“To be honest, I did not decide to be a chef. Back in the old days in China, people were assigned to jobs based on the society’s needs and I just happened to be assigned to be a chef.”
To me, the title of a chef is not something to show off; it is a title of duty. To provide great food to one’s customer is the duty of the chef. It is a sacred duty because your food, and basically your work, can touch people on many levels. Therefore, no award, title, or accolade would ever mean more to me than the smile of my customers.”
Mr. Zong Xing Tu is a chef with a list of accomplishment as diverse as the menu he serves at his restaurant, Yaso TangBao. His credentials include, but are not limited to, being the past executive chef at Joe Shanghai, being mentioned in The New York Times numerous times, and also being hailed as a celebrity chef in the Chinese chef circuit. However, if you were to ask Mr. Tu to introduce himself, he would simply say, “I am just a chef.”
Some 40 years ago, Mr. Tu began his cooking journey at the young age of 17. Being a chef of his stature, you might expect him to have an epic origin story. But according to Mr. Tu, the decision for him to be a chef was not his own. In fact, it was a job that was assigned to him.
Chef Tu actually had dreams of becoming an engineer. When assigned the position of chef, he saw it as “just a job.” Despite this, he still took his job seriously for fear of falling behind others.
By the time he was 25, he had entered quite a few cooking competitions in China and won several awards. It was at this point where he saw cooking as an art that provided him both a sense of thrill and a sense of accomplishment. Chef Tu also realized that, although his passion for cooking came slowly, it was definitely a passion that would stay with him for the rest of his life. In addition to his main accomplishments, Chef Tu became a culinary professor at a mere age of 30, well under the average of age of many culinary professors.
A normal day for me involves a lot of food errands. In the morning, I go to the local supermarkets to get a glimpse of fresh and seasonal ingredients; a good chef always knows the best ingredients available to ensure that his customers get the highest quality eats. After my rounds at the supermarkets, I head to our location at 36th Street, Brooklyn to perform my first quality check. Then throughout the day, I will head to the different Yaso Tangbao locations throughout the city to sample every dish and make sure it is up to standard. This might seem like a small task, but it is important because I would never serve my customers food that I would not serve my loved ones. As you can tell, I take a lot of pride in my craft.”
Speaking of pride, the sweet and sour pork rib is the crown jewel in Chef Tu’s diverse arsenal. This dish holds a special place in Chef Tu’s heart because of the amount of work and planning that needs to be put in. For this dish, Chef Tu carefully plans out the timing of each batch because if the pork ribs sit for too long, the texture of the pork will harden and the customers won’t get the absolute best dish.
The kitchen space at Yaso TangBao also allows for the smell of each new batch of sweet and sour pork ribs to fill up the whole restaurant. Chef Tu wants the customers to be able to smell each new batch and get excited, much like how home cooking surrounds the house and people gather around to eat.
I have been a chef for 43 years now. There have been many memorable moments during this time, but by now, they have all become blurry. However, one thing that still remains in my memories vividly is my culinary teacher. He was my first and only teacher and in my heart, he was the best. Instead of just teaching me recipes, he broke food down to the atom. This allow me to be my own chef and be creative.”