Brunch Interviews is a new blog series featuring chef interviews from from some of the best brunch spots in Hoboken. The Ainsworth has recently opened in downtown Hoboken and offers a delicious brunch menu with breathtaking waterfront views. Personally, I can’t wait to try the French Onion Burger!
BRUNCH SPOT: The Ainsworth
WHO: Chef Yen
Why did you decide to become a chef?
I grew up with a huge respect for food and food culture, something that my parents and relatives taught my sister and I from a very young age. We are the first generation of immigrants here in the USA. My parents wanted to show us how incredible other countries are and so we go to visit different places around the world.
My parents taught us the best way to learn about another culture is through their food. Questions I would ask my parents were: Why do they eat such a heavy breakfast? Why is this soup cold? Why is everything so spicy?. Learning those answers at a very young age helped me learn about the differences in cultures and the ability for humans to adapt to the environment.
Becoming a chef was something I always dreamed about, but coming from a Chinese family they wanted me to become a Dentist like my father and grandfathers. Although both professions involve the mouth and are necessary, being a chef is more enjoyable for all parties involved. I started in the front of the house, as a bartender then server and ultimately I became a floor manager in a trattoria in Huntington, Long Island. I would spend anytime I could in the kitchen learning from the chefs. I decided it was time, I enrolled into the French Culinary Institute in NYC.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?
The best meal I have ever had was at an Indian wedding in what is now called Chennai, India. It was impressive to see the guys cook for over 500 guest, and the flavors were out of this world. A normal festival food in India is briyani, a baked rice dish consisting of layers of flavor. You have to cook rice to different levels so when it finally bakes in the oven it all cooks together and finishes at the same time. The tables were lined with banana leaves and you ate with your hands. There is nothing better than seeing 500 people dressed very well eating with their hands off leaves. No plates, no silverware just primal consumption of incredible food. The quiet will tell you everything about the food, having that many people be silent while eating only meant one thing, the food was delicious.
What’s your favorite ingredient to cook with?
‘Nduja, it’s a spreadable spicy Calabrian salami. It has become my “Franks red hot” I put that stuff on everything. A simple ‘Nduja toast is the perfect snack or starter. Adding it to pasta dishes is in my opinion one of the best things since taco Tuesday at the Ainsworth. If you haven’t tried ‘Nduja don’t rush into it, don’t run out and eat just because I said so. You will stumble upon it soon enough, believe me. Another great ingredient is fennel pollen, use it in your porchetta.
What’s your favorite brunch item on the menu? What inspired this dish?
My favorite item on our Brunch menu is our French toast sticks. We take brioche and let it sit overnight in the batter, then roll it in panko and it becomes crispy on the outside while moist on the inside. We plate it like Lincoln logs and it reminds you of being a kid again, you can play with your food! The inspiration was just that, everyone wants to be a kid sometimes so we allow you to do so on the weekends at the Ainsworth.
If you could have any celebrity eat at the Ainsworth who would it be?
If I could have any celebrity come join us it would be Bill Murray, he’s hilarious. I mean come on, who wouldn’t want Bill Murray to come eat. Bill would almost definitely entertain the entire dinning room with his antics, he is one of the old school greats. The infamous Pabst Blue Ribbon golf pants would be then signed and placed on the wall for everyone to view. His role in “Caddy shack” is still my favorite to this day. Another celebrity would be Action Bronson, that dude knows how to eat. Action has a show on VICE called F*ck that’s delicious, watch the one where he eats at Marea with Micheal White.