FOOD: Getting Older, Getting Fuller

 The following is part of a series of monthly posts with Chef Erik Bruner-Yang.



[Photo credit: Ryan Kibler]

I am always thinking about interesting things to do with food. During my one overnight stay in jail it was all about utilizing the skills I have learned as a chef. I needed to come up with a plan to enjoy my soggy sandwiches without knowing when the next meal would arrive. I had four pieces of bread, two slices of American cheese, two slices of bologna, about 4 ounces of fruit punch, and two paper towels. I would learn to make the best of my night of solitude, a chance to reflect, regroup, and refocus.

Should a chef’s personal life affect his business? I wish the obvious answer were no but unfortunately that is far from the truth. With no Lamar Odom type drama in Washington D.C. this city loves its chefs. Since the publication of the altercation I had back in July, I’ve learned that the food writing community and Washington D.C. considers me a public figure enough that I now am a great cocktail story. So a shout out to Young & Hungry for stirring enough bullshit into an already misinterpreted string of events. Just because you think you can call my personal cell phone number to give me a courtesy call that you are going to tardily report my deferred sentence agreement four weeks late and inaccurately, doesn’t mean we are cool.

Hobbyist food blogging, television, and million other mitigating factors have chefs marketed as literal tastemakers. Fashion, like food, has been done over in ten million different ways. Unlike the best of retail brands, chefs have a much more limited control over our identity. Just look at Public School’s show at Fashion Week this year, a perfectly curated reinterpretation of a clean aesthetic with meticulous control. A fashion brand that is comfortable with only a minority of the population capable of digesting it. A chef or restaurateur will never have that type of brand control because our visions need to be interpreted by a larger mass of people who don’t always have a full understanding of divisions of different cultures, whether it is food culture, pop culture, or real culture.

[Photo credit: Ryan Kibler]

With all the time to pace myself during my one meal I made two mini club sandwiches, used my paper towels as a pillow sheet over my shoes, and nursed that fruit punch like I was on Survivor. In the end, I have no problem with how things ended up. I still believe I stood up for what was right, protected my family, and left with a sense of pride that people shouldn’t allow other people to bully and harass. Stuck in a situation where you have little to no control, just like one’s life once you are in the public eye, comes the classic motto of turning lemons into lemonade. In the end the best meal I ate in 2013 wasn’t the sandwich I ate in jail but the Firehook Bakery Chicken Salad Sandwich that my good friend had ready for me the morning I was released.


About Erik Bruner-Yang
Executive Chef and Owner, Toki Underground

In January of 2011, chef and owner Erik Bruner-Yang opened the acclaimed Toki Underground in Washington, D.C. In the first years of its opening, Toki Underground has been nationally and locally recognized for its creative menu featuring hybrid Taiwanese style ramen, authentic Taiwanese dumplings, and Asian-themed cocktails. As the winner of the 2012 DC “Restaurant of the Year” and 2011 “So Hot Right Now” Eater Awards, Toki Underground continues to receive rave reviews from The Washington Post, Washington City Paper, the Cooking Channel’s “Unique Eats”, and many more. Chef Yang’s consulting restaurant work for Kushi Izakaya and Sushi landed the 5th and K NW eatery as a 2011 James Beard Foundation Award semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant, Mid-Atlantic. Chef Erik Bruner-Yang, who is a resident of H Street, plans to expand his local footprint and commitment to the neighborhood with a new establishment named Maketto that will transport the Asian night market experience, energy and cuisine to Washington, D.C.