Q & A With Sang Yoon, Part 2: His Jewish Grandmother, Duck Tongue + Why The Chef Wants A Centrifuge
A. Scattergood Sang Yoon outside Lukshon
At the conclusion of the first part of our interview with Sang Yoon (Lukshon, Father's Office), the chef was considering the relative merits of using heat as a weapon and why you can ask for sriracha at Lukshon although to ask for ketchup at Father's Office is, well, simply not done.
Turn the page for the second part of our interview, in which the chef -- pictured here in Lukshon's cozy outdoor patio and sitting dangerously near his own personal Olympic flame -- discusses how Lukshon got its name and if he should buy a centrifuge. If you happen to have one at home, let us know your favorite ways to use the thing in the kitchen. (Anybody at Caltech read this blog?) And be sure to check back later for Yoon's recipe for shrimp cakes. Yes, you can make them at home without a centrifuge. Or an immersion circulator. Or a cannister of nitrogen. Good to know.
Squid Ink: Ah, so what's next on your horizon? More Father's Offices?
Sang Yoon: Oh, come on, it's only been a couple months.
SI: You can be a hard man to track down.
SY: No, there's nothing that's set in stone. Never is with me. I have no growth plan. I have no Five Year Plan. I don't know. I always say that planning to open another restaurant is like the most dangerous thing you can do. I think it has, for whatever reason, to be completely serendipitious. It's like meeting your soul mate. You don't find it by looking for it.
Si: Forcing the issue tends to be a very bad idea.
SY: Well, if you do, I think you can talk yourself into almost anything. You can make sense of it, like, This is the best location ever because look at all the people walking around. Or you could say, Look there's no one here, we would make the neighborhood. You can literally justify anything.
SI: It's like opening the Bible. So how much research did you do for Lukshon?
SY: A lot. A lot. A lot of analysis paralysis.
SI: What does that mean?
SY: Well, you get locked into things. You start to examine things so deeply it gets crippling. In my brain the hourglass was spinning, it just kept saying, Come on, Sang. I ran into a lot of dead ends. We did a ton of dishes that we didn't end up using and maybe we'll go back to, but just ideas that didn't pan out. There were more ideas that didn't pan out than did pan out. There was a lot of time I had to study stuff. The question of like, how spicy? Well then, how authentic do I go? How far do I want to push this? Because there's authentic and there's like, No one's going to eat this. Where's that line?
SI: Where is that line?
SY: Well, no one knows; I think it's dynamic. Like I said, in '83 it was like wasabi and soy sauce and now we're like at fish sauce and shrimp paste and we've moved on. I think it'll continue to grow and like anything, if you're around long enough it'll evolve. The goal here is to carefully monitor what people like and what they say about it. And if the opportunity arises, to test dishes. Even in the next week or so, we're adding more dishes.
SI: Well, you have a test kitchen. It's hardly set in stone.
SY: Yeah, yeah, nothing's set in stone. Now we're going to stick a toe in the water, with things that are a little racier, a little not as friendly to the masses, I don't know. Not crazy weird stuff, just things that you might not think go together, some flavors that are pushing the boundaries of funky or authentic. I'm not going to do coagulated duck blood soup.
SI: That was the next question.
SY: That has its audience; I don't think it's here. I have no allegiance to duck tongue.
SI: Do people ask you about duck tongue a lot?
SY: People say, Are you ever going to do duck tongue? I had duck tongue once. I'm like, I don't really like duck tongue; I don't get it. I don't think it tastes particularly good. I had it recently in New York and I was like, Yeah, it's fine.
SI: It begs the question of whether you're just doing it for the entertainment value.
SY: I just found out that I have to give a talk at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival on the word 'value.' That brings up the question: well, what value does that have.
SI: Value of what?
SY: Value I guess associated with our business. I can say, well, I did duck tongue. What would the value of that be. I don't know. Some ingredients are maybe more interesting because they're rare, but whether or not they taste good or you actually want to eat them I'm not sure.
SI: You're running a restaurant and not a circus.
SY: Yeah, yeah. There are some ingredients that are more circus-y. That's a great word for it. Very look at me.
SI: You could serve live octopus if you wanted to.
SY: We serve live scallops. They're still moving when we cut them. They're like ridiculously fresh. They're from Maine, Deer Isle. They have some of the greatest scallops. Short season though.
SI: So people ask you about duck tongue. Is there anything else people are oddly fixated on?
SY: They ask why I don't have many more noodle dishes. And I'm like, well, it was never meant to be a noodle place. We'll add new noodle dishes eventually, and we'll probably end up opening for lunch in the near future. But there was an odd sense that people thought it was going to be a noodle place or a ramen shop or something. Well, I never said that. And the word Lukshon means noodle in Yiddish. So that's another reason maybe people thought that.
SI: Does it mean anything in not-Yiddish?
SY: I made sure that in Mandarin it doesn't mean toilet or something. But it has more to do with my surrogate Jewish grandmother.
SI: Is she why you called it Lukshon?