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Danny Bowien, Mission Chinese Chef, Talks Stress, Authenticity With 'GQ'

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DANNY BOWIEN
Cody Pickens/GQ
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Will 2012 be remembered as the year that Danny Bowien, founder of Mission Chinese Food in San Francisco, finally became a full-fledged celebrity chef? There's certainly a case to be made: in May, he opened the second outpost of Mission Chinese, in New York. He was nominated for a James Beard Rising Chef Award in February. And now, as the coup de grace, he's the subject of an excellent, nearly 4000-word profile by Brett Martin in this month's Men of the Year issue of GQ.

A large chunk of the profile is dedicated to the stress Bowien was under while he was opening his New York restaurant. Apparently Bowien lost 37 pounds in the runup to the grand opening, forcing his father to move to the city from Oklahoma to care for him. "This restaurant almost killed me," Bowien told Martin. "It's like my baby."

His dad isn't the only older man who's taken a paternal interest in Bowien's life and career -- Momofuku chef David Chang, to whom he's often compared, has as well. At one point in the profile, Martin is talking to both star chefs at once:

Chang still worries about him. "Danny's got this crazy gift of knowing how to make things delicious," he told me. "But I worry people are going to eat him up."

At this Bowien rolls his eyes, little-brother-style. "I don't know why Dave says that. I've been doing this a long time. Yeah, I try to approach things with naïveté. But I'm not an idiot."

Martin notes that one major through-line connecting Momofuku and Mission Chinese is an iconoclastic approach to Asian fusion, but he argues that Bowien goes even further than Chang in bucking the culinary's world's insistence on authenticity. He writes:

Bowien largely hurdles this particular thicket by making no claim whatsoever for authenticity. [...] He went to China only after the pop-up had become a hit. Bowien has had no luck employing cooks with previous Chinese-cooking experience or who have even used a wok before. "As soon as you get a wok cook, it's all, 'No, this is the right way to do it,' " he says. "I'd rather have people who are earnest and humble and want to learn."

Read the full profile (and look at some terrific photos of Bowien by Cody Pickens) at the GQ website or in the December issue of GQ.

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