Super Star Asian's Dean Huang on the stink of "fine shrimp sauce," food sculpture and the city's best Chinese restaurant
This is part one of my interview with Dean Hunag, exec chef of Super Star Asian. Part two of our conversation will run in this space tomorrow.
Clad in a starched white chef's jacket with ornate gold lettering, Dean Huang sits erect -- his posture is perfect -- across the table, a shiny gold medal dangling from his neck. "I've never, never done anything but cook," says Huang, the executive chef at Super Star Asian restaurant. "I'm 51 years old, and my whole life has been in the kitchen." In part, he explains, that's because "when you grow up in Hong Kong and China, there's a big chance that you're not well-educated, so most teenagers get jobs in a restaurant to make a living."
Huang was no exception. His mom was a formidable cook who taught him the basics, he says, but he needed to earn money, and cooking at home was no match for what he gleaned -- and earned -- in a professional kitchen. "At home, we had a lack of equipment -- there were no big woks with huge fires -- but at the restaurant, there was amazing equipment, and I loved cooking in a real kitchen with lots of energy, plus I got paid."
Still, he wanted more, so he worked as a prep cook at a Chinese restaurant in the mornings and at night immersed himself in culinary school. "That's where I learned all about plating, dim sum, strip-frying, and sculptures and carvings," recalls Huang, adding that he spent two long years mastering the art of food sculpting, creating intricate birds from carrots and daikon. "I love putting food sculptures on my plates, because they make food come alive."
The chef, who also considers himself a plating artist, spent fifteen years behind the line at various restaurants in Hong Kong, winning several culinary showdowns along the way -- including a gold medal in the Malaysia-Chinese Cuisine cooking competition in 2005 -- before moving to the States. He landed first in Los Angeles, then moved on to Portland, Phoenix and, finally, Denver, where he's been cooking at Super Star since 2007 -- a long time, he says, for a Chinese chef. "We move around a lot," Huang admits. "When someone who's Chinese opens a restaurant, they'll ask their very good friends to help them, so we don't stay in one place for very long, because we're always going somewhere else to help those who help us."