Oriental Orzo with Salmon; the Dangers of Irritating a Chinese Chef

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Did I ever tell you about the time I was chased out of a restaurant by a really pissed off Chinese chef brandishing his favorite, very large, very sharp, cleaver?

My story, in honor of Chinese New Year.

The setting:

I was installing a computerized ordering system in the old Nankin, downtown Minneapolis.  (It's no longer there, so I can name names….)

This was a classic Chinese restaurant:  high vaulted ceilings; the walls a vivid red with gold trim; pagodas, gold lions, and dragons lurking everywhere.  There was a balcony at one end with a wide staircase, wood banisters and railings.

And, at this time it was owned by a group of Jewish guys which I (and they) thought rather hilarious – much longer story.

I spent a lot of time there, just being 'on call' so I was given the cook's tour.  Underneath the restaurant was a cavernous maze of store rooms and prep rooms that covered at least a city block… much larger than the restaurant.  There were rooms for growing mushrooms and rooms for chopping celery; rooms for cooking rice and rooms for butchering chickens.  It was a dark, dank and rather scary place.

The restaurant sat well over 100 people and during the lunch hour, tables were 'turned' every 20 minutes, with 4 – 5 seatings per table.  It was busier at night, well past the usual Minneapolis closing time of 10:00pm.  There was a bar on one side that was equally popular.

In the kitchen was one long wall with huge woks over open flames; each with it's own cook and the head chef overseeing all.  It was at best controlled chaos with everyone shouting in English and Chinese; food being slammed on counters, flipped out of the woks; plates and people everywhere.

The incident:

The system I installed had terminals at all of the server stations where orders were entered.  The orders were printed out at the appropriate station in the kitchen. ( I know, they're everywhere now, but this was one of the first)  The server's union didn't like the idea of "all this computer stuff".  Some of the people were convinced that the Nankin owners were trying to become more efficient (huh?) and, perhaps, eliminate some staff.

About 4 days into the installation, everything seemed to be going smoothly.  One of the owners and I stepped into the kitchen.  The head chef took one look at us, grabbed his cleaver and started running.  He ignored Joel; only had eyes for me; very scary, glassy  eyes.  I took off, wrongly thinking Joel would stop him. He didn't. 

I ran through the restaurant, weaving between the tables; up and around the balcony; through the bar,  shoving customers out of my way; back through the restaurant and, finally, out into the parking lot.  Right behind me was this angry, crazy guy waving his cleaver and cursing at me in Chinese.

Finally some of the staff realized that, just maybe, I could use some help, and tackled him.

The problem:

Two of the servers had decided to sabotage the new system.  The most expensive item on the menu was Lobster Lo Mein.  Every 15 minutes, one of them ordered it.  By the time we had walked into the kitchen there were 9 Lobster Lo Mein's sitting on the counter which no server would acknowledge.  The chef's costs were going to hell in a hand basket and it HAD to be the computer's fault; therefore, my fault because it was my computer. 

I've always had great respect for cleavers.

And I still love Chinese food.

But I miss the Nankin….

This week, for Presto Pasta Nights, I'm doing an Oriental theme in honor of Chinese New year.  Be sure to visit our founder and coordinator, Ruth, of Once Upon A Feast, on Friday for a recap of all the wonderful pasta dishes.

Oriental Orzo

1/2 cup orzo
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
4 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp sesame or walnut oil
1 tbs sesame seeds

Put orzo, brown sugar, soy sauce and stock in a small pan and bring to a simmer on medium heat. Turn heat to low and simmer until done, stirring occasionally. All stock will be absorbed. Stir in sesame oil and seeds and serve.

I'll even give a bonus recipe – the salmon.  I think  I got the idea for this from the Barefoot Contessa…  The stir-fried Sprouts & Shallots are easy…

Oriental Baked Salmon Time: 25 minutes

2 salmon fillet or steaks, 6 – 8 oz each (200 gr each)
1 tbs Dijon-style mustard
1 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs olive oil – or walnut oil if you have it
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Mix mustard, soy sauce, oil and garlic, whisking well to combine. Put salmon on a baking sheet. Spoon mustard mixture over salmon. Roast in 400F (200C) oven for 10 – 15 minutes, depending on thickness. Salmon will be done when it flakes easily, slightly pink in the center is fine.

Remember: Never piss-off a guy with a cleaver!

29 thoughts on “Oriental Orzo with Salmon; the Dangers of Irritating a Chinese Chef”

  1. Katie, as usual, I’m laughing my …off! What a great story teller and what a great cook. The dish looks awesome. Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Night.

