2016.037.031 Oral History Interview with Chris Yeo
Chris Yeo sits down with MOCA to talk about his experience leaving Singapore and coming to the US where he opened a series of successful restaurants. He explains his journey from opening a salon to becoming a restaurateur and several of the things that hes learned about cooking for American patrons. He discusses his family and how his cooking stems from a desire to please people. Chris also shares some anecdotes about his experience on Food Network and speaking at the Smithsonian institute.

0:00 - Introduction, born in Hong Kong but moved to Singapore as an infant with his big family, studied hospitality in Singapore until he moved to London at 20 years old to be a hairdresser, met his wife at a stopover in America and decided to stay in San Francisco, missed food from home and opened a small restaurant with a Singaporean chef in 1987, his chef turned out to be a bad cook so he was forced to learn from other chefs and cook for himself, shares anecdotes about how he co-wrote a cookbook

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7:22 - Diagnosis with cancer but restaurant still runs smoothly, supportive staff and customers, opening multiple restaurants, helped introduce dim sum to San Jose, loves food entertainment and making people happy, his son who grew up in his restaurants and went to culinary school, saw a lot of chefs come and go so he ended up deciding to cook himself, created a special system for his restaurant with recipe cards, new restaurants in Houston but had to make some tweaks for Texan palates

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16:47 - - He brought in chefs because he doesn’t consider himself an expert in Chinese food, he likes doing work at the front of the house and interacting with people, tweaks the dishes slightly for non-Asian clients to cater to southern tastes, he doesn’t think the food he grew up with would be successful in the US since its bland and steamed, he doesn’t cook at home much and eats at his restaurants a lot, he’s here to serve others not please himself, people are adjusting to more exotic Chinese cooking

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23:18 - He doesn’t foresee many big changes in Chinese cooking, he believes in comfort food, he customizes his food so that people don’t compare it to others but it keeps authentic flavor, he likes wok cooking a lot and views it as an important instrument, he grew up with a mother and a big family that loved cooking, learned how to evaluate ingredients from a young age, loves his big family, loves laksa and missed it in Singapore so he makes it in his restaurants.

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31:25 - He identifies himself as a people pleaser and doesn’t feel tied to one cuisine, hard to identify a signature dish but he gives a few examples, anecdote about being nervous on Food Network, anecdote about speaking at the Smithsonian Institute, loved seeing his cookbooks in Macy’s.

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38:34 - Came from Singapore with 500$ but he feels like he met the right people who helped him, when opening a salon he connected with a landlord who was an Irish immigrant, his landlord vouched for him when he tried to buy his first house, doesn’t have professional cooking training and didn’t have YouTube, talks about the process of writing his book.

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44:07 - Discusses his sons and working with them, father came from a wealthy family so he was sent to Hong Kong for school, talks about how his father’s fortune was all spent and he had to work in Singapore.

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