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Q & A: Yujean Kang on Moving to the Sunset Strip
From West Hollywood to Pasadena—and back.
For over 20 years, Yujean Kang and his wife Yvonne served both classic and innovative Chinese cuisine in Pasadena at their restaurant, Yujean Kang’s on Raymond. As Tony Chen pointed out in 2011, Yujean Kang’s was on par with both the best of the San Gabriel Valley and L.A.’s hottest restaurants du jour. And so it was sad for fans and frequent diners when Yujean Kang’s closed its doors last year.
The good news is that Yujean Kang is back. In a surprising twist, he’s moonlighting on the Sunset Strip—a far cry from Raymond Street—but not a long way from where Kang’s first restaurant in L.A. stood on Melrose. Innovative Dining Group has stationed Kang at their new modern Chinese temple, Chi-Lin. Recently, we chatted with Kang to hear all about it.
How did you get connected with IDG?
I have known Tom Cardenas and Christian Corbin for years. Christian, IDG’s Director of Operations, worked as a busboy and server at my Melrose restaurant when he was in high school. Last year, they contacted me and asked if I would be interested in helping them open up a high-end, progressive Chinese restaurant. I was intrigued... They then told me that Cecile Tang from JOSS was also part of the team. I thought about it and knew I would be joining a great team.
What was your goal in developing the menu at Chi-Lin?
The simple answer was to create a menu which would be wildly popular and successful and something that we could all be proud of. IDG wanted something exciting, something that pushed the way people perceive Chinese food. The collaboration of myself, Cecile and the IDG guys fell into place though we all come from very different backgrounds and culinary training. Combining Cecile’s Hong Kong style with my culinary expertise has been eye opening.
In what ways is the menu different from what you made at Yujean Kang's in Pasadena?
My Pasadena restaurant served authentic regional Chinese cuisine with my own twists. The price point of the menu was also very different. With Chi-Lin I am able to expand my horizons... in terms of the ingredients I am able to use—imported Chinese spices, fresh seafood and meats, local produce. I also have more resources at Chi-Lin. We have a dedicated Chinese crepe maker, a special oven for roasting Peking Duck, and a great new kitchen set up.
There are a few dishes that I consider “Chinese fusion” or “Hong Kong Haute cuisine," like the kale salad with shiitake mushrooms salad or a crab soup dumping with uni sauce. Chrysanthemum chicken is something I've made for years.
Will you be featuring any dishes from Yujean Kang's? Or is the menu completely different?
I have a few of my signature dishes on the menu. The Braised Black Cod with ginger, star anise, and fresh fava beans is a dish I have been doing for years. It has been a top seller at Chi-Lin. The Peking Duck is also my recipe and I plan to introduce a few more of my dishes to the menu soon.
How do you feel the public is responding to your food at Chi-Lin? Do you feel it is a different clientele?
Our guests love Chi-Lin. I mean, it’s a beautiful space. It really makes people feel like they are in Hong Kong in the 1940s. That puts guests in the mood. The average customer is exactly who you would expect. They are well traveled and have eaten at great restaurants around the world. They go to X’ian for what they consider traditional Chinese food and now they have Chi-Lin to provide them with a more modern, contemporary Chinese food experience. Some of my old customers are a little shocked at what we are serving. No beef and broccoli on this menu.