Forever 28

WRITTEN BY: MICHELLE SLIEFF PHOTOGRAPHED BY: JORDANA SHEARA 

Celebrity chef Shirley Chung gets down and dirty while tearing it up in OC as she breaks ground for her new restaurant in Irvine, Twenty Eight. This chef uses her hands for more than making art on the plate. She constructs new meaning to the term ‘Chinese food’ for residents of Orange County. You might recognize her from her appearance on “Top Chef, ” season 11, which took place in New Orleans and concluded in Hawaii. Chef Shirley impressed everyone with her modern take on traditional Chinese cuisine. Prior to this experience, she impressed the culinary industry by storm; having started cooking when she was 28 (see where the restaurant name comes from). The restaurant’s name stems beyond what age Shirley started cooking at though. It also holds significant meaning in traditional Chinese culture.

Chef Shirley is trained in classic French and Italian cuisine and has worked alongside other amazing chefs, such as Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy and Mario Batali. I am beyond thrilled and excited to have Chef Shirley right here in our backyard. No need to get in the car and drive to LA or Vegas to get a plate of food like the ones you see on TV. Now we have it right in our own backyard. Experience the taste of Beijing with a twist through dishes like the Lobster Dumpling with Consommé, House- Cured Head Cheese & Beef Tongue, Singapore-Style Chili Lobster with Hand-Cut Noodles, Steamed Local Black Cod in Banana Leaf, Slow- Braised Ox Tail, Squid Ink Hand-Cut Noodles with Uni, and the Eight Treasure Rice and Tofu Panna Cotta with Red Bean Ice Cream. If you closed your eyes, you could pretend you were Anthony Bourdain, but you’d still be able to make it up in time the next day for work. 

Celebrity chef Shirley Chung 28

Q: Congrats on your new restaurant! Can you talk about the concept?

Shirley Chung: Twenty Eight is going to serve modern Chinese cuisine, which showcases the transition stage that the cuisine goes through when immigrants relocate to other countries. I want to show how our palate changes and how it is seasonal. It’s the revolution of Chinese cuisine through California.

Q: Who’s on the team?

SC: My partner Stacie Tran. She is a seasoned restaurateur and longtime friend. She also has a life-long history in the hospitality industry.

Q: I love how you refer to your style of cooking as “cooking with no borders.” I think that mentality is representative of Californian cuisine as well, so it should be a good fit! Can you give us an example of your style by telling us about one of the dishes that will be featured on the menu?

SC: The California style noodle. We will be doing different types of hand-cut and hand-rolled noodles. One of my favorites is the Squid Ink Black Noodle, served with pesto, ginger, scallion and jalapeño. Then we melt fresh uni into the sauce with butter and garnish on top with more fresh uni. This is representative of newer California style Chinese cuisine. We really want to showcase locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Another favorite is the Singapore-Style Chili Lobster with Hand-Cut Noodles. We also have creative dishes like Tea-Smoked Chicken and Slow-Braised Ox Tail, which are slightly more traditional but unconventional in their presentation. Expect interactive dishes that are finished table-side. I want you to have a different relationship with your food—you watch it in its stages and you fall more in love with it. It’s a new experience.

TwentyEight_OxTail

Q: It seems like you are very hands on with this project. What’s your favorite part of opening a new restaurant and is it anything like the experience of opening a restaurant on “Top Chef”?

SC: This is actually my seventh restaurant that I’ve helped open! I love opening restaurants because I love the craziness. I’m full of energy and the chaos fits me. You always have to prepare for the worst and assume nothing will be perfect. I strive under stress, so it works. These restaurants are like babies to me. I get to help see them grow. Opening a restaurant is somewhat similar to opening one on “Top Chef.” Everything is crazy and chaotic but the team dynamics vary. We tend to bump heads on the show, as opposed to opening a restaurant in real life, where our team is more collective.

Q: Speaking of “Top Chef, ” you’ve worked in a variety of cooking environments. Which would you say was the most challenging and why?

SC: The most challenging was definitely “Top Chef” hands down. I mean, how often do you cook in a swamp? We were outdoors with mosquitos and had to build our own kitchens. It was very challenging. 

Q: Favorite toy in the kitchen?

SC: A Rational Oven. You can pretty much do anything with it, like change the humidity. It’s pretty crazy and really expensive and that’s why I like it!

Q: What’s the weirdest produce you’ve ever worked with and how did you prepare it?

SC: I travel a lot, so I want to say there is no produce that is weird to me because I’ve been introduced to so much. Fiddlehead fern might be weird to the general public. It looks like a little curly thing and it’s really slimy. It’s not very easy to cook with but if you pickle it, it tastes really good.

Celebrity chef Shirley Chung

Q: What’s a fun fact about Chinese food culture?

SC: At a wok station, there are a line of chefs with spice trays. The chefs pull ingredients from these trays from a recipe they were taught orally. It isn’t consistent because it’s not written down and there is no measuring. I worry that the tradition will get lost. What if the second generation doesn’t want to pass the recipe along? What if they change it? Also, there aren’t many cookbooks out there for traditional Chinese cuisine. But stay tuned, because there will be a cookbook for Twenty Eight in the future.

Q: What’s your Chinese Zodiac sign?

SC: I’m a Dragon. I’m a very typical Dragon, like on “Top Chef” I was very up and down. I would win a lot and then I would lose. I think I even talked about it on the show where I made a zodiac reference.

Q: Where’s the next fun place you plan to travel?

SC: I’m actually going to Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. I’m very excited. It’s going to be a culinary tour where I visit traditional places and embrace the culture. Hopefully I get some inspiration and will come back with new recipes for the menu. 

TWENTY EIGHT RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE

19530 Jamboree Rd Irvine, CA 92612

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