Food & Wine Best New Chefs 2020: Trigg Brown
Trigg Brown started working in kitchens at the age of 15 as a bored high school student in rural Virginia, looking for a way to pay for gas. He continued cooking in kitchens while studying English literature at the University of Virginia, eventually landing a job at Tom Colicchio’s Colicchio & Sons in New York City before moving onto chef Justin Smillie’s beloved Cal-Ital spot, Upland. So naturally, Brown’s next move was to open Win Son, a groundbreaking Taiwanese-American restaurant in a far-flung corner of Brooklyn, having never visited the island nation until just months before opening. Wait, what?
Swapping pork chops for pork buns makes more sense than you might think. One summer at a barbecue in Brooklyn, Brown met his business partner Josh Ku, a Taiwanese-American who worked in property management. The two bonded over their love of motorcycles and Taiwanese food, and they started exploring every Taiwanese restaurant they could find in Flushing. “We were just getting stoned and going to eat food, but it evolved into something more,” he says.
The pair would dissect what made a dish Taiwanese specifically or what techniques and ingredients were involved. Ku would bring over his mom’s recipes, like a celery and tofu dish, and Brown would reverse engineer dishes they ate at their favorite Taiwanese restaurants, cooking elaborate meals for their friends on his days off. Brown and Ku hadn’t planned on opening a Taiwanese restaurant, but when Ku struggled to rent out a space in Bushwick, they both knew they had an opportunity. “We weren’t trying to start a fad or get on a trend,” says Brown. “We just wanted to bring food we loved to our neighborhood.”
As the regular lines around the block attest, they amply succeeded. In the course of opening Win Son, Brown became an astute student of the food and the history of Taiwan, and today he can easily rattle off a PhD dissertation’s worth of knowledge on the influences on Taiwanese cuisine from the Ming Dynasty to World War II. He can also make a mean lu rou fan, or pork belly that is sliced thin and braised until tender in caramelized rock sugar with punches of soy sauce, star anise, and cinnamon, as well as nourishing bowls of fly’s head, or fragrant budding chives stir-fried with pork, garlic, and Thai chiles with plenty of heat.
At Win Son Bakery, Brown’s more stoner sensibilities make an appearance with a genius take on a classic New York staple: a bacon, egg, and cheese. Brown folds a tender and buttery scallion pancake around a gooey egg and cheese filling, to remind you breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. For dinner, he makes an umami-rich eggplant parm made with chile paste and served on a squishy Taiwanese milk-bread bun. It’s best with an order of Brown’s white sesame seed–spiked Caesar.
Brown is quick to point out that the food he cooks at his two restaurants, Win Son and Win Son Bakery, is Taiwanese-American. Emphasis on the “American.” “We are trying to be really up front with the fact that I’m a white guy and my experience is not Taiwanese cuisine, especially regionally specific Taiwanese food.” Regardless of how you label it, there is no denying that Brown is making food that is unconscionably good.
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