Last month we attended Culinary Fight Night at Sons of Essex down on the Lower East Side. During the competition, we listened to the input of the judges as they provided their culinary expertise. One judge was Chef Stephen Yen, Corporate Executive Chef of Paige Hospitality Group, which manages popular NYC eateries such as The Ainsworth, its sister restaurant Ainsworth Park, 121 Fulton Street and The Chester in the famous Hotel Gansevoort. We reached out to Chef Yen to learn more about him.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking?
SY: I started cooking when I was a kid, as helping my family in the kitchen was not only fun but also part of our culture. In the kitchen, stories were shared and memories were created. Growing up in New York and being exposed to different cultures through food is the best way to learn about life. In college, my friends and I were always trying to replicate what we couldn’t afford to buy. My professional career started when I enrolled at The French Culinary Institute.
FP: What are some of your favorite meals to cook at home for yourself?
SY: Some of my favorite meals to cook at home are different types of curries. South East Asian curries require making a paste of ginger, shallots, galangal, turmeric, garlic, chilies, and making sure your spices are toasted and ground. Indian curries require different variations of masalas which some blends are very secretive. The aroma from the different spices that come together transforms a small NYC apartment to smell like a “home”, and for a moment you forget you live in a concrete jungle.
FP: We enjoy different types of curries also!
Name three chefs you would like to cook with in the same kitchen and why.
SY: I would like to cook with Rene Redzepi, because of his calm personality and love of pure flavors. I would also love to cook with Ferran Adria because of his out of the box culinary concepts. Lastly, I would also love to cook with my mother, which I have not had the chance to do so in years. The fast paced life of a NYC Chef has of course not allowed me to spend much needed time with the person who has sacrificed so much to make me who I am today.
FP: We can only imagine the busy life of a Chef in NYC!
When you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in NYC.
FP: We’ve heard great things about Hill Country. The others are new to us, which is exciting since we love learning about new places to eat!
What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name. 🙂
SY: Guilty pleasures are Roti Canai, soup dumplings, chili crab, banh mi, Pho, Cuban sandwiches, smoked brisket, and BACON.
FP: All sound like foodie pleasures to us!
Besides being chef, what are your non-cooking hobbies/interests? What do you like doing on your days off?
SY: On my days off I like to sleep and catch up on some reading. Cookbooks, and books on society (Malcolm Gladwell essays, etc). I also love to play golf, I don’t get out there much anymore.
FP: Golf is one tough sport! Thank you again for your time. We wish you continued success and hope to stop by one of your restaurants in the near future!