Food & Wine Best New Chefs 2022: Calvin Eng

The most exciting table in the country right now is the large round wooden table that sits in the front right corner of Bonnie’s, chef Calvin Eng’s Brooklyn ode to American Cantonese cuisine. It’s especially exciting when the generous, lazy Susan who sits in the center shakes under the weight of the food. The table, which can accommodate up to 10 people, is the only one in the restaurant capable of containing the entire menu, which is the only way to order.

Bonnie’s is Eng’s first restaurant, and it’s less than a year old, but the menu is basically a wildly curated greatest hits list. Another way to say it? These are all bangers, not duds. Bowls of long beans are seared in a wok and tossed with a compound garlic butter made with fuyu (fermented bean curd) and served with fluffy Chinese crullers that act like the perfect croutons. Salt and pepper squid fresh from the fryer arrive piping hot and piled high, ready to be dipped in a bowl of what Eng calls “Chinese ranch” (essentially mayonnaise with garlic, chives and of the MSG). You’ll battle other diners to finish the dao si heen jing sui dan, a bowl of steamed clams in egg custard drizzled with a wonderfully flavorful black bean and garlic sauce.

Meet all the best new chefs in Food & Wine 2022

Alex Lau

The menu offers an expanded view of American Cantonese cuisine. Some dishes are playful, like the char siu “McRib” sandwich, or the wun tun en brodo, a dish that eagerly trades tortellini pasta for delicate fish and shrimp-stuffed wontons that float in a deep broth of citrus and of parmesan. It proves that even though cacio e pepe is an Italian dish, it’s best cooked in a wok with a Cantonese pantry, tossing slippery bucatini noodles with fuyu, butter and heavy handfuls of black pepper and white and finishing with lots of pecorino cheese to make one of the sharpest cacio e pepes you’ve ever had.

Eng also honors less familiar Cantonese techniques and recipes, such as the mesmerizing yeung yu sang choi bao, a boneless whole rainbow trout stuffed with a fish, shrimp, chive and garlic and water chestnuts; pan-fried until crispy; then reconstructed to look like the whole fish. It’s a dish Eng grew up in Brooklyn as a kid – he spent all day making it with his mom and aunt – but Eng hasn’t seen it served at any other Cantonese restaurant in the country. (He spent several years looking for examples elsewhere.)

Alex Lau

Opening his own restaurant has always been Eng’s goal. After culinary school, rather than chasing after the big, elite kitchens to put on his resume, he made sure to work in restaurants where he could learn specific skills. At the fast-food chain Dig (formerly known as Dig Inn), he learned how to run a high-volume operation at a relatively low price. “I learned so much about making things foolproof,” says Eng. He moved on to Nom Wah Nolita, the more laid-back operation of the legendary dim sum house, before a stint at Win Son, co-owned by F&W 2020 Best New Chef Trigg Brown – Eng admired their unapologetic approach to Taiwanese American cuisine . Brown soon offered Eng the position of head chef. “I was introduced to all these different things that you don’t get anywhere else,” Eng says, speaking from his front-row seat to kitchen operations.

Read Calvin Eng’s Guide to New York

Bonnie’s, which opened in 2021, is in many ways Eng’s ode to his Cantonese American upbringing. The name of the restaurant is the American nickname of his mother. The tiles that cover the floor come from cha chaan teng, the beloved old-fashioned tea restaurants in Hong Kong, where she grew up. Pictures of Manhattan’s Chinatown, where Eng spent much of his childhood, hang on the walls.

Eng is careful to say that his cuisine is Cantonese American and not “Chinese American”. “The flavors and ideas will always be Cantonese, and the philosophy behind it all,” he says. “But I have and always will have influences from everywhere.”

Bonnie’s, 398 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY,

Meet all the best new chefs in Food & Wine 2022: Warda Bouguettaya | Damarr Brown | Ana Castro | Calvin Eng | Tim Flores and Genie Kwon | Melissa Miranda | Justin Pichetrungsi | Emily Riddell | Rob Rubba | Caroline Schiff

Comments are closed.