EatDrinkJax.com interviews Dennis Chan, head chef and owner of Blue Bamboo.
Image by Linda Blakely
7. Can you recommend something for a first time visitor who wants to get a sense of what Blue Bamboo cooking is all about?
We have a dish that started off as a special on our menu and it quickly became the definitive dish of our restaurant and what we do. Here in Jacksonville we're really close to an area called the Gullah region. The people in the Gullah region speak a different language and eat very specific foods. Many classic dishes throughout the American South can be traced back to that region. Their main dish, which is their claim to fame, is shrimp and grits. Around here, we eat grits the Southern way, which is savory, not sweet. I took this classic dish and made it with a Thai style red curry, and coated the grits in a crispy breadcrumb. It's rich in texture and flavor. You just can't get any more Southern and Asian than that.
8. How exactly did you put your own stamp on shrimp and grits?
We start off with cheesy stone-ground grits, which we make into patties. We bread the patties with panko, and fry them just until they're golden. Then we make a red curry stir fry which contains red spices - chilies, paprika, and other spices mixed together with some coconut milk. We stir fry the curry with shrimp, peppers and onions - which is classically Gullah - and serve it on top of the grit cakes. It's rich in texture because the panko breading adds a whole new dimension to what would normally be just mushy grits. The red curry and the veggies add layers of flavors and textures to the dish.
9. Did you know that would become your definitive dish when you first added it to your menu as a special?
Our red curry shrimp and grits has evolved from when we first offered it. Our first brunch version of shrimp and grits was made in the classic way, which is just a bowl of grits with shrimp and veggies and onions on top. Over the years we've learned ways to improve the dish to make it better, which is very much how Blue Bamboo operates on the whole. We're in our 8th year now and we keep doing things a little different. When people suggest things to us we listen and we just keep trying to get better and better.
10. What attracted you to shrimp and grits?
It's the regional aspect of the dish. When we started Blue Bamboo I wanted to be one of the few places in Jacksonville that people felt they had to bring their guests to when they were visiting from outside the region. We wanted dishes that were unique to Jacksonville and that also represented my background and my family's background.