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The Evolution of a Dish:

7 Things You Didn't Know About Chef Tim Ma

Renowned chef, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, Tim Ma's culinary journey is a tale of resilience, innovation, and a deep-rooted connection to his heritage. In a recent conversation on The meez Podcast with Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, Tim shared insights into his life, career, and much more.

Here are seven things you might not have known about Tim Ma:

1. Tim Experienced Growing Pains in Arkansas 

Tim’s family opened the first Chinese restaurant in their small town in Arkansas. The heart of the restaurant's success was a gifted Chinese chef who became instrumental in its daily operations. Tim's parents, balancing multiple jobs to keep the dream alive, relied heavily on the chef's culinary prowess. However, the chef ultimately decided to open a rival establishment, drawing customers away.

The departure of the chef had a severe consequence on Tim's parents' restaurant, pushing it into a decline that eventually resulted in its closure. The experience left a lasting impact on Tim, prompting him to take proactive measures and become a chef with business acumen. 

At 30, Tim entered culinary school not to become a chef but to ensure he understood the fundamentals of the industry, driven by a determination to avoid the fate that befell his parents.

2. Tim’s Family is in a Smithsonian Museum:

Hailing from a family of Chinese immigrants who arrived in the United States during the sixties and seventies, Tim's parents and uncles opened restaurants in the seventies and eighties, contributing significantly to shaping the perception of Chinese cuisine in America.

Notably, his uncle's restaurant in Yorktown Heights, New York, gained acclaim for its clean and home-style cooking/ This family legacy was commemorated by the Smithsonian, which featured an exhibit at the American History Museum. The exhibit showcased heirlooms from Tim's uncle's restaurant, including artifacts from the iconic "Dine and Learn" series, where guests experienced an exclusive tasting menu while learning about the diverse regions of China. 

How Food Brought Success to a Chef, a Cookbook Author and a Restaurateur |  At the Smithsonian| Smithsonian Magazine

3. Tim is an Engineer at Heart

Drawing inspiration from his early engineering background, Tim adapted the idea of applying systems and processes to his culinary operations.

Unlike Western culinary traditions, where mother sauces form the foundation, Chinese chefs use a matrix of sauces, sugar, juice, and salt to craft distinctive flavors directly in the wok. 

Recognizing the difficulty of systemizing this process, Tim embarked on a chef-engineer collaboration to extract common denominators from various sauces, akin to French cooking's mother sauces. By codifying recipes and identifying essential elements, he developed a system that allows even a novice to recreate the intricate flavors of Chinese dishes while maintaining consistency.

4. Tim Has Cooked at The White House

Tim, along with Kevin Tien, the co-founder of Chefs Against AAPI Hate, had the privilege of attending the first-ever Lunar New Year celebration hosted by President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden. Just four days after the celebration, they become the first external chefs to cook in the Vice President's residence at the same Lunar New Year Celebration. Tim and Kevin not only had the opportunity to prepare a meal but were also bestowed the honor of introducing the Vice President during the event. 

5. Tim is a Sandwich Enthusiast

Tim's love for sandwiches led him to reopen "Chase the Submarine” a modern sandwich shop located in Vienna, Virginia. The inspiration behind the name comes from his middle son, Chase, who now has the honor of having a restaurant named after him. Initially opened in 2015, the sandwich shop closed its doors after several years, only to be resurrected in 2023. 

The menu at Chase the Submarine is inspired by establishments like the Italian Store in Arlington, Virginia, and boasts combinations such as steak and cheese with marinated mushrooms, elevating the humble sandwich to new heights. Despite operating without a traditional kitchen in this version of the sandwich shop, Tim views it as a unique experiment, relying on one induction burner and offsite preparation for a more streamlined approach. 

Tim Ma's Lucky Danger Pop-Up Aims to Raise the Bar for American Chinese  Takeout in D.C. - Eater DC

6. Tim Is Never Done with a Recipe

Tim Ma's commitment to culinary innovation is reflected in his restaurant Lucky Danger's approach to iteration. Without declaring any dish as "done," the restaurant embraces a continuous refinement process. Customer feedback, reviews, and a subscription program serve as the playground for experimenting with novel culinary ideas. The emphasis is on maintaining a delicate balance between tradition and innovation.

7. Tim Ma has a CPG Brand - Laoban Dumplings

Laoban’s national presence in Whole Foods is a testament to Tim's dedication to quality and his aspiration to make authentic and delicious products accessible to a wider consumer base.

The national launch of Laoban in Whole Foods was a significant milestone in Tim Ma's life. The strategic decision to go national involved not just local store dealings but also coordinating a nationwide launch from Austin. During the launch, Tim discovered just how competitive shelf space is and the intricacies of dealing with a major retailer.

His role as a chef transcends traditional kitchen responsibilities. Regular checks on production facilities, adherence to formulas, and logistical considerations are just as important as having a delicious recipe.

Conclusion 

Chef Tim Ma's journey is a tapestry woven with unique experiences, familial heritage, and an unwavering commitment to culinary excellence. Beyond the kitchen, his forays into entrepreneurship and philanthropy reveal a multifaceted personality that continually seeks new horizons.

Listen to the full conversation with Chef Tim Ma on The meez Podcast