EatDrinkJax.com interviews Dennis Chan, head chef and owner of Blue Bamboo.
Image by Linda Blakely
17. What are the most popular items at Blue Bamboo?
The shrimp and grits for sure. We have another dish that's a green curry and coconut shrimp dish served with grilled salmon. That is our heartiest dish on the menu.
18. Can you tell us about your culinary background?
I grew up working in my family's restaurants. If I wanted to spend time with Granddad, I went to his restaurant. I'd stand there, right by the stove where he cooked. Some of my earliest memories are of standing on a little stool next to my Granddad as he was cooking. That's what ingrained in me that I had to continue this family legacy. After college I went to work for Disney because they were the best that I knew of in casual customer service. I knew that I could learn a few things from them. I ended up staying for 5 years and had a really good time working there with the mouse. I wasn't cooking, but working in guest relations. I was a VIP tour guide. Anytime someone came into the parks and needed special assistance it would be my responsibility to show them around. Some recognizable celebrities were my clients when I worked there.
19. What did you study at college?
My first college degree was in East Asian languages and literature from the University of Florida. I also have a degree in business from there. I went to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) afterwards.
20. Why did you work at Disney before going to the CIA?
In the back of my mind I always knew that I wanted to open my own restaurant. I wanted to see how the biggest and best companies did customer service. Disney was a natural choice for that. While I was at Disney I realized that if I wanted to open a restaurant I'd need some back of the house experience that was classic. All my family's restaurants were Chinese restaurants and I could make a badass egg foo young or sweet and sour chicken - all those things a Chinese restaurant serves. But I didn't know what a roux or mirepoix was.
21. Why did you decide to go to the CIA to learn classic cooking?
All of the people I looked up to in the restaurant business had a common thread - they all went to the CIA. I never even went to look at the campus. Based on reputation alone I packed my bags and went up to school there. I spent two years there and learned a whole lot about how to eat.
22. Why did you decide to be a chef?
My family really didn't want me to be a chef or even to be in the restaurant business. They understand that it's a lot of long hours - it consumes your whole life. But I had a legacy to continue. Now, of course they're proud of what I've accomplished. I teach at the community college and have to interview students all the time. I tell them the restaurant business has to be something you absolutely love, because if you do then you won't mind the hours, the feedback, or any of the other things that come with the job. You'll do it because you love it, and that's what I do.
23. What do you love the most about being a chef?
No other career will give you the instant feedback that you get from being a chef. If you're good at what you do then most of the feedback will be positive. When you have people in your dining room they'll tell you right away if they like it or if they don't like it. Even when someone tells you they don't like something, it's your chance to build a life long relationship with them - or at least a good relationship with them. Luckily, people usually feel good about us and our restaurant and that keeps us going.