Chef Lee, you mentioned that your father took you to dim sum as a kid and it was a bonding experience, but do you remember the first time it struck you looking back, that food was providing a deeper connection to your family?
It was when my family & I were travelling in Thailand. I was making baby food from scratch at the time and I needed a kitchen. I was cooking in the hotel’s kitchen with all of these Thai women & mothers sharing recipes and tips. Knowing that what I produce with my hands feeds and nourishes my family brings me a deep feeling of comfort. It’s a way of providing that I’m grateful for. Now that they’re all grown up, we cook together & share meals out often. Food connects people & I’m lucky my kids like to eat!
Did you find you learned much of your palate through family and heritage or that you’ve had to forge your own palate?
Through and through, I am Chinese and so is my palate. I do have a great palate for other cultures and deep desire to travel and learn about those cultures. It’s been a journey of both forging my own palate—which is obvious in my signature fusion style—but I think I was born with it just as much as I have searched for it.
Do you remember how food or cooking opened up your relationship with your own sons? A first eating experience with them you found memorable, for example?
Growing up, the boys always wanted world food. But there was one day when they were around 10-12 years old and they asked me to cook them Chinese food, specifically a Chinese omelet with bean sprouts. It warmed my heart that they wanted food from my childhood, it was a really nice moment.
Is there an heirloom recipe you’ve shared with your sons?
My mother was a very busy working mother and actually a terrible cook. So, as much as we all love her, it’s not really a surprise that I don’t have fond memories of her meals! I became a chef because of this, and didn’t take any of her recipes to pass on to my kids… they will thank me one day!!
What excites you about the future and upcoming generation of Asian food curation, chefs and taste makers?
It’s exciting to see how much young people love food but also how they engage with it. There are vlogs, blogs & podcasts about food. My sons are using a different platform, their YouTube videos, to share their experience. It’s very advanced, I don’t really understand it but I’m so proud that they’ve found their voices!
Do you aspire to become restauranteurs like your dad or is fooding just a part of the bigger lifestyle project you guys are authoring today?
Kai: I think we’ll always be restaurateurs. We are always thinking of food as a business, as a way to service people. When we’re travelling and trying new restaurants, we’re basically doing research on ways to look at restaurants in a different way. We’re looking for ways to improve our own craft, for our next project, even if it’s not a full service sit down restaurant. For example, we just opened a quick service restaurant called Kid Lee- in the financial district in Toronto- and we’re looking at ways & places to expand. Like Chef said (yes, sometimes we call him Chef too!) the food world is evolving & it’s our generation that’s spearheading that shift!
Who’s the better cook/chef between the brothers?
Levi: Definitely Kai- he’s more adventurous in the kitchen and has a creative eye for designing dishes which he gets from our dad. But he’s such a picky eater- if there was a contest- I’d be the better eater.
What’s the best part of working with family? The worst?
Levi: The best part about working with family is seeing them so much. In a city as busy as Toronto, it’s nice to be working with people you trust and respect and get to collaborate with them on things you are passionate about. The worst part is probably the fact that there is little separation between work and play. It’s often during our Sunday family dinners and vacations that we end up talking shop.
Best thing you’ve cooked for family?
Kai: I once made a rigatoni dish for my family they loved so much they put it on the menu at the restaurant!
LUCKYRICE is honored to have Chef Lee and his sons Levi, Kai and Jet host our Los Angeles #LUCKYRICE18 “Breaking Bao Intergenerational Feast” on July 26th.