America’s latest food darling had a Parisian audience eating out of his chicken wing confit-covered hands.
Audience members at Parisian food festival Omnivore who are already well-versed in the cult of Danny Bowien, chef of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco and New York, are feverishly taking notes of his steamed egg custard with chicken confit.
Shutter-happy fans are trying to capture every step of his cooking demonstration, which reveals the secrets to one of his signature dishes: a rich, umami-concentrated broth flavored with everything from Chinese sausage, ramps or garlic leaves, ham, bonito flakes, Kombu and white soy sauce.
Sitting in among the audience members is the Russian chef who had presented moments before, along with his contingent of apprentices – all of whom appeal to the young chef-dude for a photo following his demo.
If Bowien makes good on an off-the-cuff remark that sent the rumor mill on both sides of the Atlantic into overdrive – namely, plans to open a Parisian outpost of Mission Chinese – he is unlikely to have trouble finding a fan base for his “Americanized” Chinese food that includes dishes such as kung pao pastrami and smoked beef brisket noodle soup.
Omnivore host Sébastien Demorand, for example, introduces the young chef with fawning praise, predicting sure success should Bowien decide to open a location in Paris.
'Paris or bust?'
But how accurate are the rumors?
“We don’t even have a place yet,” says Bowien in an interview with Relaxnews.
Bowien is erring on the side of caution and tries to downplay the rumor – a buzz that began when "Food Art" magazine reported last year that he’d be using his Omnivore appearance to scout possible locations. Bowien, meanwhile, says his trip to Paris this time round is purely to participate in the annual foodie festival.
But in a comment that belies how seriously he’d been considering a trans-Atlantic move, Bowien refers back to a bit of advice given by his chef pal and fellow New York food darling David Chang of the Momofuku empire.
“He told me to be careful before expanding. That Paris will always be there,” said Bowien. “I first have to make sure that the infrastructure is in place before I can leave.”
All of which begs the question, of all the places in all the world, why Paris, France? Where epicurean palates are famously heat–sensitive and spice-averse? Where fine dining and haute cuisine was birthed? And where Chinese food remains, for the most part, a post-hangover meal or easy weeknight takeout dinner?
“I love Paris,” he says. “It’s always been a dream to open a restaurant in Paris. It’s where cuisine started. I trained as a classic French chef. It’s the backbone to everything.”
The arrival of a casual, inventive take on Asian cuisine in the French capital would also help bring Chinese cuisine out of its lackluster mainstream reputation, a move already made by restaurants like Yam’Tcha, a Franco-Chinese eatery, and Shang Palace, both of which earned Michelin stars in recent years.
Meanwhile, though Bowien says a Paris outpost is not in the immediate future, he also alludes to the fact that life has been known to throw him for a loop before.
“If you had told me five years ago that I would have a restaurant in New York, I would have said no way.”