Chef Chris Chung
Uni | Boston, MA
Chris Chung was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but spent his formative years in Macao. A former Portuguese colony with eastern and western influences, Macao proved to be an ideal breeding ground for the young Chung’s culinary curiosity.
At the ripe age of eight, Chung was hooked on haut cuisine. His parents took Chung to Hotel Lisbon and Casino and they dined at Joël Robuchon’s restaurant. One bite of Robuchon’s ultra-rich potatoes that night and Chung knew what he wanted to do in life.
He returned to Hawaii for schooling, but spent all of his breaks working in various kitchens on the island. Chung made it a point to learn the business of running a restaurant from front to back, and has worked in many positions over the years, from server to prep cook to sushi chef and head chef.
In 2004, Chung met Ken Oringer and started working at Oringer’s flagship Clio. After proving his mettle, Oringer put Chung, who considers himself an expert in Japanese cuisine, in charge of the menu and daily operations of Uni, Oringer’s tiny Back Bay sashimi bar. There, Chung prepares classic Japanese sashimi dishes that are elegant in presentation and execution with ingredients and flavors that are unusual and adventurous—combining the east/west food cultures he grew up with. Chung is opening his own restaurant, AKA Bistro in Lincoln, with Christian Touche (Clio and Uni’s Director of Operations); doors expected to open in March 2010.
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Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Chris Chung: I’ve loved cooking since I was a kid. The reason why I got so into food is because it’s my family business. I was born in Hawaii but I grew up in Macao. All of my dad’s friends and all my uncles are in the hotel and restaurant business. When I was a little kid I always went into their kitchens. I learned to cook my first steak when I was 7. I just love cooking. It’s hard for me to sit down and read unless it’s a cookbook; anything else and I fall asleep. I love to eat and cook.
AB: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks? Do you hire chefs with or without a culinary background?
CC: I didn’t go. But I look for it in chefs and I recommend it. You can definitely learn the basis skills at school, but I also look for someone who is curious about the ingredient and passionate about cooking.
AB: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
CC: I love ginger in combination with rhubarb and seaweed. The spiciness from ginger is well balanced with the acidity of rhubarb and the ocean favor of the seaweed.
AB: At StarChefs we publish a technique features for chefs to learn new things.
CC: In Uni, it’s about slicing fish. There's a special technique to slicing fish and you have to read the fish line. There's always a problem for new chefs to see the lines, because different parts of fish has different fish line. One of the most common one is the “V” angle. It’s hard to do because you don’t want to have a tough texture in the fish. Otherwise at Uni it’s about slicing fish. There's a special technique to slicing fish and you have to read the fish line. There's always a problem for new chefs to see the lines, but there's a “V” angle. It’s hard to do but you don’t want to have a tough texture in the fish.
AB: What ingredient do you feel is underappreciated?
CC: I think pineapple. There aren’t a lot of people using it, but there’s a lot you can do with it. It has an acidity that you can use, it’s good with sauce, and it actually goes really well with sashimi too.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
CC: For me it’s more about balance. I like flavors that balance well. I think the spicy lobster salad is great because it is spicy, sweet, and sour. You can still taste the lobster, but it’s made more refreshing from all the vegetables.
Food is important, but it’s also about the whole experience. I had good experiences at Manresa in San Francisco and Craigie on Main here in Boston. The whole service was good, not only the food. You can’t sit there for half an hour and wait for the next course. Your whole meal has to have a certain flow; it comes out in a faster pace in the beginning and then slows down, but there should never be a half hour gap when you wait for dessert.
AB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
CC: Working such long hours is the only thing that's hard. When I was a teenager, I wanted to go out and hang out with friends. That didn’t really work because you have to wake up early in the morning and work late.
AB: If you had one thing that you could do again, what would it be?
CC: I would go to culinary school. There's a lot more to learn when you really work in restaurants instead of going to school, but you can learn all the basics in school. It took me a while when I started working in a sushi restaurant. For 3 years I was just watching the prep cooks and it made me feel like I wasted 3 years. I was washing rice and vegetables and just watching.I could have learned a lot of other stuff. I still think I made the right choice to work in a restaurant, but I wish I had gone to school and worked at the same time.
AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community?
CC: Right now I'm doing some cooking classes in Waltham at Gordon's Wine & Culinary Center. I sometimes do sushi classes, sometimes Asian cooking classes. I've been doing private dining and I always grab stages from Clio and ask if they want to make some extra money and learn. I live in Waltham so next to me there are a lot of farms. I'm trying to work on strawberries now because we've been getting strawberries from a close farm in Concord. I started at Uni in 2004, stayed there for 3 years, and I moved to LA for some new experience for about a year. Then I decided to move back to Boston. I'm currently working at Uni while I'm in the middle of opening my restaurant in Lincoln, MA .
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