Q&A: Brian Tsao Is Bobby Flay’s “Beat Bobby” Champion

Brian Tsao kicked down Bobby Flay with his magnificent bulgogi taco. You too can taste his fine ideas: outside of TV land, he’s pretty busy with his restaurant, Mira Sushi and Izakaya.

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Your bulgogi taco shut down Bobby Flay’s act! What other dish would you be able to pull a win over him if you had a rematch?

There is only one answer – my Kobe Beef Slider, kimchi slaw, housemade gochujang BBQ sauce, cheddar cheese, micro radish with a dash of white truffle oil! They’ll be playing Queen’s “We are the Champions” after that episode!

What did you gain from your watching your uncle’s restaurant work? What mistakes were prevented that you might have done without this knowledge?

This is a funny question because I learned a lot about what I do AND don’t want to do in the restaurant business. I was born and raised in the States and grew up with a Western mentality. My uncle’s method of management is very Eastern and, just like his cooking techniques, is on the opposite side of the spectrum from the Western style I grew up with. There is nothing wrong with the Eastern style, it’s just different. Working for my uncle, I learned the importance of volume and how to work with a large menu to give the customer the feeling of value. Often, I find myself looking for what my dad does when he eats at a restaurant, a filling, flavorful and easily understood meal at a good price. Sounds simple right? It’s not so easy to put yourself in that mindset when you’ve worked your entire career on the “high end” of the spectrum. When I went to work at Mira Sushi, I had just come from a failing restaurant, so I decided to take some of the lessons I got from my uncle and give the customer what they want, delicious but easily understood food at a good value!

At Mira Sushi & Izakaya, you have Asian food done with Amerjcan culture, like the Kyoto Sloppy Joe. But what should someone eat if he or she wants to sample a bit of everything? The sandwich may be too filling.

Fortunately Mira has a pretty large menu with many varying things, we have sushi bar appetizers like cajun tuna tataki, a sushi pizza, Japanese imported Wagyu served with a searing hot Himalayan salt block, and of course our famed beef bulgogi tacos. It sounds heavy but is surprisingly refreshing and light.

Why do you prefer tamari soy sauce? Sometimes, I like it, and other days, I feel like I enjoy a richer soy sauce. When does and doesn’t it work?

I first started using tamari soy sauce to better cater to those with gluten allergies. As I continued to use tamari, I really began to appreciate its neutral quality. You may think that’s a bad thing, but for a chef having neutral base can be very helpful. I know exactly what I’m getting from tamari each and every time I use it and I’m able to manipulate the flavor in any direction I want. There are certainly times when you need something more focused, like a mushroom soy, which is deep in color and thick in texture. Sometimes I want to impart a nice rich color and depth of umami that I can’t achieve with tamari or and regular soy sauce, so will need to reach for the mushroom soy.

Your restaurant is good in that you don’t sell the same food every other NYC Asian cafe provides. What is the most unusual ingredient you cook with for your menu?

I could easily say yuzu, our housemade gochujang or carrageenan iota. But honestly I think what’s most interesting is how USUAL most of our ingredients are. I always say, “I use eastern ingredients with western technique.”

I’m obsessed with durian. You claim to have once hated it. How did your wife push you into appreciating it?

My wife and her family are from Malaysia where durian is a regular part of the cuisine and I dreaded it every time. As a chef, it’s criminal not to try new things but I found the stench to be absolutely disgusting and hard to take. The revelation of durian’s incredible flavor and texture came when I went to eat dim sum with my wife and her family. My wife had gotten a plate of wonderful crispy, flaky puffs filled with what I thought was pastry cream. But once I took a bite, I sensed a familiar unfriendly aroma, but one tamed by the cooking process and flaky pastry. The warmth of the cream was very special and so specific to durian that I instantly became fascinated and have been hooked ever since.

When people are done trying the fusion food at your own restaurant, what recommendations do you have for the best traditional Chinese and Korean restaurants nearby? And you’re not allowed to say your dad’s restaurant!

First thing i say is, COME TO FLUSHING in QUEENS, New York!!! There are countless places to mention, from “hole in the walls” to “eat til you drop” dim sum, but to keep things simple…

For Korean my favorite place is Galbi Ma Eul, not only is it the most incredible Korean BBQ and small plates, but awesome hot stone bi bim bap PLATTERS! Rather than have your own individual stone pot, it’s put in the center of the table to be shared, it is divine!

For Chinese, it’s a street cart that sells Northern Chinese style Lamb Kabobs. I lived in Beijing China for 6 years and street side lamb kabob is a regular thing after late night drinking, which I’ve had my fair share of. When I returned to the states, it was one of the things I knew I’d miss the most. Was I happy to find one waiting for me in Flushing after a late night of drinking!!!!

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