Cheeseburger dumplings. Duck confit fried rice. Jasmine tea birthday cake. These are some of the tantalizingly innovative creations from a new wave of Chinese American chefs turning heads and whetting appetites. As this year’s Lunar New Year reaches its climax, Shondaland celebrates with three standout chefs whipping up excitement in the kitchen.

Shirley Chung


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Shirley Chung has a reputation as “the opening chef.” She’s worked for industry titans like Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, and José Andrés, launching ventures for them focused on French, Italian, and Mexican flavors. But it wasn’t until she opened her own restaurant that she could truly flex her culinary biceps and draw on her own heritage.

“My cooking style is modern American with Chinese soul,” Chung shares, “and it’s a punchy Chinese soul.” Her menu at Ms Chi Café in Los Angeles is a landscape of tea-smoked duck, pork-belly tots, chilled sesame noodles, and a jumbo cheeseburger potsticker, the Instagenic best-seller she invented on Bravo’s Top Chef.

There are several dumpling varieties on the menu, a nod to Chung’s childhood in Beijing. “In northern China, dumplings or jiaozi are associated with every celebratory event in life,” she explains. “For me, dumplings 100-percent represent Chinese New Year.”


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Chung’s personal love for jiaozi — especially the traditional Beijing fillings of lamb with zucchini and pork with fennel she prepares only at home — helped catalyze her NFT collection. Chung collaborated with street artist Narrator to create whimsical artworks called Dumpling Mafia Bosses for patrons to buy and digitally own. “I’m one of the first chefs to jump on this,” she says, “because I love innovation.”

The NFTs have given Chung access to a new fan base while simultaneously marketing her restaurant. Owners of the Dumpling Mafia Bosses were invited to virtual and in-person events to celebrate Lunar New Year. As Chung sees it, “Food connects the world, and food will now connect the metaverse.”

Don’t worry if you’re not flush with cryptocurrency. Those who prefer to have Chung’s dumplings IRL can have them delivered nationwide.

Tim Ma


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“My three young kids said to me: We want to go work at Lucky Danger for Chinese New Year!” restaurateur Tim Ma says with a chuckle.

Lucky Danger is Ma’s latest venture in the Washington, D.C., area. It’s redefining what Chinese American takeout can be. General Tso’s chicken and crab Rangoon cavort with duck leg confit fried rice and ketchup shrimp, combining equal parts nostalgia and innovation.

Ma ended up spending an afternoon with his kids stuffing red envelopes with stickers (instead of traditional lucky money) for his restaurant customers. “Sometimes, I feel sad that the current generation won’t have the same memories as I do,” Ma says. “I remember Chinese New Year being these big family celebrations in a fire station or community center where everybody comes in with big foil pans of food to share. It’s kind of lost these days.”

The concept of community has become a rallying cry for Ma. At the start of the pandemic when attacks on Asians and the boycott of Asian businesses made national headlines, Ma collaborated with peers on Chefs Stopping AAPI Hate, a grassroots project to raise money through cooking.


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What began with five chefs cooking dinner snowballed into more than 200 similar events across the country. “The response was so fast and so powerful,” Ma says, “that it told us people wanted to contribute to the cause but didn’t know how.”

Ma and his partners are now in the final stages of turning the movement into a nonprofit organization that will raise the profiles of Asian Americans in the culinary industry. “It’s a very white male-dominated industry, especially the chef world,” Ma says. “We’re not the only underrepresented demographic, but there aren’t very many Asian Americans at the top level.”

Heather Wong


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Scrolling through the social-media feeds of Los Angeles baker Heather Wong seems a futile exercise in restraint. A desire to lick the screen swells, before one succumbs to anything sweet lying in the kitchen. The Pavlovian response is understandable, for Wong’s desserts are nothing short of mouthwatering genius.

“I remember learning to decorate and feeling like it was so mundane, so old school,” she confesses. “I wanted to do something different with frosting, so I started using buttercream as my acrylic paint.”

One cake is a fauvist canvas, the pigments bold and deliberate. Another takes on the serenity of Venetian marbled paper. Beside it is gold-brushed geometric latticework. The varied styles are unexpected yet familiar, recalling a modern-day Wayne Thiebaud that you could devour.

Wong started Flouring (a riff on her own name Heather, a flowering plant) when her previous bakery gig fell victim to the pandemic. “I was out of a job; it was super-scary,” she says. “But I knew I wanted to bake and create because that’s all I know how to do to give myself joy.”

Right off the bat, she captured intrigue with her boxes of individually portioned cake bars and palm-sized treats. “People were home and craving comfort food,” Wong opines. “I really think people’s need for a sweet fix was even greater during the pandemic.”


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Lavender lemon, buttermilk chocolate, and taro coconut are now standard cake varieties. Other seasonal desserts fold in elements of her Mexican-Chinese lineage: churros, passion fruit, red bean, oolong tea.

“I grew up with my grandmother making dim sum, eating sea moss during Chinese New Year and moon cakes with salted egg yolks for the Mid-Autumn Festival,” Wong says. “It only made sense to incorporate that into my American cakes and desserts.” The abstract artwork plus Flouring’s unique flavor profiles make for a blooming business.

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