Chef Irene Li
We recently spoke with Irene to find out more about the world of mobile foodservice and its differing processes from work-life in a brick-and-mortar restaurant kitchen.Read Bio
The Art of Melding Global Flavors
What inspired you to open this concept? Please provide some details about your operation.
We met in the industry over ten years ago and always used to get together to cook in each other's homes with visions of opening our own place. In 2014, we were ready tomove on from our jobs and said, "let's make this happen."
We then went on the hunt for a restaurant space and were able to open with about $8,000 total. As far as the concept went, we had always wanted to create global flavors so every single dish on our menu is one we’ve always loved and been inspired by prior to opening the restaurant. Ultimately, this is our main focus; cooking foods we not only like to eat but also like to cook in our homes.
What inspires your featured flavors, and how do you achieve them?
Being able to travel as a means to perfect our craft. We spent a few weeks in Thailand and really got to know the Southeastern flavors and fell in love with them along with the day and night markets. As a result, we’ve added a lot of Southeast Asian influences on our menu.
Essentially, we don't like to stray too far from authentic flavors so we want to take on global flavors but use Southern ingredients that they probably wouldn't use there instead. For example, we once spent a little time in China and they have a black vinegar-braised beef fish that sparked our interest. So, we took those flavors and made a black vinegar-braised oxtail; this is how we tend to bring out our Southern influences in our dishes.
Describe the role flavor ingredients like spices, herbs and seasonings play in the cuisine you create to achieve that craveable flavor?
Spices are everything, especially at our restaurant. All of our dishes are heavily spiced with inspirations from India to West and East Africa.
In the restaurant, we have a wall of over 120 spices. Some items get marinated, other get braised. We also add spices to our dishes that you wouldn’t normally see or haveexperienced before. For example, in our fried chicken, we have Negro Pepper, it’s a West African pepper.
In terms of the spices we use on a daily basis, the main one would be coriander. We also use a lot of Szechuan peppercorns and Aleppo pepper. These have to be in our kitchen at all times.
How do you create the perfect balance of old-school, all-American food with Houston’s global cultural flavor influences and how do you bring this to life?
For us, it comes pretty naturally. We have a menu comprised of dishes that we like to eat with aggressive flavors. Our goal is to showcase flavors that customers aren’t going to go off the beaten-path to find, we bring them directly to their table.
Most of the flavors we do, you’ll find in restaurants throughout Houston but a lot of the time, they might be in sketchier parts of town or people feel uncomfortable in certain areas. As a result, we wanted to have a place where everybody can be comfortable and still taste these authentic flavors they crave.
Which new flavors and ingredients can we expect to see making their way to the center-of-the-plate in the near future?
We are both African American so we’ve been studying and producing a lot of great West African food from countries like Senegal and Nigeria. We've been playing around with jollof a lot lately. It's just as flavorful as any rice dish you can find, like a piyaya or Louisiana jambalaya. When cooking these flavors, you can see where all these different concepts here in America come from, especially with the jollof and the resemblance of jambalaya.