Just over a year ago, news came out that Patricia Yeo (formerly of OM and more recently Moksa) would be leaving Moksa — and Boston altogether — to become the creative director of a Chicago-based casual Thai/Chinese chain called Big Bowl. Today, the Chicago Tribune profiles Yeo, exploring "what happens when a fine-dining chef enters the corporate restaurant world," or more specifically, "how difficult is the balance of elevating [Big Bowl's] culinary verve without alienating mainstream sensibilities?"
The current Big Bowl menu includes a standard range of Americanized pan-Asian offerings, from sesame chicken and Mongolian beef to pad thai and Thai curries — not even the slightest hint of influence from Yeo's fine dining days. She plans to cull the bottom-selling quarter of the menu. "Our core dishes — kung pao chicken, pad thai, orange chicken — those will stay," she says. "Unfortunately," she adds. "We're a business, and we have to give customers what they want. I may not eat orange chicken, but I can try to make it as interesting as I can."
But it sounds like she couldn't be happier with the "intellectual challenge" of reconciling her creativity with the needs of a corporation. "This is the most relaxed I've ever been," she tells the Tribune of her position. "I get to play." And play she does, at a farm an hour west of Chicago, where she gets to experiment with produce to her heart's content. Growing now? Winged beans, globe basil, kabocha squash, and more.
She can experiment with dishes as well, even if they won't end up on the Big Bowl menu but perhaps at a different restaurant somewhere down the line. "Yeo has experimented with Korean-style pork and kimchi dumplings, hibiscus drinking vinegars and Shanghai scallion pancakes," reports the Tribune. "She created a peanut sauce-dressed Indonesian salad with sprouted black tofu and pineapples called gado-gado, a dish [Big Bowl president Dan] McGowan vetoed because he thought it was too out there for customers."
Ultimately, Yeo is experiencing something vastly different than what she had here in Boston, but that's not necessarily a good or bad thing — just different. "Just stretching different muscles than before," says the Tribune.
· Patricia Yeo's big leap [Chicago Tribune]
· Chefs gone corporate [-EN-]
· All coverage of Patricia Yeo on Eater [~EBOS~]