Tonight’s Cooking Channel premiere episode of Restaurant Redemption brings Chef Ching-He Huang to Fresh Meadows, N.Y. to King Yum, a tiki-themed Chinese restaurant in need of her expert assistance. King Yum has been in the family for nearly sixty years. Robin Eng, an acclaimed culinary school graduate, is the second generation owner with his wife Roberta and two children. They have called in Ching to help them get to the bottom of their problem.
She preferred to sit with the family and discuss what is going wrong. Robin grew up in the restaurant when his father bought the place in 1953. Back in the day, they had 16-18 chefs working there and now there are only nine. The wait staff has also decreased by half. Jesse, the son and bartender and Erica added their opinions and said that in all the years, the food and menu have not changed. Robin knows that many of his customers have been eating there for years and love the food, which makes him hesitate to change a thing. Roberta said that it was comfort food, but Ching has other ideas.
They went into the kitchen to meet with the head chef, and Ching discovered something strange; Robin, is not all too familiar with Chinese cooking. When he graduated from Culinary Institute of America, the chefs in the restaurant, fearful of losing their jobs, would not show him how to make the dishes that made the restaurant famous. Ching was shocked that Robin was not even in command of his own kitchen. So Ching had the chef make several dishes for her to try, but they neglected to give her chopsticks to eat her food!
The spring roll was too salty, and lacked any flavor except salt. The shrimp toast needed to be wrung out of grease before she could even taste it. The egg foo young had a strange sauce on top that was greasy, and the egg was swimming in grease. The food was dreadful and Ching called Robin and Roberta to hear her critique. She told them how appalled she was by the dishes she tried and stated that they had no Chinese influence in them. Robin countered that it was not traditional Chinese, but New York Chinese. Ching was aware that it was an Americanized restaurant, but it is no excuse for serving poor food. Both Robin and Roberta were upset at the criticism of their food, but Ching wanted to know if they were proud of the food they served? Robin admitted that there were some items that even he did not like and knew that he had to change things; even if it was a constant battle. Ching reminded him that this was his restaurant, and it was in peril because he was not in control of it. They agreed to turn the place over to Ching, so she could fix it. She called in her friend Bradford Thompson, a restaurant consultant who agreed that the tiki themed restaurant needed a makeover. He agreed to do it in a day and a half, and Ching went into the kitchen to work her magic with the chefs. She noticed immediately that they were missing the basic ingredient; Chinese 5-spice. So adding cinnamon, citron pepper, fennel seed, star anise, cloves, and she added a sixth spice with dried tangerine peel. First, she toasted the spice blend in a wok without oil, then ground it up. When they smelled the aroma, they both agreed that it smelled great, but Robin is very wishy-washy and Ching has to relight his passion. So using the spice mix, she created a sauce that was not greasy, using fresh ingredients and created a modern Chinese dish, but Robin was not sold … yet.
Ching then went to speak with Roberta, who was willing to do whatever to get the restaurant back to its heyday. Robin told Ching that some of her remarks hurt him deeply, but she is there to help and save the place, not destroy it. She also told him that she was doing this for his own good; not hers. She finally got Robin to agree to take the reins of his restaurant and start heading in the right direction.
The final dish she wanted to revamp was to Pu Pu Platter. She revamped the spring roll, took away chewy spareribs and replaced them with chicken wings seasoned with the spice mix, replaced the greasy shrimp toast with lettuce wraps of shrimp and fresh vegetables. Robin and Roberta had smiles from ear to ear when they tried the new appetizers. Roberta admitted how Robin loved the spice mixture and was raving about it.
Then it was time for them to see their modern restaurant, which brought tears to their eyes as they saw a vibrant look to the tired place. Each table was adorned with a container of chop sticks, and the menu was fresh and new. As a long line of people waited to get in, the place filled up quickly. In the kitchen, there was no doubt who was in charge. Robin had new energy and decisiveness that made the kitchen run the way it should. The customers loved its new look and fresh flavors. Thanks to Ching and her crew of Restaurant Redemption.
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