go from there.”
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