Among the Chinese food community, David R. Chan is considered an expert. We've written about the accountant and attorney's herculean feat of eating at more than 6,000 Chinese restaurants (and that number keeps on growing each week). He's been on the radio, magazines, international newspaper and on TV, and he even managed to spark a heated debate when he declared on Asia Society that the best Chinese restaurants are in Los Angeles.
When Springfield, Missouri, got wind of the fact that Chan listed Springfield's cashew chicken as a want-to-try item, the visitors bureau there flew him and his wife over for a four day visit. Chan hit up five different restaurants and even managed to squeeze in a meeting with 92-year-old David Leong, the founder of Springfield cashew chicken.
We caught up with Chan via e-mail on life after the media storm, flying out to Springfield and how he now feels a need to blog more about food. Turn the page.
Squid Ink: Besides the influx of media inquiries, has life changed much since we wrote about you?
David R. Chan: Well, for one thing, the first thing I do every morning when I get up is Google myself. I know that sounds bad, and my wife thinks I've gotten the fat head, but there's a good reason for it. After your interview I've done a number of other interviews where the interviewer never bothered to notify me that the interview was being broadcast or the article had been posted. So I need to check up to see what's actually in circulation. So far I haven't had any total strangers walk up to me, but I've received a lot of notice from peripheral acquaintances, since as restaurant waiters, the guy at the cleaners, my bank branch manager and so on.
I also get all kinds of random requests for specific information, both from acquaintances and strangers. Like where should I go for Chinese food in Louisville, KY (Jade Palace), who has the best shrimp fried rice (Mario's Peruvian; I don't know if they liked that answer), is there any good Chinese food in West Virginia (no), where do I get good Chinese food in Europe (sorry, can't help you), etc.
SI: People have responded really positively to your enthusiasm to Chinese food. Has this inspired more enthusiasm on your part for Chinese food? You've been blogging more.
DC: Well when people throw around descriptions like “Los Angeles Chinese food expert,” I do feel a heightened obligation to do a little more than I did in the past. I'm probably not blogging more than before, but in the past food topics were a minority of the blog, where most everything is food related now. I have to be a lot more careful about what I say in the blog now, since in the past I was essentially writing it like a diary and not expecting other people to read it. Also, I feel I need to visit and opine on Chowhound on newly opened Chinese restaurants on a more accelerated schedule than in the past.
SI: So you got Springfield cashew chicken crossed off the list — anything else you care to try?
DC: A number of people have kidded me and said that instead of Springfield Missouri cashew chicken, I should have mentioned something in Hawaii. Or maybe Hakkasan in Manhattan. I am still a little intrigued by the chow mein sandwich (made by using a burger bun) found in the Fall River, MA, Woonsocket, RI area. However, I did drive through Woonsocket just a few weeks ago (no time to stop, though), so I'm not sure if I'm up to a return visit anytime soon.
SI: How many restaurants did you try during that Springfield trip?
We went to five restaurants: Creasian, Leong's Asian Diner, Canton Inn, Chinese Chef, and Mr. Yen's. Our entire trip was hosted by Susan Wade of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and they drove us everywhere. Springfield Cashew Chicken is clearly a unique dish — nothing like it here in Los Angeles — yet each version was a little different, be it size, type of batter, degree of moistness, or the flavor of the brown sauce.
SI: What's the weirdest thing that has happened following all the press?
DC: Well there were a couple of unusual tweets. One referred to me as the “Batman of Chinese Dining.” And a lady in Canada described me as her ideal mate if I were 30 years younger. Also one of my accountant friends asked for a copy of the Excel schedule of 6,000 restaurants, then came back the next day to point out a couple of inputting errors. But really, what I consider weird was how the story crossed over out of the food world and into the general interest arena. I could see how foodies might have some interest in my Excel schedule. But I was flabbergasted when your story hit People.com, as the lead current event on their homepage for a couple of hours until we were bumped down by an item about Britney Spears. This is something I still don't understand.
SI: Any updates on the Chinese restaurant scene in the SGV?
DC: It's been quiet. Not a lot of new openings lately. Just got a tip about an excellent place that just opened in Rowland Heights, but I don't have a name, specific address or genre. Possibly handmade noodles, located somewhere near 85 Degrees.
Follow Squid Ink at @LAWeeklyFood and check out our Facebook page. Clarissa blogs about Asian food at clarissawei.com. Follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.