Top 5 Chefs in Queens
By Jen Khedaroo
The restaurant scene in Queens has steadily changed in the past couple of years. While the borough has always been known for its diverse cuisine, this new culinary Renaissance is steering away from the typical quick and cheap eats. Instead, chefs are starting to concentrate more on quality food and experience. But how do you know where to go when there are hundreds, if not thousands, of restaurants available?
These five veteran chefs were chosen because they exemplify fine-dining. Their passion for creating truly superior food certainly shines through. They all have a tendency to go out on a limb to create exquisite dishes that we mere mortals can’t even dream of. From Mexican to New American and Vietnamese, they each cook food that is better than grub at any Manhattan or Brooklyn establishment, but with prices that won’t break the bank. Some have been given recognition by the respected Michelin Guide while others are steadily on the rise. Each chef has developed a loyal following which is bound to escalate in the upcoming years.
Their stories are as good as their dishes. Whether they’ve traveled through Europe for inspiration or learned how to cook on a Ecuadorian sugar cane farm, each chef has a unique story that drives their determination to elevate the borough’s restaurant scene. They each bring something special to this melting pot.
5. JIMMY TU
46-63 METROPOLITAN AVE.
On a stretch of Ridgewood defined by its factories, loading docks and delivery trucks, it’s impressive that Bun-Ker Vietnamese has managed to stay in business. So when the restaurant received Michelin recognition for good cuisine at reasonable prices, it made everything a little bit sweeter. After all, the road to their current success was a risky one. Owner-chef Jimmy Tu said the space wasn’t even originally intended for a restaurant.
“We were in the process of opening up a seafood supply company,” Tu said. “We were going to sell fish, but then Hurricane Sandy came along and created a lot of damage to the business.”
Along with his brother Jacky, the former CEO of Korilla BBQ food truck and now Tu’s sous-chef, and childhood skateboarding pals Roy Zapanta and Shea Hsu, the group of friends decided to open up a restaurant in its place after falling short on cash. The decision to stay in Queens, even in industrial Ridgewood, was an easy one.
“Queens is home to us all,” Tu said. “We grew up in Elmhurst and we wanted to create authentic and quality Vietnamese food for the community.”
His take on simply divine Vietnamese street food like beef pho and papaya salad won over fans in places like the New York Times and the television show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Drives” within a matter of months. It may seem like nothing short of destiny, but it’s Tu’s talent and passion that drove the restaurant to success.
The self-taught chef fell into cooking at his father’s old Chinese restaurant in Manhattan. When he got older, he ended up working at the fine-dining restaurant Eleven Madison Park, where he trained in French and American cuisine. His parents are ethnically Chinese but had lived in Vietnam, and Tu traveled to the country several times to learn more about Vietnamese cuisine and cooking techniques.
His food is as authentic as it gets. The chef has mastered difficult dishes such as the Cha Ca dish, which consists of salmon covered in turmeric, ginger and fermented shrimp paste alongside vermicelli noodles. Another crowd pleaser is the jumbo lump crab fried rice with curry, dried shrimp, pineapple and basil. And although foot traffic was a bit slow in the beginning, now hungry visitors are willing to wait an hour outside of the cramped space just for the chance to sample crispy soft-shell crab or lemongrass chicken banh mi.
Oh, and don’t expect any upscale decor when you visit. The Asian meets surfer dude and skateboarder atmosphere is meant to create a warm and chill hang out spot in your otherwise hectic life.
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