Q&A: Japanese-born Brooklyn chef Cynthia Yong on her new comfort food restaurant, Curves

I use Taiwanese duck meat to make the sauces. The duck meat is salty, so I like to fill it with spices. The sauces are very simple — we don’t add herbs or tomatoes. I use a simple mixture of red pepper, ginger, garlic, turmeric, chile paste, cumin, and chili powder, plus lots of mirin, honey, lemon juice, and a little peanut oil. I put everything in a big pot and boil it for about 10 minutes. After that, we mash all the ingredients with a stick blender.

Normally, I’m not a big sauce guy. I like my dishes to have a little brightness and go with the taste of the meat. But sometimes, with these really spicy sauces, you just have to add more sauce. That’s why I like to have the sauce on the table with my dishes. You can walk by and read the menu and decide what you want to eat.

Another thing I love to make is sriracha sauce. When I was at Carmelito, I had all these smart guys working for me. They all taught me to make a really good sriracha. We eventually brought it over from Carmelito, but we kept making it by myself. I would make it very salty, with Tabasco, ground garlic, salt, sugar, and chili powder. I poured it over any sauce I made, and it was amazing. We eventually brought it to Brooklyn, where we had it at A.G. Spumoni, too.

Gloria Steinem’s homage to Brooklyn

[The film] Gloria is about a Korean American journalist who finds her voice and learns how to love her roots. Gloria grew up on a [Seattle] Block Island, in a house surrounded by tortilla fields. It was very strong, very feminine, and warm. I do have fond memories of house parties with my mom and the little cousins. We would cook. My mom would make all the food that she’d find around, and put it in a little container, and I would use it as a crutch. I couldn’t help it, and I was constantly on the go, so I’d just come home and feast. I would eat with mom, in the kitchen, and we’d have little family discussions and cooking practices, and make our family dinner out of everything that we had, from the pantry to the cooler. One of my favorite dishes of hers was this marinated chicken wing that was marinated for a week. When you marinate chicken, the excess meat is sometimes dumped into the sink, and it does get wet. But when I was little, mom wouldn’t let me throw the chicken into the sink. We would get out there, gather around the sink with the chicken, and I would soak it in lemon and honey. The other side of it was soaking the sides of the bones in water. This was all to eat. Then mom would smell it and tell me if it was cooked. She would tell me it was cooked when she smelled the meat and bones and that they were well marinated.

Looking forward

I love working in a high-energy environment, in a place where you have to work hard and interact with other people all the time. I don’t like to sit around. Working like that gets stale. My idea of relaxation is reading, watching movies and working out. I love watching my trainer, Jillian Michaels, on the show Body by Jillian. I also love a good little meditation before I go to sleep. Meditation has changed my life for the better. Every morning, I try to meditate for 30 seconds. It makes a huge difference.

If you go

Spicy sauce and coconut vinegar: what new BBs Diner chef Robbie Hojilla keeps in his kitchen

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