Junzi Kitchen (pronounced: June like the month, Za like pizza) has already established itself in a void that the Yale community may not have realized it was missing: innovative Northern Chinese food. The menu at “Junzi,” a pre-Confucian term for a community leader, rests upon traditional Northern Chinese dishes: Chun bing, Chinese-style crepes traditionally filled with vegetables and meat and noodle bowls reminiscent of those you find on Chinese street corners and in restaurants alike.
The execution and toppings of these dishes, however, represents a new way of thinking about Chinese food that stems from Lucas Sin, the restaurant’s chef. Lucas put it best, saying, “It’s not an experiential restaurant even though it is an experience.” Junzi creates traditional food and flavors, albeit modernized. A perfect example is the delicious jaja sauce made from eggplant, which holds the same flavor as the very traditional jajang sauce made from fermented black beans and pork.
The style of the restaurant is modern, quick, and highly efficient. Choose your dish, point to all the yummy toppings and sauces you want with it, and you are good to go. Junzi represents a revolutionary way to create high-quality technique-driven Chinese fast food. The restaurant has been so popular and successful they are looking to expand in New York as well.
As huge fans of Junzi, we were excited by the opportunity to sit down with Lucas Sin:
CH: You are a recent Yale College graduate, what did you major in? What is your cooking style?
LS: I was a Cognitive Science major who took a lot of English classes. My food background is in Japanese food and Pop-Up style cooking. Pop-Up cooking is a very specific style — it’s very reckless.
CH: What is the concept behind Junzi?
LS: Ming, Wanting and Yong met at grad school in New Haven and had the idea of running a business that created and built a brand of Northern Chinese food that people can get on a day-to-day basis. Eva and I focus on creating the menu and the food concept. A lot of the ideas start from Eva’s hometown cooking from LiaoNing. The idea with Junzi is not to revolutionize, but look at the idea of a restaurant with a capital “R” and see what we can do that is still within its parameters while pursuing our mission – creating a brand of Northern Chinese food and a good work environment.
CH: How would you define Chinese cooking?
LS: Chinese cooking has aromatic bases of ginger, scallion, and garlic. It is a technique-driven cuisine. The food is cooked at extremely high heat and requires skill to handle correctly. That’s part of the reason that it’s difficult to make Chinese fast food — it’s hard to keep the temperature hot enough for a long time and the training is extensive. It took 2 to 3 months to train the staff to stir fry correctly.
CH: How do you translate these dishes to New Haven?
LS: A lot of the nuances of Chinese food don’t make it to America. For example, there are 40 kinds of Sichuan peppercorn, only 1 is used in America. To make many of these dishes in a faster setting, we had to innovate with our techniques. For example, bings would normally be handmade one-by-one in China; we use a tortilla press to flatten our bings.
CH: What’s your most popular dish? What dish do you wish people ordered more?
LS: The most popular dish is the knife cut noodle bowl. I wish people ordered more chun bings. I could eat them for all three meals in a day.
CH: What’s next for Junzi?
LS: We’ve been hosting a late night on Saturdays — so far we’ve made Jian Bing and egg bubble waffles. For late night, I prep 100 portions, we reopen at 10, and sell until we run out. I also want to do a Junzi tasting menu. It would be pop-up style with 3-5 courses laid out on a table during dinner so people could try some new things. I’ve also been looking into different dessert options. Right now, we’re working on opening a restaurant near Columbia.