We visited with Lien Lin, Executive Chef and Co-owner of Bricolage, to find out why she and her husband, Edward, left San Francisco to start their own restaurant in Brooklyn, New York.
Where does your passion for sourcing high quality ingredients stem from?
As an Asian chef owning an Asian restaurant, I really want to debunk the stereotypes that plague Asian food. There are not many Asian restaurants that focus on quality – especially making Vietnamese cuisine and especially in New York. There are some people who get that we make great Vietnamese food with the fundamental flavors and techniques using high quality ingredients. We’re not the hole-in-the-wall Banh Mi shop that other people expect. I really want to do something similar to what Charles Phan did [at The Slanted Door] in San Francisco and truly elevate Vietnamese food.
What empowers you the most about owning Bricolage?
I love being in Brooklyn. When we were looking for locations, we debated between Manhattan or Brooklyn, but there truly was no question – it had to be Brooklyn. The feel here is that of a very connected neighborhood, and I want to connect that neighborhood to good food.
I think this has a lot to do with the way I was raised. I grew up on a farm in upstate New York. My parents raised chickens and owned a Chinese restaurant. The restaurant was fancy with pu-pu platters and tiki drinks, but what they served at the restaurant was not what we ate at home. We ate fresh, healthy foods. We were really connected to our food, harvesting a chicken and then 10 minutes later having it on our dinner table. Now that I have my own child, too, it’s important to me to raise him to eat healthy and have healthy eating habits.
Opening this restaurant is also about teaching the general public about how important it is for you to know where their food comes from. For it to be sustainable for the future, and for the future for our children.
Why do you use Niman Ranch meats?
I try to source ingredients where I know the source and how it’s raised because it’s really important to me. Working at The Slanted Door first introduced me to your products. Charles was very passionate about – number one – using the best ingredients. If a product doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t matter if it’s sustainable or humanely raised. It has to be balanced between quality and raising practices. That’s what Niman Ranch offers us and always has.
What else is on your plate – now or in the future?
More recently, I’ve been collaborating with other Asian chefs in my neighborhood. There are five of us who got together and created this network we call The Asian Food Mafia. We rotate between each other’s restaurants once a month and talk about ideas, decompress and act as sound boards for each other, talk about staffing problems and needs, contact information about purveyors, and so on. We work together to help each other out.
We’re hoping to grow and do more Asian food awareness to, again, debunk the stereotypes behind Asian food. We’re all Asian chefs with our own regional cuisines, but we want to be known for our high quality food the same way that’s expected of other cuisines. We know our voices can be heard a lot louder together than just individually.