Mao's Restaurant opened in early October after Huang's lease expired on his old restaurant, Hunan Seafood Restaurant (Note: Hunan Seafood is still open, but is managed by a completely different staff and cooking team.)
A Hunan-native and a San Gabriel Valley restaurateur for over a decade, Huang's goal is to spread Hunan cuisine all throughout Los Angeles. We sat down with him to talk about Hunan cuisine and spread of "authentic" Chinese food in Los Angeles.
Squid Ink: How did you get started in the restaurant industry here?
John Huang: I opened my first restaurant in 2005 on San Gabriel Blvd. It was called Grand Cafe. The store was pretty small, and I wasn't sure if Hunan cuisine would be able to make it into this market. By nature of the cuisine, the food is really spicy and sour. We only had nine tables and it was just really difficult.SI: Hunan cuisine is spicy -- and so is Sichuan food. What's the difference between these two regional cooking styles?
JH: Hunan food is very spicy, but that spice level can be adjusted. There aren't any tongue-numbing ingredients in Hunan cuisine either. Sichuan food is both tongue-numbing and spicy because of the incorporation of peppercorns. The way we cook food in Hunan-style cuisines also tends to accentuate the flavor of the dishes. There's a lot of vegetables used and the spice doesn't drown the flavor -- it accentuates it.
SI: Would you say that the majority of your dishes are recipes directly from Hunan, or do you have a wide variety of different dishes from all over China?
JH: We have a section of our menu dedicated completely to Hunan-specific dishes. The rest are general dishes, but we cook them using Hunan-cooking techniques.
SI: How did you get started in the restaurant industry?
JH: It was a combination of interest and love for food -- I actually studied electrical engineering.
SI: Where did the recipes come from?