Interview with Chef Richard Chen of Wing Lei - Las Vegas, NV

September, 2005

Antoinette Bruno: Why did you start cooking? Who or what inspired you to be a chef?
Richard Chen: My whole family grew up in the restaurant business. My brother and sister lef the industry when they grew up. I had worked every station in the business and realized I loved it. I wanted to do something different with Asian cuisine as I saw it in America.

AB: Did you attend culinary school?
RC: I attended CIA. It was a very tough first three months. Lots of pressure. Forty percent drop out. For me it was a worthwhile experience – every penny’s worth. It taught me the fundamentals of what I needed to succeed.

AB: Who are your mentors?
RC: Sarah Stegner in Chicago. She taught me that French food does not have to be heavy. She taught me to rethink traditions. Charlie Trotter, too. He takes and idea and runs with something. He taught me to take Chinese cuisine and make it my own.

AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
RC: I like to start with the produce of the season. Fresh produce is most important.

AB: Are there any secret ingredients that you especially like?
RC: Truffles and truffle oil. I use truffles with all kinds of things. love to make truffle dumplings. I also like abalone.

AB: What is your most indispensable kitchen tool?
RC: A sharp chef knife. Also copper pots. I have a collection. They heat up very evenly.

AB: Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or used in an unusual way?
RC: Steaming of cake. I take the western philosophy of making a cake but often we don’t have ovens. So I steam the cake in a bamboo steamer on the top of the stove.

AB: What is your favorite question to ask during an interview for a potential new line cook?
RC: What is your goal in the next 5 years? I want to know what their motivation is. I want someone with dreams and ambition.

AB: What tips would you offer young chefs just getting started?
RC: Go work for someone who inspires you, who is going to help you develop. Learn the fundamentals, the skills.

AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
RC: Charlie Trotter, for his meat recipes. I like his philosophy of reduction of sauces. And game birds. His approach is different for a Chinese chef.

AB: What cities do you like for culinary travel?
RC: I want to go to New York. It’s very competitive. If you are able to survive there you must be doing very well. It’s the best of the best.

AB: What trends do you see emerging in culinary arts?
RC: Spanish and Cuban influences. I find it very interesting.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
RC: I want to go back to CIA with all my experience and teach. I want to publish a cookbook.