Chris Cheung’s all-American Chinese baby back ribs, R.I.P.Photo courtesy Chris Cheung.
Chinatown’s Almond Flower is an unusual restaurant, and its young chef, Chris Cheung — who just left the restaurant on Sunday — was the main reason. The bistro was the reverse of places which serve Western food with Asian accents to a largely Caucasian clientele; Almond Flower served fusion food from a Chinese perspective to an overwhelmingly Asian crowd. But Cheung kept pushing the envelope with luxe ingredients that chefs sometimes like more than customers: roast pork buns filled with foie gras, say, or truffled congee soup with abalone wontons. And now that he’s done with Almond Flower, he’s unrepentant.
“My partners were a little intimidated by what I was trying to do,” Cheung says. “They wanted to go another way. But I’m trying to do something new. You know, when white chefs like Jean-Georges and Michael Schulson at Buddakan do Chinese food, they don’t pretend to do it themselves; they hire Chinese cooks. Chinese cooking is cloaked in secrecy. I know those traditional recipes, but I also have been trained in the new, cutting-edge techniques that a lot of Western chefs are using. So I’m trying to redefine Chinese-American cooking and take it to a new place.” Cheung insists that his next project is going to be even more committed to this quest. “I would love to redo the concept because we were hitting on all cylinders.” That’s the spirit! We can’t say that the guy will get the chance or that if he does, he’ll have any more success than he did at Almond Flower. But we definitely want to be there to watch him try.