Meet Mike and Chao

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This is a blog about food. Good food. It’s written by two guys who like food. We like to eat food, talk about food, cook food. We’re both good at cooking food. One of us is really good. Our names are Mike and Chao, so it only made sense for us to use the word “chow” in the title.

We’ve been chowing for some time, but had to fit it into a “schedule” and careers that weren’t always conducive to our chow-hungry natures.

Mike is a 30-something Chicagoan who put his time in living in NYC, traveling both the country and the world, before returning to Chicago in 2006. Throughout, he’s endured corporate life in order to finance his restaurant habit. Chao is a chef, amateur cyclocross racer and sneaker enthusiast. He arrives most everywhere by bike because, in his words, ‘The way I drink, I’m better off on a bike,’ but he’s just kidding…

Which brings us to our next question: How did a West Loop Jewish kid from Lake Forest meet up with a tattooed chef of Thai origins and become eating partners “4 lyfe”?

MEET MIKE

College was, as usual, your typical dry-spell when it came to my palate. After that, I ate my way through New York, which was truly an awakening for my love of food. From there it was onto the sometimes treacherous landscape of corporate America. For most, a couple of years on a multi-city work tour of the U.S. would mean three square meals of continental breakfast, room service, and airport food. I wasn’t in for that.

In every city, the local food and restaurants dictated my itinerary, which was thus filled with an intoxicating blend of local flavor, cuisine, and people. (The work stuff was really a spare time activity for when I wasn’t eating.) It didn’t take long for me to start going after international destinations, further establishing my jet-setter rep and expanding the scope of my culinary tour. Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, France, England, Australia, South Africa—especially Cape Town.

If I could plan my perfect day in Cape Town, it would begin with a morning hike on Table Mountain, exploring some of South Africa’s vineyards, then paragliding from Lion’s Head onto Clifton Beach #4. I’d also need to fit in cage-diving with great white sharks and, of course, my perfect meal: Kudu Tartare at La Colombe.

>> More on La Colombe & My Top 5 International Meals

I loved every minute of my travels, both work-related and personal, but a few more promotions, red-eye flights and five and a half years in NYC later, I was what you’d call burnt. I returned to Chicago, found a place, got a new job, and got back to doing what I do best: eating. My palate had expanded considerably in the years I’d been away, and the city’s chefs had already claimed their place as some of the toughest, most able cooks in the country. And that is how I met Chao.

MEET CHAO

I’m a visual guy. It’s a common thread in my life. I have two sleeves of tattoos, a slight addiction to brightly colored sneakers, and hours of daily mental footage filled with urban street scenes from riding my bike all over Chicago. Before I moved to Chicago, I was in Seattle studying 3-D animation at the Art Institute of Seattle…and selling hot dogs on the street at night/working part-time as a sushi chef.

I came to Chicago in July, 2002, with no job, no money and no place to stay. Within a few months I figured all three of those out, and got back to developing my passion for food. Half of what I do as a chef, I do on my own–experimenting in the kitchen before the restaurants I worked in even opened, doing constant research outside of work.

I’ll flip through dozens of cookbooks until I see a photo of some dish or preparation that piques my interest, then start playing with techniques, presentation, ingredients. My background is in Asian cuisine and I’ve worked primarily with Japanese cuisine, but what I do isn’t totally Japanese. There are Thai, Chinese and Italian influences, too–really whatever I’ve tried or seen and want to run with.

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I love cooking, love being in the kitchen, and interacting with guests, seeing how they do or don’t enjoy my food–getting honest opinions. With sushi, though, there is this incredible sense of presentation–the plating, bright colors and different textures (again, back to the visual). And then there’s the face-to-face interaction that comes with the sushi bar.

Customers watch as I prepare their food, break down the techniques and ingredients that go into each roll, and in turn I can talk to them when I hand them their food (another difference: in sushi, we hand the food directly to the customer–no intermediaries; it’s more personal). I can also tell right away whether it’s bad or good by the faces they make.

As far as what our blog will be about–you’ll just have to wait and see. But, chances are, it’ll be something along the lines of eat food… cook food… talk about food… write about food… chase food… enjoy food.

8 thoughts on “Meet Mike and Chao”

  1. So, how did you guys meet? Blind date in a Chicago restaurant?
    Mike on Sweden — The delish meal was a mashie over meatball with gravy.
    Mike on Iceland — what did you eat? Fish and Chips was great and cheapest. Fine dining in Reykjavik looked great but $$$.
    I look forward to testing your receipes.
    Best wishes!

  2. Hi chao. I envy you guys so much that you can travel all over and taste and study about the food. you guys are motivating me to work harder to be a better chef. Hopefully. I feel so shamed of myself. good luck with your trip and I will keep follow your blog.

  3. Hi Chao. So glad to find you! You did a fabulous NYE party for us last year. Can’t wait to hear more of your travels and see where you end up!

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