Thursday, December 2, 2010

Foodie Dream Job: Pei Wei's Search for the Ultimate Blogger and Q&A with Executive Chef Eric Justice

One blogger. Two weeks. Five countries. Ten thousand dollars.

No, it's not television's newest reality show competition -- it's Pei Wei Asian Diner's search for the Ultimate Blogger. Pei Wei Asian Diner, the fast-casual restaurant concept by P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, has launched a search for an international correspondent to accompany Executive Chef Eric Justice on a cross-country tour across Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan and Korea.

Chef Justice and his team will search for culinary inspiration across the five Asian countries that influence Pei Wei’s menu. The chosen blogger will capture and share the international adventure. In addition to the experience of a lifetime, the blogger will receive $10,000 for his or her time and skills.

Chef Justice in Asia
The Pei Wei international correspondent will eat everything from street food to five-star cuisine, trek from remote villages to world-renowned cities, and meet everyone from rural farmers to cutting-edge chefs. Throughout the two to three week trip, they will capture the culture, travel and tastings on video, film and in daily blog posts. It sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime!

Domestic Divas jumped at the chance to interview Chef Justice about this incredible opportunity. He talks to us about his favorite foods blogs, what it takes to be an "Ultimate Blogger," and what's next for Pei Wei (hint -- small plates!).

Chef Justice (center) in Asia
Q&A with Executive Chef Eric Justice:

Domestic Divas: You’ve launched a search for the “Ultimate Blogger” to accompany you on a cross-country eating extravaganza across Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan and Korea. Why did you decide to choose a blogger?

Chef Justice: We really wanted to share the experience of our culinary tour with our Pei Wei fans and bring them into the action. We thought finding a blogger to document the journey would be the best way to engage this audience and give them a real sense of Asian cuisine and culture.

Domestic Divas: Do you read any food blogs? If so, what are some of your favorites?
Chef Justice: Yes, a few. I don’t seem to have enough time, but I'm trying to look at more new things instead of going to my same sources. Chez Pim is a really good blog with great pictures and hearty real food that you can make at home. I love baking and I love sweets so Applemint is a really well done blog/site. Great recipes, beautiful pictures.

Domestic Divas: What qualities should an aspiring Pei Wei blogger have?
Chef Justice: Adventurous is high on the list - they should be open to new experiences, willing to try new cuisine, have a strong passion for food, high interest in Asian cultures, some talent for writing about it, and most importantly be willing to run like mad across cities for long hours chasing the best food to eat.

Domestic Divas: Does traveling and tasting different cuisines influence your cooking?
Chef Justice: Yes, very much so. I really like to pick up the sights, smells, tastes of food culture when I travel to create dishes. Sometimes it’s an ingredient that speaks to me and other times it may be the colors and smells of a market that inspires a dish. When you go to the source of the ethnic cuisine there is a sensibility you get about it, what makes it special. You don’t often find that in recreated versions. Its best to see it in its truest source, from there you can create something relevant from that experience.

Domestic Divas: What are some of your favorite dishes that you discovered while traveling?
Chef Justice: We created a very popular Thai Mango Chicken dish inspired from the markets of Bangkok. They don’t serve a dish like that there but all the colors and flavors are represented in the market. I wanted the reds, yellows, and greens. The sweet ripe mango to be the center of the dish since it is so prevalent. We used Lemongrass and Kaffir lime which are strong aromatics waffling through the market. It was a mash-up of all the senses that were hitting me while walking through the market. Seeing Caramel style dishes done in a claypot in Vietnam inspired Caramel Chicken for us. We took the caramelized sugar flavor you find in the slow cooked dish and made it brighter with aromatics, gave it umami with fish sauce, then lightened it up with a crispy slaw for a cooling effect. 

Domestic Divas: Aside from Asia, where would you most like to travel next?
Chef Justice: Turkey, I want to go to Istanbul and really dig into their cuisine. It’s a combination of Central Asian and Middle Eastern influences. I love all the accompaniments, the spreads, roasted meats, kebabs, and wood fired breads. I like how it is influenced from a few different cultures creating this unique combination of Mediterranean food.

Domestic Divas: What’s next for Pei Wei? Any new developments?
Chef Justice: Lots on the horizon for us, we are diving into Korean next year in a big way. I love the uniqueness of the cuisine, but it has some similar flavor profiles that the Western palate will accept. I think we are going to introduce a lot of people to something they have never had, and they are going to like it. We are working on small plates as well. We think it is a great way for our guest to try something new without the risk of not liking their entrĂ©e. It’s a low cost, low risk way to let them be adventurous.

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