We caught up with Boston-based chef Tiffani Faison prior to her James Beard Foundation event to discuss what local culinary legend she wants to join for dinner, how she makes bun cha, and why she doesn’t think it’s fair for her to judge the New York food scene.
What do Southern barbecue and Southeast Asian fare have in common? The two seemingly disparate cuisines are behind the success of Top Chef runner-up Tiffani Faison, who runs Sweet Cheeks (barbecue) and Tiger Mama (Southeast Asia) in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood. Next week, Faison will combine flavors from both genres at her Culinary Brat: A Chef’s Personal Journey event at the James Beard House on Tuesday, March 14 (member price: $135, public price: $175; tickets on jamesbeard.org).
Guests can expect duck siu mai with pine nut-duck farce and mala duck broth and miniature biscuits with butters to start, squid ink strozzapreti with shrimp, tomato-viola inprivio olive oil brodo, escarole pesto, and mentaiko, or smoked lamb belly with black-eyed pea broth, pickled-and-charred okra, and crispy collards as mains. Dessert is butterscotch purée with crumbled graham crackers, crispy savory herbs, caramel, and cream, and all the courses will be paired with fine wines.
We sat down with Faison to get her take on the best bun cha recipe, who she’d love to get dinner with in NYC, and why she doesn’t think she’s qualified to judge the city’s food scene.
What is your favorite place to eat in New York and what do you order there? TIFFANI FAISON: It's impossible to pick one: Marea for the bone marrow fusilli—still a favorite. Jaal muri at THELEWala. Adobada tacos at Los Tacos No.1. The omakase at Sushi Nakazawa. Stracciatella pizza and a bottled Negroni at Marta.
In your opinion, who is a rising-star chef to watch in New York? TF: Tiffany Minter. She was running The Cecil until it closed. I'm not sure where she is now, but she knows flavor and her food is gorgeous.
If you could have dinner with any New York chef, dead or alive, who would it be? TF: Lidia Bastianich—she's had such a rich history as a chef and a business woman. I would listen and pick her brain until there was nothing left.
What New York City neighborhood do you think has the best food scene? TF: That's impossible and not fair. Not being a New Yorker, we're not loyal to any one neighborhood. We'll dart all over the city chasing food rumors.
What are you most looking forward to about the James Beard Foundation event? TF: Taking a little moment to absorb it. It's my first [JBF dinner] alone and I have dear friends and family coming, so it's personal.
What kind of food does New York need more of? TF: Still not fair. I don't think people that don't inhabit a city get to say what said city needs. Maybe some Sweet Cheeks?
Traditionally, Bun Cha is served communally at the table. It typically includes a basket of rice noodles, grilled pork patties in a sour broth, lettuces, herbs, and crispy pork rolls. They are all arranged to the diner’s liking on the lettuce cup and dipped in the sour broth.
Mix all of the above together. Refrigerate until cold. Form into small, burger-like patties. Grill until just cooked through and place in the sour broth.
For the Sour Broth:
3 cups rice wine vinegar 2 cups simple syrup 1 cup fish sauce 1 Tablespoon grated garlic 2 Tablespoon grated ginger 2 red Thai chilies, sliced (more if you like it spicier)
Bring all ingredients just to a boil and remove from the stove. Cool. Once cool, add shredded carrots and shredded daikon.
For the Pork Rolls:
1 pound ground pork 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, julienned 1/2 cup mustard greens, stems removed and julienned 1 egg, beaten 1 Tablespoon mushroom soy 2 Tablespoons white miso paste ½ cup rice noodles (Vermicelli)
Mix all ingredients (other than the vermicelli) until combined. Gently fold in the vermicelli and chill. Form the filling into rolls with wonton wrapper, using egg wash to seal. Fry at 350 degrees until cooked through and crispy.
Serve the grilled pork patties in sour broth with cold rice vermicelli, crispy pork rolls, lettuces, and a generous selection of Thai basil, mint, cilantro, tia to, and kinh goi.