Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Trotter's Protege Meets Chinese Bao at The Chairman Truck

Fine dining chefs jumping ship to sell casual, comfort food is not just a trend that started in the past year. Chef Hiro Nagahara, formerly chef de cuisine at Bar Charlie (Charlie Trotter) in Las Vegas worked with Mobi Munch to start The Chairman Truck in 2009, selling chinese steamed buns with unique, high end fillings like spiced duck confit in San Francisco.

(The Chairman was originally named The Chairman Bao, but then they got sued by Baohaus in NY since "chairman bao" was apparently the first item on their menu. Gotta admit, it's such a catchy name.)

Tofu Bao
Mobi Munch is actually an LA-based company, and when they outfitted The Chairman's second truck, they decided to hold a tasting for friends and media before sending it off to SF. The tasting was held at Mobi Munch headquarters in downtown LA, where I tried five of their offerings. The buns are usually $3.25 each for steamed bao ($6.75 for baked - not sure how big these are), $3.75 for duck confit and pork belly.

1st bao: Tender Pork Belly with Pickled Daikon
Pork Bun
First, let's talk about the bao itself. The bao is made using a 40 year old yeast brought from China 20 years ago by  the SF truck operator, Curtis Lam's uncle who was the executive chef of Yank Sing. The warm bao was great, neither too thick nor too doughy.

The pork belly was tender, not overly fatty, and the crunchy, tart, pickled daikon was the perfect accompaniment to cut the richness. The daikon is, of course, pickled in-house ("in-truck"?)

The 2nd bao is a spinoff of korean spicy chicken: Spicy Red Sesame Chicken with pickled cucumber and carrots
Chicken Bao

The third is their vegetarian offering: Red miso cured tofu/ Crispy garlic tofu with miso Chinese greens
Tofu Bao
This one is great not just for vegetarians. I personally loved all the textures - the silky tofu, the crispy edges, the creamy miso dressing, and the crisp greens. Out of all the baos I tried, this was one of my favorites as well  as the most surprising!

Next, another pork. This time it's a Pulled pork with savoy cabbage and preserved mustard seeds.
Pork Belly Bao
While this isn't as fatty as the pork belly, it was just as tender. I loved the mustard seeds with these. If you're not into pickles and such, go with this one.

Our last bun is the Chinese Spiced Duck Confit with Fresh Mango Salad.
Duck Confit Bun
This is Chef Hiro's most prided creation, offered only on weekends because of the effort and time involved in preparing the duck confit (duck confit is typically made by poaching the meat in its own fat then salt curing it for at least 36 hours). Here, the duck confit is then made into a terrine and topped with tart julienned mango. This was another of the most interesting buns I had. The densely packed duck confit terrine was very rich and was countered nicely by the mango salad.

IMG_5280They had a special treat for us that night with the help of visiting pastry chef Chris Guzman (left) who used to work together with Chef Hiro (right) at Trotter.

Chef Hiro has been hard at work to create a gluten-free flour that tastes great, and based on the gluten-free chocolate cupcakes we had that night, he has succeeded! It was one of the best, most decadent cupcakes I've had ... and it's gluten free?? I brought one home for my gluten-intolerant roommate and she loved it.

Gluten Free Cupcakes
Some petit fours for us to take home: Passionfruit caramel, Dark chocolate Earl grey lavender truffle, Huckleberry fennel marshmallow, and Pecan pie pate de fruit.
Petit Fours
Their baos are more interesting and better made than the ones offered by our current trucks in Los Angeles. Mobi Munch is considering launching another The Chairman truck in LA, and if they can keep up this quality with operations in two cities, I'd say "yes, please!"

The Chairman
1200 7th Street
San Francisco, CA 94107
(415) 273-9690
Chairman Bao on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: this tasting was hosted


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