Bill Clinton Ate Here
Street Food from Ghost Street
Three Tony Hu’s: You can see a photo of a happy Bill Clinton in front of Tony Hu’s Lao Beijing restaurant, in Chicago’s Chinatown. Perhaps from the former President’s pre-vegan days.
Of course, you can get veggie dishes at Hu’s various Lao restaurants. Like the excellent Ma Po Do Fu at his Lao Szechuan flagship location. But even that tofu dish has some meat in it.
Most diners don’t seem to be concerned. They’re too busy, clustered around the tables, enjoying the delicious meat, poultry and seafood dishes. And of course the vegetables.
Chef Tony Hu graduated from the Culinary Institute of Sichuan, the first such institution in China. In 1993, Hu moved to the United States and set up his base in Chicago. In 1998 He formed the Tony Gourmet Group that holds various of his restaurants.
The Tony Group includes Lao Sze Chuan, featuring Sichuan cuisine. And also Lao Beijing, Lao Shanghai, Lao Yunnan, Lao Hunan. Each showcases the food of a different region.
At latest count the Group had seven Chinese restaurants in Chicago’s Chinatown. They also were planning to open a venue for Peking Duck on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. With so many eateries opening in a short time, Hu seems to be everywhere at once.
If you go to any of his restaurants, Hu is likely to be there, greeting you and discussing his next expedition to China, to pick up some new recipes for his restaurants.
The Three Tony’s: In fact, there seems to be some4thing uncanny about Hu’s ability to be everywhere in all his restaurants, checking on things and meeting customers, like a moving light, always in motion..
“I believe there are three Tony Hu’s.” — Henry Fogel
Henry Fogel, Dean of the Chicago College of Performing Arts, is a connoisseur of Chinese food. He’s also a regular at Hu’s restaurants. “I believe Tony Hu must be three identical peolple,” Fogel said recently on Radio Station WFMT.
“Whichever one of his restaurants I’m at, he’ll be there. Then you’ll go to the next one, and there he is again. No normal human could do this. There must be three Tony Hu’s.”
We hear the term bilocation to describe the ability to be in two places at once. Hu may have developed trilocation, if such a thing is possible. He continues to astound customers with the quality and variety of the Chinese dishes he presents at several of his shops as well as the personal attention he pours into them all.
Street Food from Ghost Street: Recently Chef Tony began a new operation, Lao Ma La, specializing in street food as offered at the night restaurants in Beijing’s Ghost Street.
Ma La: But the key word here is the la, in ma la. The term means ‘mouth-numbing,’ and refers to the numbing effect on the tongue and palaye of some Sichuan dishes, possibly as a result of compounds in Sichuan Pepper. The concept of ma la or ‘peppery and numbing,’ may be unique to Sichuan cooking.
Fuchsia Dunlop, Britain’s expert on Sichuan food, has commented about the ma la concept — the subject of another article.
For now, Chef Tony aims to continue his mission of promoting Chinese culinary culture in North America. He specially showcases the fragrant and aromatic flavors of the Chuan (Sichuan and Yunnan) region and the Xiang (Hunan) styles of cuisine.
For his dedicated missionary efforts in communicating the authentic nature of the food of several sometimes neglected Chinese regions, Chef Tony Hu deserves to be included among Master Chefs of the Pacific Rim.