Andrew Zimmern's homage to chef Peter Chang is not winning over diners - or Chang's business partner
The early reviews have been rough, though not universally negative, on the dry-fried eggplant dish at Lucky Cricket, chef and "Bizarre Foods" host Andrew Zimmern's new Chinese restaurant outside Minneapolis. Normally, Gen Lee wouldn't care one way or another about the reviews, but this dish is different: It's named after his business partner, the acclaimed master chef Peter Chang.
Peter Chang's Dry Fried Eggplant is right there on the dim sum menu at Lucky Cricket, the tiki-and-Chinese mash-up that opened in November with a large target on its back after Zimmern told Fast Company that his budding chain would save "the souls of all the people from having to dine at these horse---- restaurants masquerading as Chinese food that are in the Midwest." Although listed as a separate item, Chang's dish has frequently been paired with another eggplant dish from the Lucky Cricket menu, according to the initial reports.
"Peter Chang's Dry Fried Eggplant and Szechuan Eggplant ($12) was billed as crispy-spicy and sweet-savory, but the fried half was under seasoned and not cooked evenly - many pieces were soggy and none packed much spice. The Szechuan-style, by contrast, was lovely, with full, bold, deep flavor that led us to crush the dish and mop the sauce," wrote the food editor for the Growler, a St. Paul-based magazine.
One Lucky Cricket patron on Twitter was particularly harsh about the dish, saying it lacked any of the trademark spice of Chang's creation.
One bright spot was found in an otherwise unfavorable review of Lucky Cricket by Soleil Ho, the incoming restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. In her piece for Eater, Ho noted that the eggplant duo was among the more "compelling" offerings at Zimmern's place.
But Lee, Chang's longtime business partner, said he had received other criticisms via phone call and text. A common pattern had emerged: The complainers noted that the dish wasn't prepared to Chang's standards, Lee told The Washington Post during a recent interview. The dish was soggy. It had no flavor. It wasn't spicy. Lee was taken aback.
The TV celebrity had learned to make the dry-fried eggplant a few years back when Zimmern visited Chang's restaurant outside Richmond, Virginia. Apparently something got lost in translation. Even worse for Lee and Chang: Zimmern apparently didn't ask permission to put the dish on the Lucky Cricket menu.
The pirated preparation would be "OK if you think people are doing a good dish," Lee said. "If you're going to put a name on it, you have to do it right."
Lee said he texted Zimmern and heard nothing in return. Lee said he then contacted a person in Zimmern's office and received only a terse acknowledgment of his complaint. Nothing changed.
When The Post reached out to Zimmern via his media contact, we received a statement from the man behind "Bizarre Foods."
"We named the dish after him out of respect," Zimmern noted about Chang's spicy eggplant. "He showed me how to make the dish years ago when I was in his kitchen in Virginia. 99% of restaurants just steal ideas. Since he was famous for his dry fried eggplant I wanted to make sure we gave him the respect he deserves and name checked him on the menu. Obviously we don't serve it the exact same way that he does.
"Make sense?" Zimmern added.
It doesn't to Gen Lee.
This article was written by Tim Carman, a reporter for The Washington Post.