Wasn’t chef Shirley Chung viewers’ favorite finalist on Season 11 of “Top Chef?” I think we all share the lingering feeling that she was absolutely robbed of the chance to compete for the ultimate win.
The opening of Chung’s Twenty Eight adjacent to the Google building in Irvine eases the pain a bit. Partnering with Stacie Tran of the Orange County family who owns Furiwa in Garden Grove, Chung’s first restaurant ownership venture serves what she calls modern Chinese cuisine, which is both global and highly personal. Born in Bejing and trained in classic French cuisine, Chung has worked for some of the biggest names in the business, including José Andrés and Mario Batali. Her Twenty Eight duck, for instance, is slow-roasted in the French manner, with a Bejing attitude coming from the house-made secret duck sauce and “lotus leaf” crepes—the latter her mother’s recipe.
At a recent media dinner, Chung demonstrated hand-cut squid-ink noodles, which are served with uni on her menu. Before cutting the noodles, the nearly black dough is first hand-rolled—no pasta machines at Twenty Eight. And the global influences continue—Chung prefers King Arthur all-purpose flour for her noodles, which are silky on the outside, thanks to her mother’s tip to use cornstarch, rather than additional flour, when rolling them out. Squid ink not only lends characteristic color to pasta dough, but also a natural hit of saline ocean flavor. Uni tops the substantial, nicely chewy noodles, as well as figuring into the sauce, resulting in layers of seafood flavor. The sauce reminded me of the Sicilian pasta that’s my favorite way to eat sea urchin. In fact, Chung says people have remarked “how Italian” the dish seems—but of course, sea urchin has been used in coastal Chinese cuisine for centuries.
Something else for the Marco Polo pasta debate? Maybe. But definitely evidence of chef Chung’s “cuisine without borders.”