Tim Luym: The SFoodie Interview, Part 2
On Friday, SFoodie caught up with Tim Luym, the chef who found his voice at Poleng Lounge, which closed in January. Since then, Luym's been consulting, cooking on the open seas, and helping plan Attic, the San Mateo Pan-Asian restaurant (with an emphasis on Filipino cuisine) due to launch later this month. Today, Luym talks about his inspiration, the places he likes to haunt when he's not cooking, and the local chefs he considers underrated. ―J. Birdsall
jessefriedman/Flickr Ex-Poleng chef Tim Luym serving up grilled oysters at the SF Street Food Festival last August.
SFoodie: Name the flavors, ingredients, or techniques you have an irrational attachment to.
Luym: I love soups, noodles soups to be exact. Ramen, phớ, wonton noodles, moh hingha, laksa, and the list goes on. Making good soup bases, noodles, and finding the right balance in a well-made bowl of noodle soup takes a lot more than meets the eye. Using the mortar and pestle for spice pastes or just for simply crushing ingredients makes a world of difference. I love spicy foods and fish sauce. More recently, I did a taste test of a half dozen different fish sauces, cheap to expensive, made in Vietnam, [the] Philippines, and Thailand. There are definitely subtle noticeable differences in the taste and flavor. Not all fish sauces are created equal.
Where do you go for food inspiration? Singaporean hawkers, and old-school home cooks. Hawkers simply for the fact they spend a lifetime (or more) mastering and perfecting one or two dishes and still don't believe they have it mastered. Old-school home cooks because they often have the foundation and a plethora of knowledge that hopefully passes on and [won't] get lost through the generations.
Come clean about your biggest screw-up in the kitchen. Myself (j/k). My passion for heat makes me hide chile peppers in staff meals or strategic traps of appetizing morsels that I know servers will be tempted to sneak a bite only to screw themselves after ingesting a Thai chile or habañero. However, I still feel guilty about the time I offered a server a taste of our new chocolate dessert (pigs liver) and finding out she was vegetarian... But don't underestimate karma. I wore the remnants on my back for the rest of service.
What epiphanies did you experience on your way into the kitchen? Growing up, everyone says do what you love to do and you will be happy and successful. Happiness and success is only defined by the individual him/herself, but it was the first time I realized that work didn't feel like work and learning was not something that needed to be done but just got done. In hindsight, although cliché, the statement holds much truth. You can really taste and feel the difference between those who cook with heart and passion.
First Bay Area food memory? My parents loved to eat. They always took us (brother, sister, and I) to different restaurants from all cuisines ― French, Italian, Mediterranean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai ― you name it. Growing up, I never quite understood the point of dressing in a coat and tie and dropping lots of loot on a two-hour dinner with escargot, beef Wellington, and soufflés. I would have been happy with Spam and eggs or top ramen (which, at the time, I also never understood why my mom would use chicken broth instead of the ultra-tasty fluorescent yellow powder of goodness). But twentysomething years later, it all makes sense.
It wasn't nearly for my benefit at all (j/k), but for my dad who wasn't and still isn't able to cook for the life of him. But he knew my mom could throw down, and had the knack of picking things up and recreating it at home cheaper and better. Next thing I knew, a week after eating a new restaurant, we were eating the same beef Wellington, garlic baked crabs, linguine with clam sauce at home for a fraction the price ― no suit, tie, or combed hair needed. My dad is a wise man, my mom a talented woman...
Favorite off-night food and drink spots? Tommy's Joynt (IITYWYBAD); Candybar (Tan and crew are hilarious); Som bar (good peeps); Vietnam II (expect to get your order last unless you speak Vietnamese or bounce for one of the clubs on the street); Li Po Lounge (Sundays)
Favorite local mom and pop food joints? Literally all ma and pa: Burmese Kitchen in the TL, Singapore Malaysian restaurant, and Halu off Clement, and Marie Callender's ― can't believe she's still cooking after all these years.
Chef from another cooking style who inspires you? Hachiro Mizutani [of Sushi Mizutani in Tokyo]. I finally had the perfect piece(s) of sushi. I thought perfect sushi was merely a myth, to be honest...
What local chefs deserve more attention? Dominic Ainza at Mercury, my mentor and mellow my man. This guy is incredibly talented and hard working. His resume says it all ― actually it doesn't. It would be hard to quantify in words what this man can do. How do you work eight restaurant days a week and take care of three daughters and a spouse? Oh, and keep an eye out for this dude Elgin Espiritu. You can't miss him ― he wears an eye patch and a thick gold chain, kinda like Slick Rick...
Guiltiest food pleasure? Chicken, pig, and duck skin WITH the fat still on it. Roasted, braised, or fried doesn't matter. Oh, and the layer of cream on top off a fresh bottle of Straus whole milk... with a 4505 chicken beer sausage... and fried chicken... with buttermilk ranch dressing... okay I'll shuttup now!