On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," chef Nick Wong joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss his role as chef de cuisine of UB Preserv. The conversation begins with Wong explaining how an interest in food eventually led him to culinary school and then to six years working for acclaimed New York chef David Chang.
Wong met chef Chris Shepherd when he came to New York for a guest chef dinner. Once Wong decided to leave New York, Shepherd invited him to Houston and eventually recruited him to run UB Preserv, the restaurant that's the spiritual successor to Underbelly. Wong says that the experience of working for the Beard Award winner dinner has been different from his prior experiences.
"It's been a really great, positive experience for me. Just reflecting back on this restaurant, opening it, the thing that's struck me is how much trust and faith Chris has in me," Wong says. "When we first opened, we did the menu together . . . it was a very collaborative thing. I was used to working and people telling me I could run the restaurant but I had to get them to approve everything and go through proper channels.
"As time kind of went on, I realized Chris trusts me with the menu. I can do whatever I want and don't have to wait for permission, which has been very liberating and great for creativity."
That creativity has led to noteworthy dishes such as the honey pecan shrimp, Wong's ode to the classic Chinese dish honey walnut shrimp. The interview also includes some of Wong's plans for the future and a hilarious anecdote about the time a group of people confused him for Justin Yu.
Prior to Wong's interview, Fluff Bake Bar owner Rebecca Masson joins Sandler to discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: the return of Houston Restaurant Weeks, One Fifth featuring Gulf Coast cuisine for its fourth iteration, and what the recent closure of Pizza Motus says about the state of pizza restaurants in Houston.
In the restaurants of the week segment, the hosts share some first impressions of two restaurants that recently opened in Rice Village: Mendocino Farms, the decadent sandwich shop from California, and Sweetgreen, the rapidly expanding salad concept with a $1 billion valuation.