Off menu with… Edwin Zoe | Dragonfly Noodle

Photo: Deborah Cameron

When he walked into his restaurant, the first thing I noticed about Edwin Zoe was the warm hugs he had for his staff.

It was just before lunch and things weren’t busy yet at his restaurant, Dragonfly Noodle, in Boulder. Before the lunch crowd arrived, 2022 semi-finalist James Beard for Restaurateur of the Year was given a hug by the host stand, a hug by the order window and a hug by the noodle maker Yamato stealing the stage and glowing.

This kind of warmth was a precursor to the hospitality I felt during my visit. We sat together for nearly an hour over a duck bao and later a steaming bowl of black tonkotsu. We discussed his recently announced concept, Dragonfly Noodle – there are two, one near Pearl St. in Boulder and one on the 16th St. Mall in Denver.

Zoe started the conversation with the story behind the concept. “We have just gone through an extremely difficult period with the pandemic. Many restaurants have struggled and have not come out the same. As we emerge, I started trying to visualize what the post-pandemic landscape looked like.

Photo: Deborah Cameron

Ultimately, his vision reflected a variety of noodle-based offerings, including ramen, udon, and pho. He explained, “When I traveled to Asia, I saw so much variety in flavors and styles, and the art of seeing noodles made is something that has always fascinated me.”

He continued, “When I was younger I wanted to learn how to pull noodles. I was in my late 20s, early 30s. I had to go to the Bay Area and ask favors from a noodle master to teach me.

Zoe also talked about the name of the new concept. “I remember very well, when I was a child, there was something special and mystical about dragonflies. The way they move, the colors. In terms of symbolism, it’s all about transformation because it has to come out water to become an amazing aerial acrobat.And in Japan it is the emblem of the samurai.

It turns out that Dragonfly Noodle is just a number of different concepts from Zoe. He seems to play with concepts the way writers play with story ideas. Work through them. Assemble them. “Their inspiration comes from different sources. Sometimes they come in the middle of the night. Much of it is driven by my belly. What I want to eat that I can’t easily find.

Zoe’s roots in the kitchen are quite well known to local foodies. He opened his first restaurant, Zoe Ma Ma, to keep his mother Anna engaged once she moved to Boulder after her father passed away. “Once she came, I realized, okay. I need her to do something,Zoe said, very intentionally, while good-naturedly making full eye contact for articulation. “If I can create a smaller, more manageable restaurant, that would be great for her. I called her Zoe Ma Ma because in Chinese culture, the family name comes first.

Photo: Deborah Cameron

Many also know that his first restaurant experience was in his parents’ kitchen in the Midwest. He told a story about his time there that inspired him to do more. “At 13, I worked in the restaurant 40 hours a week. I remember my dad’s associate handing me a check at the end of the summer, for about $270. That’s a lot of money, but also, I know the math. I thought ‘it’s very little for all that I’ve worked’. One night I was even in the dish pit until 2 am. I said, when I grow up, I won’t be a dishwasher.

Although big names like Charlie Trotter and Guy Fieri, who visited Zoe Ma Ma for an episode of Dinners, drive-ins and dives, were part of our conversation, when I asked about his chef inspirations, he showed me a picture of his phone. It was a woman in Ho Chi Minh City, sitting on a street corner doing banh mi.

He said: “She does them one after another on one burner and there is a small line of people. All within an interval of, maybe four by four feet. It’s 9 o’clock in the morning and this is his restaurant. When I look at this, it inspires me. »

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