“People think chefs eat good food all the time and cook fancy dinners every night,” says Emily Yuen with a laugh. “I think I had cereal for dinner last night!” The Vancouver-born chef is not afraid to dish on the not-so-glamorous side of hospitality, having worked in a trendy nightclub (her “worst job ever”) before earning her stripes at the likes of Le Gavroche in London, Vue de Monde in Australia and DB Bistro in Singapore.
Five years ago, Yuen moved to New York to continue collaborating with Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group at Boulud Sud on the Upper West Side. Not long after, in 2016, she became executive chef at the critically acclaimed Bessou. Alongside owner Maiko Kyogoku, Yuen brings a thoughtful, freewheeling approach to Japanese classics, such as the temaki platter, which serves salmon three ways with yuzu rice, or, say, the chicken karaage, amped up with Moroccan spices and a shiso tsatsiki sauce.
It’s this refined home-cooking ethos that made us excited to get Yuen on board at Time Out Market New York. We caught up with the whiz to talk about her favorite TV shows, her chef crushes and her neighborhood go-tos.
Let’s start in the kitchen: What’s your No. 1 tool?
Knives, for sure. We can’t live without our knives. I love my sashimi knife. I also think more Western chefs could be introduced to chopsticks in the kitchen. They’re so multipurpose: You can use them for mixing, scrambling eggs, plating, you name it.
Biggest mistake in the kitchen?
I set a lot of things on fire.
What kind of music do you play at work?
Nineties hip-hop and R&B—you know, Usher and all the old-school stuff. It’s a good energy. We don’t play anything slow that’ll make us fall asleep.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I think I’d probably be in the medical field. I love working with my hands, and I love an intense, high-pressure environment. Then again, they’re working with real people, and I work with dead animals, so maybe I wouldn’t make the cut.
Any celeb sightings at your restaurant?
Tessa Thompson—she’s so cool. Warren Beatty. Teri Hatcher. Am I allowed to mention them?
Um, yes! How about after work? What TV shows do you binge-watch?
I’m currently watching Stranger Things. I’m a Scorpio, so I like really dark things. You was also good, but then I also watch The Bachelorette.
If you like You, do you consider Penn Badgely a crush?
No, too skinny! I like bigger guys. Well, actually, I’m into chefs, too. René [Redzepi] from Noma is pretty cute. Chefs are intense and passionate, and that’s what I find interesting.
What’s a snack you can never resist?
Prawn cocktail crisps. They’re made by a U.K. brand called Walkers. Or Ketchup Lays!
It’s summertime. Do you prefer parks or beaches?
Parks, for sure. I hate beaches—it’s too hot. And they’re boring.
Where do you take out-of-towners when they visit?
We take the ferry from Williamsburg to Dumbo so they can see the two bridges. That’s really nice. And I usually take them to Rubirosa (Nolita, rubirosanyc.com), since the pizza is pretty impressive.
What’s your summer weekend getaway from NYC?
My sister-in-law lives in Woodstock, so we spend a lot of time there. It’s really cute.
Where would you live if you didn’t live in New York?
Well, I lived in a lot of places before I moved to New York. But if I had to leave, I think it would be Hong Kong. I speak Cantonese, so that would work.
What’s your most memorable New York experience?
It was the second day after I moved here: I was working for Daniel Boulud, and, right away, we were thrown into an event at Rockefeller Center. Nobu was cooking beside me; Jean-Georges was there. That made me feel like, Wow, I’m really in NYC.
At Bessou, chef Yuen gives a modern spin to owner Maiko Kyogoku’s Japanese comfort food. Head to Time Out Market to dig into the stall’s crispy rice cakes (topped with sashimi and other luscious ingredients) and bento bowls packed with soy-beef brisket. For complete menus, more information and editors’ picks, head to timeout.com/newyork/market.