With Chinese comfort food

Chinese comfort food

Late night dinners and dim sum donuts

If you thought Nashville had reached its limit on culture and creativity, think again. We’re adding to its long list of aspiring-artist-filled dive bars, dance halls, and dinner spots with a very special series that has already taken the city by storm. Our new host Alex Wong is creating menus as inspired as his own music while filling a niche that his East Nashville neighborhood hasn’t quite tapped into: Chinese comfort food.

Before launching his pop-up series only two months ago, there was a lack of authentic Chinese food in his area. He had found his market, and was ready for the hustle that would follow. The demand was so high after his first dinner that he opened up two more dates…both with sold-out double seatings. That’s right, guests are filling his home for events starting at 10PM, confident that his “peking duck bao” and “dim sum donuts” are worth the wait. We asked the Nashville star a few questions about his culinary journey.

Tell us about yourself. How did you get into cooking?

I used to make pretend restaurants in my living room (with real menus and food) and force my parents to be my guests. Some specialty items were: smoothies, salad, and baklava (no joke).

I had a 12-month food calendar of “great chefs of the California coast” or something like that, which had these beautiful color photos of different dishes each month. I would painstakingly replicate the dishes down to the last garnish. Presentation was everything!

I visited the Oregon state fair in Eugene when I was 9 and saw a guy demonstrating decorative knives, making cucumber alligators and radish roses. I HAD to have them. I begged my parents for them and they relented, and I left a trail of vegetable carnage behind me for the next few years. I also saw a demo of an Osterizer professional series blender which I begged my parents for, with much less success. I finally bought my very own when I was 30.

In high school I was choosing between two careers: music and cooking. I actually went to the chef lecture at our high school’s career day. He was a private chef for a billionaire’s yacht. Even at 17, he struck me as totally arrogant and presented his job as the top of the profession. I did not want to be some rich guy’s servant on a boat so I went into music… but always maintained a steady passion for cooking as I pursued my music career.

Why did you decide to become a host on EatWith?

I’d had the concept for Chinese comfort food for a while, and was looking for a way to grow into a paid model without the crazy investment of a storefront or restaurant space. It’s allowed us to become profitable, perfect the menu, and test out the food on real customers without going into debt, which is amazing.

“To me, both music making and cooking have always come from the same creative place. The same elements that make music interesting to me are also what get me excited about food; pushing for new sounds/flavors, contrast, dynamics, quiet/loud elements working together, and most of all the emotional message at the core of any creation. I hope to give people joy when they digest my art, whether it’s with their ears or taste buds.”

What is your most memorable EatWith event?

The last one was the most memorable… we attempted the (possibly crazy) feat of hosting two seatings in one evening! We had planned meticulously… I even created a color coded spreadsheet detailing where everyone was supposed to be every 10 minutes! We had done all our prep work the nights before and were totally prepared, all I had to do the day of was roast the ducks. And halfway through roasting the first duck, our oven breaks! We fly into problem-solving mode and end up carpooling all 4 ducks to a friend’s house in Nashville and roasting them there. The pictures from the car ride are hilarious. All worked out in the end and no one ever knew. He ended up having a way better oven than I did anyway…

Who is your foodie inspiration?

My family was my first inspiration. I was very lucky that many of my relatives cooked, on both sides of my family. They had very different styles and skill levels and I started learning what I connected with and didn’t. My grandfather was a chef in Chinatown and my dad and his brothers and sisters all worked in the restaurant when they were teens. I’d hear lots of stories of kitchen heroics growing up. After that I got obsessed with French cooking (I was a really weird kid) and would ask to go to the local French restaurant for my birthday as a kid.

My college roommate EJ was also a big inspiration… he was also an avid cook from an Italian family and we swapped a lot of recipes (we may have been the only two guys at our school who actually enjoyed cooking). I still make some of his recipes for myself to this day!

Who is your favorite celebrity chef?

David Chang. I relate to his story, how he found his way into cooking, his sensibilities, his principals as a chef. I also love Alton Brown because he’s a genius, I learned more from Good Eats than any other cooking show.

Photo by William Goertel

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming an EatWith host?

Hmmm… I’d say pay attention to your market, what people like to eat in your city, and try to offer something unique and specific that tells your own story. I think people who would come to a pop-up dinner at someone’s house really want to know your story, it helps them enjoy the food that much more.

Photography by Anthony Scarlati.

Check out Alex’s upcoming menus on EatWith or book him for your next party or event! For more stories from the table, check out Tastemakers

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