  2. That was one of the best opening lines to a post! As soon as I read it, I stopped and made myself a cup of coffee. Then I settled in, cup in hand, and read the rest of the post. Loved it! (The post I mean, the coffee was good too.)

  3. Thanks, Ruth…It’s much funnier now than it was at the time!
    Miss T, Yeah it was such a classic…I loved their WonTon Soup!
    Aw, gee, thanks, Sher! Glad you had a good cuppa!

  4. Great story! I can’t believe how big that kind of kitchen is, room for mushroom growing? Insane. So neat. Thanks for the good read.

  5. Kate, I’m laughing so hard I can hardly type! I can picture the scene — I think there was a Chinese restaurant like that in every place I’ve ever lived. (I wouldn’t mind trying that lobster lo mein, by the way — sounds great.)

  6. Chased by an angry Chinese man wielding a cleaver? What a story!
    The salmon and orzo looks tasty. Sound like a nice twist on orzo that we’ll be trying soon. 🙂

  7. What a funny store Kate 😀 I’ll bet you can run pretty fast my dear 😀 I just made some orzo for supper but with avgolomeno sauce. The oriental flavourings sound terrific 😀

  8. glad that you didn’t reject chinese food … or cleavers… after the incident 🙂 If any oriental orzo left (which I doubt), I’d bake it with your salmon!

  9. wow, what a story!!! Didn’t the customers think it was strange to see the chef running around with a cleaver??! I am glad that you survived and that the truth was uncovered.
    Asian orzo looks and sounds very yummm!
    Happy Valentine’s Day, dear. 😉
    x Nora

  10. Hello long lost friend! I wanted to let you know that I nominated you for an award on my site. I have missed browsing your delicious meals and hope to be back online more frequently again soon. Big hugs to you!

  11. Hi Katie
    Love your stories I can just see you it almost neede to be a cartoon. Chinese cook complete with one of those old beanies and long plaits they used to wear…cleaver held high and a terrified lady looking back Sorry a bit un PC but sort of a Tin Tin feel about it.
    Salmon and Orzo looks good as well

  12. “Never piss off a guy with a cleaver” Ha ha ha – Sounds like some good advice to me! You live a wonderfully crazy life! This looks great – I like the sprouts and shallots with it too – it all sounds delicious!!

  13. Oh my! That was hilarious! Although I’m sure quite freaky and scary while it was actually happening!
    Never piss off a guy with a cleaver…that is definitely one that I will remember 🙂
    The salmon and orzo sound delicious! And I will love the sprouts any way you serve them 🙂

  14. I always think when it comes to pasta is something in Italian way, creamy and cheesy. And yet here, you combine the most interesting themes which is so beautiful!

  15. I swear, I think I just a recipe similar to this one. Someone else did an Asian-type orzo.
    Maybe orzo is more popular than ever?
    I admit that I haven’t used it that much, but I need to.
    This looks like a delicious dinner.

  16. Love the mental picture of you in full flight from the chef with the cleaver! Do you remember the “Swedish Chef” from the Muppets who was always brandishing his cleaver? 🙂

  17. Katerina, the rooms underneath went on forever, it seemed…but, yes, they grew their own mushrooms.
    Lydia, there are/were probably 100 just like it…they were such classics! Esp with the Ladies coming in for lunch, sipping their Rob Roy’s!
    Thanks, Michelle… Hope you like it!
    Val, that sounds wonderful, too! I was running pretty fast that night, hehehe
    Colleen, once he calmed down it was esplained to him…He still wasn’t happy with me, though
    Gattina, I even have 2 cleavers of my own!
    Sra, excellent idea! Esp after watching horror movies…
    Baking Soda, the customers were just ducking; everyone else was smart!
    Tanna, happy to oblige….
    Nuria, There is something unique about Chinese restaurants… And thank you, thank you!!!!!
    Thanks, Mike…me too!
    Betty, I love the flavors, too. I wish I had access to more Asian foods but our local selection is pretty limited.
    Nora, It was late enough they were mostly more convered with their martinis… And Happy V-Day to you ;-))
    Hi lindsay, you’re back! I’ll be over to check it out when…. Thank you, thank you!
    Gilli, you’re not too for off the mark, actually…
    Michelle, not that any proper Chinese restaurant would serve Brussels sprouts – but we love them…
    Thanks, Joey…I always thought it was a piece of advice worth sharing!
    Arfi, I love pasta – but try to limit the cheese and cream…this helps.

  18. Thanks, Lynn – yes, good words to live by!
    Emiline, I saw another orzo recently, too….made me hungry for this one 😉
    Zoomie, I DO! Took me a minute, but I remember him…

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