Thursday it is! How are you all doing? This week we are going to do something different. Instead of sharing one of our recipes I am going introduce you to a food joint I absolutely loved. This place is called ‘Bandit Queen’ and is located in the heart of Grand Rapids on South Division Avenue.
This place is unique in the food it offers… primarily a Ramen noodle place that serves Asian dishes too. It is a first of its kind in the south west Michigan area. I had a chance to interview the owner and chef of Bandit Queen and learnt more about what motivated him to open this place. Chef Les Fleming, has been in the world of food making for 7 years and he worked as an executive chef at Rockwell Republic before he decided to open Bandit Queen. Chef Fleming eloquently talked about his experiences previously that motivated him to opening his own place and serve healthy, economical and quick meals to his customers. He said, a lot of his learning comes from his experience being an executive chef at Rockwell Republic and that is what made him confident of opening his own place.
The dragon is the most popular dish on the menu.. so folks, be sure to try it next time you are there. During our conversation chef Fleming talked about the challenges in setting up a restaurant and he made a very good point about following one’s passion in pursuing a career. He mentioned that he opened the restaurant because he is passionate about cooking and he considers his cooking a form of art (I totally agree by the way!).
My chat with chef Fleming was fun and i learnt a lot about his ideas and techniques on different dishes he makes. I will make sure I share my learning’s with you all in the upcoming posts. Here is a quick snippet of our conversation:
Me: Chef, Fleming is this your first restaurant? How long have you been working in the food industry?
Chef: I’ve been here for 7 years and worked as an executive chef at Rockwell Republic for 2 years. I have also worked at Blue Tavern before that. But I wanted to be in control of the whole place. I am currently in talks about getting a part ownership to this place.
Me: How did you end up at Bandit queen?
Chef: I had been an executive chef for 2 years and I was looking for a second job when I found Bandit queen. I chose Bandit queen because I felt it gave me a perfect place to grow and hone my skills.
Me: Why Ramen Noodles?
Chef: When I started here, I did not have a deep understanding of Asian cuisine, but I did a lot of self learning, followed some techniques by other Asian cuisine chefs and read a lot about Asian flavors. In my opinion, being a chef is all about self learning. Culinary schools will only teach you the basics, it is upon the chef to try out different things and indulge in a lot of self learning to stand out.
Me: What is the most popular dish at Bandit Queen?
Chef: The popular dish keeps changing as we make changes to the menu. But the favorite for sometime has been the Dragon.
Me: What were the difficulties you faced during the change in career and what would you advice be for someone trying to start their own place?
Chef: The biggest difficulties have been the sacrifices that I had to make in terms of time and relationships. Being a chef and running a restaurant is very demanding and requires you to completely devote yourself to it. My advice to chefs starting out new would be to make cooking their passion and not make ‘money’ the primary motivator for opening the restaurant. For me cooking is my art and I am passionate about it and that is what makes me going everyday. I spend 70-80 hours a week at the restaurant and it still excites me to get up every morning and come here to cook with dedication and make a delicious meal.
Me: How well is Bandit Queen tied in with the local producers?
Chef: Bandit Queen does not deal with big food aggregators like GFS or Sysco. We get most of our produce from the local markets and farmers and get them as fresh as possible. For a small capacity restaurant like us, dealing with local farmers is a lot more cost effective and sustainable.
Me: Do you like to cook at home? What do you like to cook?
Chef: I do not get much time on the weekdays but on Sunday’s I love to cook my meals and my favorite go to dish is risotto. So I spend a good 2 hours to prep and cook it. I also love cooking eggs so that’s what you will find me eating over weekends.
Me: What are your favorite cafe’s or restaurants that you’d like to eat at & recommend our readers try?
Chef: Grand Rapids is a place with some cool restaurants and great food. But if you want me to pick places, I’ve found Osteria Rossa to be a nice place for some good Italian food and I also love Righteous Cuisine up in Grand Haven. They are a very creative place that makes amazing tacos.
Me: Oh one last thing I noticed you use a sous vide too… How do you make your Sous Vide eggs?
Chef: When I have time I sous vide eggs at 62 degrees for one hour. When in rush I cook them for 12-15 minutes at 75 degrees.
Me: Thank you Chef Fleming for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.
Well, after the conversation, I wasn’t going to let go of Chef Fleming without sharing one of his recipes for Umami Kitchen followers! So here is a recipe for ‘Brine/Braising Liquid’ –
Ingredients for Smoky Sweet Brine/Braising Liquid
- 2 gallons of water
- 6 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup cloves
- 1.5 cups peppercorn
- 1.5 cups salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups smoky pine tea
- Add all the ingredients to a pot and bring them to a boil. Once braising liquid reached boiling point take it off the heat and strain all the spices.
- Once the liquid is cooled you can use this to marinate fish, chicken or even eggplant the possibilities are endless.
- Chef uses this liquid to braise pork belly that served at the restaurant.
Hope you all enjoyed the post and are looking forward to trying the recipe! Let us know how enjoyed the recipe. I would recommend you all to visit Bandit Queen and you will not regret it!