The Eye of the Tiger: Chef Arnold Eric Wong Talks Food and Fortune in the Chinese New Year

Haute Living:  Most chefs’ travel from all over the world to land in a foodie town like San Francisco. However, you are a native! What was that like growing up?

Arnold Eric Wong: Well, I was born and raised in the “Haight” as in Haight-Ashbury. Being one of five kids in an Asian American family, kind of 2nd generation, I was influenced by the hippy dippy attitude of my ‘hood, sans the tie-dye.

That being said, I was very fortunate to be raised in an amazing family retail store that my father started in 1956. The Ashbury market, or as locals called it “the market”, was not only there for sustenance, but for social gathering too. Mind you, we were definitely not your average San Francisco corner convenience market.

We had it all – in-house butcher, where I grew up seeing whole side of beef come through the door twice a week to be hung for aging; produce that my dad hand selected five days a week directly from the produce terminal; fresh flowers; an amazing wine selection; and later, a gourmet deli that was way ahead of its time.

Our market strived to be the first ones to offer local, small produced products, from wines to cheese to olive oils, while still keeping the shelves full with general staple items.

HL: It’s the Year of The Tiger, a year of big, bold actions and decisions. What does that mean for you?

AW: So they say it’s not a year to have a child….tiger child bad ;) So, my wife said that we couldn’t have our second this year! (funny, she’s not Asian, but more Asian than me in a lot of ways). As for myself, this has already been the year that I have been redefining my career.

HL: In honor of the New Year, E & O is featuring a special menu of Chinese-inspired, “good-fortune” dishes and cocktails. Is there a meal or a certain food that represents fortune and luck for you?

AW: Well, I’m not that traditional, yet I can say that tradition has influenced me. When it comes to food that honors and/or represents good fortune and luck, the dishes that my mother cooked for the family comes to mind.

HL: You’re known for your Asian Fusion cuisine, but you dabble in baking and other areas as well. What do you want to communicate through your food?

AW: I believe that so much can be said for the style in which one cooks. When it comes to cooking, one should not be shy to venture out of one’s comfort zone. Experimenting with your palate in any genre gives contrast to discovering an endless array of flavors.

HL: I read that you have a recent addition to your family! Congrats! What’s the best thing to do in San Francisco with a little tyke in tow?

AW: Thank you!  Okay, from birth…dine out! We’ve started Aidan off to a great beginning in sampling all the flavors that SF has to offer… and there is no end in sight. However, a favorite is Steinhart Aquarium in Golden Gate Park…and good food is easy to find there too! And another favorite is grocery shopping, he loves the produce aisle!