For part two of our walk through of the forthcoming Susur Lee restaurant in the LES Thompson, Shang, we take a look into the main dining room and have a chat with the chef himself:
What finally brought you to New York? To start at the very beginning, a long time ago my wife asked if we could move to North America. I thought, that's great. I pictured the Coca-Cola bottle and the glowing lights of Times Square, like I had seen on TV and like we have in Hong Kong. But we went to Toronto and I didn't see a god damned light. But I ended up opening a place there, Lotus about 18 years ago. The restaurant was a chance to be free and do what I wanted.
Around the same time, Drew Nieporent and Robert De Niro opened Nobu and someone told them about what I was doing up in Toronto. Drew came up and we were talking, and it was all very exciting. And that's when I found out my wife was pregnant. I just didn't feel it was the time to move my family. After that, my wife got pregnant again, so we stayed and I eventually built up a reputation in Canada as well as in the U.S. and Europe.
Years later after having another child and moving to Singapore to consult, I had another chance at New York. When we were ready to move back, it was a major turning point for me because I could have picked anywhere, Toronto, New York, Africa, anywhere. But I had my clientele and my reputation in Toronto.
So why now? After opening both Susur and Lee in Toronto I think I have more experience and I'm getting to understand the business. I finally thought, "Hey, I could do that." So the motivation is partly based on that feeling but also based on opportunity. Jason [Pomeranc, owner of Thompson Hotels] came to Toronto and liked my food.
How will you divide up your time? I don't know yet. Right now I want to focus on New York. You know, good things take time and I want to be patient with it.
Will the menu be geared toward New York? How will it be different than your current and former spaces in Toronto? All these years I've never thought, "Oh I have to do this because of where I am", whether is was Toronto or Asia or wherever. It's never because of the location. Yes, the ingredients and the eating habits are emulsified in the culture, but it won't be specifically New York.
How will you stand out from other high end Asian restaurants in the city? I don't want to be compared to other restaurants. I look at the hotel, I look at the staff, I look at the kitchen, and then it all comes together. I'm still making a lot of changes to the menu now. I just make sure it is professionally done and that there is originality in the cooking.
How would you describe the cuisine at Shang? Is it Chinese, Asian...? It's a lot of cooking based on old European and Asian cuisines. It's kind of like a tee pee. You take a little old from here and little new from there and build it all together.
Where do you like to eat in New York? Well my favorite dining partners are my sons. Every time we're in New York we go to Omen on Thompson Street. They do shabu-shabu which my sons love. It's always the place we go to when we're here and the meal we talk about when we're away.
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