Zim­mern faces heat over dish named for chef Peter Chang that misses mark

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - CULTURE 2 - BY TIM CAR­MAN

The early re­views have been rough, though not uni­ver­sally neg­a­tive, on the dry-fried egg­plant dish at Lucky Cricket, chef and “Bizarre Foods” host An­drew Zim­mern’s new Chi­nese restau­rant out­side Min­neapo­lis. Nor­mally, Gen Lee wouldn’t care one way or an­other about the re­views, but this dish is dif­fer­ent: It’s named af­ter his busi­ness part­ner, the ac­claimed master chef Peter Chang.

Peter Chang’s Dry Fried Egg­plant is right there on the dim sum menu at Lucky Cricket, the tikiand-Chi­nese mashup that opened in Novem­ber with a large tar­get on its back af­ter Zim­mern told Fast Com­pany that his bud­ding chain would save

“the souls of all the peo­ple from hav­ing to dine at these horse[ex­ple­tive] restau­rants mas­querad­ing as Chi­nese food that are in the Mid­west.” Although listed as a sep­a­rate item, Chang’s dish has fre­quently been paired with an­other egg­plant dish from the Lucky Cricket menu, ac­cord­ing to ini­tial re­ports.

“Peter Chang’s Dry

Fried Egg­plant and Szechuan Egg­plant ($12) was billed as crispy-spicy and sweet-sa­vory, but the fried half was un­der sea­soned and not cooked evenly — many pieces were soggy and none packed much spice. The Szechuan-style, by con­trast, was lovely, with full, bold, deep fla­vor that led us to crush the dish and mop the sauce,” wrote the food editor for the Growler, a St. Paulbased mag­a­zine.

One Lucky Cricket pa­tron on Twit­ter was par­tic­u­larly harsh about the dish, say­ing it lacked any of the trade­mark spice of Chang’s cre­ation.

One bright spot was found in an other­wise un­fa­vor­able re­view of Lucky Cricket by Soleil Ho, the in­com­ing restau­rant critic for the San Francisco Chron­i­cle. In her piece for Eater, Ho noted that the egg­plant duo was among the more “com­pelling” of­fer­ings at Zim­mern’s place.

But Lee, Chang’s long­time busi­ness part­ner, said he had re­ceived other crit­i­cisms via phone call and text. A com­mon pat­tern had emerged: The com­plain­ers noted that the dish wasn’t pre­pared to Chang’s stan­dards, Lee told The Wash­ing­ton Post dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view. The dish was soggy. It had no fla­vor. It wasn’t spicy. Lee was taken aback.

The TV celebrity had learned to make the dryfried egg­plant a few years back when Zim­mern vis­ited Chang’s restau­rant out­side Rich­mond. Ap­par­ently, some­thing got lost in trans­la­tion. Even worse for Lee and Chang: Zim­mern ap­par­ently didn’t ask per­mis­sion to put the dish on the menu.

The pi­rated prepa­ra­tion would be “OK if you think peo­ple are do­ing a good dish,” Lee said. “If you’re go­ing to put a name on it, you have to do it right.”

Lee said he texted Zim­mern and heard noth­ing in re­turn. Lee said he then con­tacted a per­son in Zim­mern’s of­fice and re­ceived only a terse ac­knowl­edg­ment of his com­plaint. Noth­ing changed.

When The Post reached out to Zim­mern via his me­dia con­tact, we re­ceived a state­ment from the man be­hind “Bizarre Foods.”

“We named the dish af­ter him out of re­spect,” Zim­mern noted about Chang’s spicy egg­plant. “He showed me how to make the dish years ago when I was in his kitchen in Vir­ginia. 99% of restau­rants just steal ideas. Since he was fa­mous for his dryfried egg­plant, I wanted to make sure we gave him the re­spect he de­serves and name-checked him on the menu. Ob­vi­ously, we don’t serve it the ex­act same way that he does.

“Make sense?” Zim­mern added.

It doesn’t to Gen Lee.

JOE MA­HONEY/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Gen Lee (right), busi­ness part­ner to master chef Peter Chang (left, with wife Lisa Chang), has been told that Zim­mern’s dry-fried egg­plant isn’t pre­pared to Chang’s stan­dards.

COURT­NEY PERRY/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

With­out per­mis­sion, An­drew Zim­mern’s Lucky Cricket eatery has Peter Chang’s Dry Fried Egg­plant on the menu.

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