James Beard Awards: NYC’s 2013 rookie class

Get to know the culinary talent—chefs, restaurateurs and bartenders—repping NYC at the James Beard Awards for the first time this year.

Danny Bowien

Danny Bowien Photograph: Jakob N. Layman

Danny Bowien, Mission Chinese Food
Nominee: Rising Star Chef of the Year

You were nominated in San Francisco for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2012, but this is your first New York nod. Where were you when you heard about it?
I was in Charleston and it was insane because I also just heard about the Food & Wine Best New Chefs thing I had been nominated for. It came to me all at once and my initial reaction was ‘I don’t know how to handle this stuff.’

Do you feel like your cooking has changed since you moved to New York?
Our cooking style is a work in progress. If you look at how we started out two or three years ago, you can see how it’s evolved. At the beginning we were coming out of the gate with a lot of really spicy Sichuan stuff. Someone last year said we were neo-Chinese, which was really silly. For lack of a better word, we’re fusion. It’s a word that’s thrown around and gets a really bad rap, but what all chefs are doing today is fusing skill subsets.

You traveled to Sichuan for the first time last year. What did you learn?
I’ve been to Hong Kong and Beijing before, but never to Chengdu and it was amazing. It made us rethink things. We toned down on the spice. The heat in the States, it translates to most Sichuan restaurants being so spicy. In Sichuan province, it was a gentle heat.

Are there ingredients you like to work with?
We try to be as market-driven as possible, but we also try to stay within a certain price point. I think most chefs will agree with me on this, at the beginning of the season, you’re excited about peas and corn and ramps. It’s all people talk about because spring is happening. They’re awesome, but they’re fucking expensive.

You do a lot of shopping in Chinatown, too. Any favorite shops?
There’s a really cool place where they do Chinese sausage, cured duck necks, dried scallops and fermented fish. They also do pressed quail and pigeons and we’ve been using a lot of those for making XO sauce. When you preserve something, it tastes better, they almost get that natural MSG flavor.

After you spend all day tasting and cooking Sichuan food, what are you usually craving?
I like eating sushi a lot. It’s quiet and you sit at the bar and people aren’t on their cell phones. It’s the only place where I can relax. Most restaurants you go to, they have an open kitchen and you see all the cooks cooking and it’s very distracting.

If you win, how will you celebrate?
I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll probably freak out. I think I’ll go to Disneyland. Actually, I’ll probably celebrate with the cooks and everyone at the restaurant who make it possible for us to be nominated.