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The Sayings of Chairman Chow

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Together, Chow and Chun have an 11-year-old daughter, Asia, whom Chow adores. “My children are great. Asia has something very special. When you meet her, please whisper something to me,” he says. “Please whisper You do not think this only because you are her father.’”

On a Thursday night in March, Chow cannot get comfortable at his own restaurant: He has noticed that a family, the Upper East Side type—father, mother, and son all wear $200 jeans, expensive watches, and exquisitely tended hair—is waiting by the bar for their table, a rustle of shopping bags at their feet. “This no good,” says Mr. Chow. “Coats and carrier bag never allowed.” He summons Michelle Chun, his sister-in-law. She has a neat bob and is well dressed in that duty-free-luxury way: a plain navy suit, Hermès scarf and belt. “They have carrier bags,” says Chow. His expression is one of utter disdain. Chun smilingly relieves them of their bags, and Chow exhales. “Okay,” he says. “Now we can eat!”

Chow’s life is a series of meticulously managed details. He wears only Hermès suits, custom-made in Paris, each more elegant and well fit than the last. On this particular Thursday, the suit is cornflower blue, fine-gauge corduroy. His silk tie matches precisely. Chow’s incredible suits are, for him, metaphors for his restaurants. “Everything is based on a universe of subliminal details,” he says. “When you pull it together, there is content and quality. It’s like couture. There is the focus; the cutting is most important. But every stitch is a universe. Every stitch has its own high standard. I call the standard ‘humanly possible.’ It’s a way of life.”

A perfect example of Mr. Chow’s attention to detail is in the way the waiters place down the plates. “The three fingers must come up to balance,” Chow says. “I didn’t read it in a book, nobody told me this, but it’s one way, only way. And then if you place it slightly crooked, you have the opportunity to adjust it, and that touch! You can charge $2 extra for that touch.”

The restaurant is full, as it is most nights, and it is loud, but not uncomfortably so—it feels more like a party. There are tables full of bankers on expense accounts. “They don’t care,” says Chun, smiling. “Not their money.” There are Upper East Side families, like the one at the bar, a few basketball players, stooping dramatically to get through the Lalique-style doors, and the rapper LL Cool J, who has brought a date. On the balcony, where Chow sits, a chef makes noodles elaborately, the loud thwack of the dough occasionally silencing the dining room, which, each time, erupts into applause. It’s a well-lit space, with everything, and everyone, clearly on display. No one is shy about looking.

What will be unique about the new space? “To change, you have to have no change,” Chow says, balancing a small dumpling on a pair of chopsticks. He repeats, “For change, no change.”

Chow finishes dinner in his restaurant with a cup of hot water and lemon—not lemon wedges but an elaborately cut lemon, an origami lemon, a series of symmetrical swerves floating in the porcelain cup. The water is steaming but not so much that it’s too hot to sip. “Do you think maybe I am crazy?” he asks.

“To be funny, also very important. I can make a joke from any word in the whole language. Give me a word.”

“Vase.”

Chow holds his chopsticks in a fine point and thinks for a moment.

“It’s a beautiful vase,” he says. “It’s worth—crash!—nothing.”

Mr. Chow laughs like mad.


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