Sunday, May 16, 2010

Experienced chef in the kitchen at Asian Gourment & Hunan Wok

Every neighborhood Chinese restaurant has many of the same menu items, but each restaurant has a different story.

"Why are we in New Jersey?" asks Zhong Zheng, the 22-year-old manager of Asian Gourmet and Hunan Wok, "Well, New Jersey is closer to New York," he answers, explaining that his parents are older and have many relatives in New York City. His family started out in Colorado, moving to this country around 2001 with the intention of opening a large-scale restaurant.

"My father and my mother were young then, so they wanted to open a bigger restaurant, like a buffet or something," says Zheng, who was about 13 at the time. "They opened it in Colorado, and it was all right, but they're getting older now, and they like the New York area more, so they moved back."

Zheng says Colorado was an ideal location then because there weren't as many Chinese restaurants there as there are here.

"We were around New York, and we moved to Colorado because there is more space for a Chinese restaurant there," Zheng recalls.

After a few years over out West, the Zheng family decided to move back to New York, and they found a spot in Long Valley after using one of the best resources they could find: a Chinese-language newspaper.

"We took it over in 2006 or 2007," he says.

Zheng says that the standard Chinese favorites in other restaurants are all favorites here, too: "General Tso's chicken and chicken and broccoli," he says.

Zheng doesn't cook but has taken it upon himself to be the restaurant's personal taste-tester.

"I taste the food, and I give suggestions to my father, like, maybe American people like it this way, or maybe they like it that way. I eat Chinese food, too."

His father, Chunrong Zheng, who owns the restaurant, is also one the chefs.

"My father has been in this business for, I think, 15 or 16 years already," says Zheng, who is proud of his father's cooking. "He started as a lower level chef, and he's now the chef. He can make everything on the menu and other items that are not on the menu. He's a very experienced chef."

He must be, as they've certainly been welcomed into the community with their stellar food, and Zheng feels the same way about New Jersey — and Long Valley in particular.

"This location is very nice, all the trees and all the neighbors," Zheng says, taking a look outside at the beautiful weather, "It a nice place to work; a nice place to have a restaurant."

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